Perhaps no one knows the National Press Club better than Reliable Source manager Mesfin Mekonen, who has been a Club presence for nearly half a century.
“I have done so many jobs here that I understand the Club’s unique needs,” Mekonen said. “There’s an enormous difference between the service we provide to our members here and serving customers in other environments. I love the member events like Karaoke Night in the Reliable Source. They are so much fun!”
Shortly after Mekonen moved to the United States from Ethiopia for college in 1972, he rode the elevator up to the 13th floor of the National Press Building after getting a tip that the Club might be hiring.
After a fortuitous encounter with former Club President John Cosgrove, he was hired as a bus boy on the spot.
Mekonen still comes to the Club every day 45 years later – but he now manages a staff of 11. His warm smile and impeccable service are a fixture of the 14th floor.
Former Club President Mark Hamrick says Mekonen “treated me like a VIP from day one,” having offered the same level of attention and respect when Hamrick was president as when he was a rank-and-file Club member.
“Mesfin has provided nearly a-half century of the most remarkable service to Club members. He defines the high level of service [of] a Club where people feel welcomed with a personalized sense of belonging,” Hamrick said. “It is like the theme song to Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name.’ If Mesfin doesn’t know a member’s name, perhaps because they’re new or haven’t been around very often, he’ll make a point of finding it out and remembering it.”
One of Mekonen’s fondest memories over the years is when he had the opportunity to sit at the table with Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mekonen introduced Cosgrove to Gandhi, and Cosgrove mentioned he had an audio recording of a speech Mahatma Gandhi had delivered at the Club. A month later, Rajmohan Gandhi recounted the story in O Magazine, mentioning Mekonen as the “young Ethiopian manager of the Reliable Source.”
While Mekonen’s intention was to return to Ethiopia after college, his plans changed when the Ethiopian government confiscated his family’s business. His parents and siblings remained in Ethiopia, but Mekonen decided to build a life in America that includes his wife Elizabeth, their 17-year-old daughter Mahlet and his 33-year-old son, Christopher.
The Club also feels like family to Mekonen.
“I traveled to Ethiopia when my father was ill, and I received a call from the U.S. Embassy while I was there, making sure I was okay,” he said. “I later found out it was Press Club members who made that happen. They were worried about me and wanted to check on me. I was so touched by that. It really blew me away!”
Mekonen shares a passion for press freedom with members of the Club, and he makes advocating for the freedom and human rights of Ethiopian citizens a priority.
“Journalists are beaten, arrested, and killed every day in Ethiopia,” Mekonen said. “If someone says something the government doesn’t like, they are thrown in jail. The internet is censored, elections are rigged, and political opponents are intimidated.”
His work on behalf of Ethiopia began out of concern for the widespread famine in his home country, and he has now spent almost 20 years lobbying Congress for humanitarian assistance to combat human rights abuses in Ethiopia.
He credits much of his knowledge about lobbying to members of Congress he has met at the Club, particularly former Senator Richard Lugar, R-Ind,. Mekonen’s current legislative focus is H.R. 128, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ. The bill condemns human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government and calls upon them to hold abusers accountable, have transparent elections, and release prisoners unjustly detained for exercising their right to free speech.
“People often close their eyes to terrible things that are happening until there is mass chaos,” Mekonen said. “At that point, it’s too late. The best day of my life was in 2002, when the U.S. government sent aid to Ethiopia to address the famine. I was able to play a part in changing all of those lives.”