Finding Community in Clarkston

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Clarkston, Georgia is a small community
located just outside of Atlanta in Dekalb
County, a small town with a big heart. It is
known as the most diverse square mile in
America. Many of the people who live in Clarkston are immigrants or refugees from their home countries–representing 57 different countries in all. When these residents first came to America, they had to start all over again in a new environment with a different language, different customs, a different way of life.

Establishing a Community Center

Refugees began moving to Clarkston after the Vietnam War. Clarkston is one of 190 designated resettlement communities in the United States, and since 1980 over 60,000 refugees have relocated to Clarkston. Now approximately half of the city of Clarkston’s residents were born outside of the United States. So how do you get people from 57 countries and 150 ethnic groups to live and work together to build a life for themselves and their families?

It all begins with a community center, a place that can be there
and provide space for the Clarkston residents to gather, to learn, to share. Clarkston Community Center (CCC) first opened in 1994. They leased the old Clarkston High School building from the Dekalb Board of Education. This high school was built in 1924 and had been closed since 1982. When the CCC first obtained the building, only two rooms were usable. The building, which is now fully accessible and ADA compliant, has been renovated several times and now hosts a variety of programs to assist Clarkston’s immigrant population including classes in English as a Second Language, computer and technology, citizenship, fitness, and healthy living. The CCC offers after-school programs for children and teens and programs for seniors. The CCC even has several beautiful and affordable event spaces that can be rented for your next family reunion, birthday party, bar mitzvah, or wedding!

Recently, I had the opportunity to join Leanne Rubinstein to visit the Clarkston Community Center. There we met with John Watson who serves as the Communications and Outreach Director for the CCC. John is passionate about serving the Clarkston community and believes that we will find “strength in our togetherness and our diversity.” Part of his mission is to encourage “people finding solutions, looking at things from different perspectives.”

Voices of Clarkston

An important need for the citizens of Clarkston is communication – both receiving communication and information in their home language and communicating their stories and experiences to others. One initiative sponsored by the CCC is Sagal Radio which started in 1998. Broadcasts focused on helping refugees newly arrived from East Africa and South Asia by broadcasting to immigrants and refugees in six languages: Amharic, Bhutanese/Nepali, English, Burmese, Somali, and Swahili. Sagal Radio was founded by Hussien Mohamed who described Sagal Radio as “the eye and ear for the international community here in Clarkston.” While on WATB 1420 AM, the station had more than 40,000 listeners every month. After WATB was sold, Sagal Radio was removed from WATB programming, and Sagal Radio moved to an internet-based radio station. According to TuneIn.com, today you can find Sagal Radio on Saturdays at 2pm at http://tun.in/pfDB2.

Leaders of Tomorrow Program

Another program that is giving youth opportunities to be heard is the Leaders of Tomorrow program. The focus of this group is developing young leaders in refugee, immigrant, as well as BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) communities. Through partnership with the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, D.C., Leaders of Tomorrow started in 2021 and has just graduated their third cohort of students. In April of 2023, Leaders of Tomorrow released its first podcast called “Clarkston Talks” and their slogan “Real Issues. Real Conversations” describes their mission. This first episode addresses college and career readiness, and you can access the podcast here. You can also follow Leaders of Tomorrow via Spotify and their YouTube channel.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta
http://jimmyfreels.com

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