American dream eludes foreign-born taxi drivers in Nashville – The Tennessean

Adugna Denbel came to America “expecting a better opportunity.” After fleeing his native Ethiopia for Kenya to escape ethnic tensions that made him feel like “a second citizen,”...

Adugna Denbel came to America “expecting a better opportunity.”

After fleeing his native Ethiopia for Kenya to escape ethnic tensions that made him feel like “a second citizen,” Denbel decided to move to Nashville in 2004 to reunite with his stepdaughter. He quickly found a place in an industry he knew well from Africa: driving people around.

“Wherever I go, I am always hunting for my own business,” Denbel said while waiting in his taxi to pick up a fare outside the Renaissance Nashville Hotel on Wednesday.

Seven years after arriving here, Denbel, 61, is still seeking a better opportunity — and a better business model. He’s leading a group of 61 cab drivers from Ethiopia — each of them a U.S. citizen or in the process of becoming one — who have applied to Metro government for the chance to form Volunteer Taxi, which would be Nashville’s first driver-owned cab company.

The drivers, who own their cabs and pay to fuel, maintain and insure them, say they know the city and what customers want. They argue that they can create a better economic arrangement for themselves through a cooperative, not-for-profit company that would keep their costs down.

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