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Mapleton Education Foundation scholar shares her inspiring story at Foundation’s gala

When the Mapleton Education Foundation’s Executive Director invited Bahati Nabindu to be the keynote speaker for its 19th annual gala on Friday, Oct. 6, she knew she had to do it. The Mapleton Education Foundation scholar and Mapleton graduate was grateful for all the school district and its foundation gave her, and she was happy to tell her story. 

“Mapleton raised me, and I feel like I wouldn’t be anywhere without Mapleton,” she said. “I met so many great people in my time here who provided for me when I didn’t have much.” 

Bahati sitting

Bahati was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but fled the war-torn African country with her family as a child. A refugee program placed them in Aurora, Colorado, before they settled in Thornton. She started at Global Leadership Academy (GLA) when she was in fifth grade. She said even though she couldn’t speak much English at the time, her teachers were supportive, and she made friends fast.  

“Apparently, I’m really funny,” she laughs thinking back. “So, it was really easy to make friends.” 

And she moved fast, too. Even though she says her culture’s traditions discourage women from playing sports, she stumbled into them one day by racing around the schoolyard in high-heeled boots. Impressed, her teacher suggested she try running track. Bahati took the suggestion and never looked back. She even added basketball and volleyball to her repertoire, taking all three sports as seriously as her studies when her coaches told her that her talent could help her get into college. 

But she admits she didn’t have a great idea of how or where to apply when it came time to consider colleges. She said her parents hadn’t even completed middle school and were limited by a language barrier, so they could only help so much. While Bahati initially felt she had to tackle the challenging college search alone, her teachers and coaches stepped in to prove otherwise.  

“They wanted me to be successful and made the process so much easier for me,” she said. “They helped me find schools and resources to get scholarships so I wouldn’t have to worry about loans and stuff.” 

She graduated from GLA in 2021 and earned several scholarships, including the Foundation’s John G. Byrd Scholarship, for her outstanding athletic ability, overall passion and enthusiasm for learning, and drive to achieve more.  

“That was big, and it was the final piece that covered enough so that, with the other scholarships, I was able to go to college for free,” she said. “And I didn’t have to worry about finances like many other students do, just focus on what I could do in school and sports.” 

Bahati speaks at a podium

Now she is in her third and final year at Graceland University, a small college in south central Iowa. On an accelerated schedule, she is majoring in criminal justice and psychology, with minors in communications and sociology. She also plays basketball and volleyball, competes in track and field for the school, serves on a student welfare board, and works at least 20 hours per week at a daycare center. This May, she will graduate with honors before she pursues either a master’s degree in forensic psychology or a doctorate in criminal psychology. Eventually, she envisions herself working for the FBI as a criminal profiler.  

“You would think a person who came from a war-torn country wouldn’t want to go into law enforcement because a lot of officers there were not fair, they didn’t treat people like how they should have,” she said. “But I look at it as we need good people in the system and I want to be one of them, to help innocent people and put bad people away so we can make our environment, our world, a better place.” 

And making the world a better place is partly why she spoke at the gala, to inspire others. When asked what advice she would give current Mapleton students, it was don’t set limits. 

“No dream is too big, and no obstacle is too big. You can make them happen,” she said. “I was a little girl from a small village in Africa and now I’m on a stage making a speech about my hopes and how I made it this far. Think about what you can do today to improve tomorrow.” 

It was a message the gala’s audience could appreciate. Thank you, Bahati, for sharing your story.