In our recent work focusing on welcoming community conversations, centered around inclusion for all, we found ourselves in Clarkston, Georgia engaging with the refugee community. How do you have a community conversation when (a) there is a language barrier, (b) cultural values might differ and (c) you are not sure if your Facebook invitations, Instagram posts and Evite emails are reaching people?
In our digital age, I found myself panicking and feeling anxious as I wondered who would show up for this event. I was going to be elated if 10 people showed up.
As you probably know, Compassionate Atlanta (CA) is proud to do our work within a collaborative model. So, as our partner for this event, Refugee Women’s Network (RWN), and the CA team set up the room with snacks, promotional materials and activity tables, people began to stream in. RWN had connected with the community that we were jointly inviting to the table. RWN brought a translator and when families arrived, the smiles of familiarity were palpable. We were overjoyed with the participation and the numbers of families that showed up. There were about 13 families and 50 adults and children in all. The children were excited about their art projects that another partner, Ellen Gadberry, had planned. The room was filled with kids and adults from just 1 year to 50+ years old. They were from Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Iraq. Some spoke English, while others did not. There were high school kids and babies, those using wheelchairs and visually impaired folks. Muslim, Christian and Jewish, at the very least. With interpreting, as needed, we spoke to the kids and families about how they were navigating their new world. We discussed how it felt when they first came to America and went to school, what it felt like to feel different. The discussion became about how each person in the room can reach out to people across any difference. It isn’t always about where you are from or religion, it can be about physical ability, special needs, race and the list goes on.
This was so different from the other events we have held in this series of community talks, but it was the most meaningful to me personally. I learned so much. The women did not want to be photographed. They did not mind a picture of their hands doing the work but not their faces, or their hijabs. I learned that they were hungry for community. Where our other talks attracted activists focused on food and differently abled body groups, this was not about activism. These women just wanted to connect with one another, and they wanted to celebrate all their children, differently abled or not. They were so relieved to have a space to which they could bring their full selves. And they knew how to advocate.
I was humbled once again by the meaningful ways in which our organization is entrusted to unfold compassion to all community members, regardless of national status, religion, race, ability or location in Greater Atlanta. This is indeed joyful learning.
Will you join us? We have three more conversations coming up and I would love to give you a great big hug at one of them. And bring a friend….They are…
Sunday, August 25th – 5-7pm at 7 Stages – Inclusion in the Media and the Arts
Saturday, September 7th – 12-2pm at Clarkston Community Center – Be the Change: Compassion for Mother Earth
Sunday, September 15th – 5:30-7:30pm at The Rush Center – Intersection of Disability, Identity, & Sexuality