This month’s thought leader is Mwoddah “Mo” Habib. Mo pursuing a Master’s of Public Health concentrating on health management and policy at Georgia State University (GSU). She is a recent recipient of the GSU 40 Under 40 award for her commitment to public health and serving her community, Clarkston, Georgia. Mo is a key clinic coordinator at the Clarkston Community Health Center (CCHC), a nonprofit clinic that provides free health services to low-income, uninsured individuals. She also created and organized Minority Career Day at her alma mater, Clarkston High School. Mo has interned and worked for several organizations including the Center for Black Women’s Wellness, the Carter Center, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She earned an Associate’s of Arts in chemistry from Georgia Perimeter College (now GSU Perimeter College). She then received a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship to Agnes Scott College, where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in chemistry, sociology, and anthropology. Mwoddah aspires to combine her passion for human rights and public health to create innovative policies and structures to improve population health.

What World Refugee Day Means to Me

I am an Iraqi-American. Neither identity outweighs the other, but rather, both are infused within me. Depending on the environment and whom I am interacting with at a given moment, the balance can shift a little to the appropriate one. Legally, I became an American in 2008, but I became an American the very second that I started daydreaming about life in America, the minute that I arrived at my new home, the day I spoke English at school and Arabic at home, the week that I helped the new Mexican student in seventh grade, the month I marched protesting for social justice, and every year that I volunteered in my community. I am a proud Iraqi-American. My American experience is an everyday experience. It is ongoing and never-ending with every goal that I set and accomplish, and through the many different people I meet and call friends.

My father told me once that I must take advantage of every opportunity this country can offer. And so, I became the first in my family to enter college, earn a degree, and am currently working to earn a graduate degree. I work hard every day to learn and to serve my community.

Living in the United States taught me that every day brings a new learning experience, and every waking moment presents a new struggle to be faced fearlessly with an open heart and mind. As a child refugee, I have encountered and overcame many challenges that created a sense of resiliency and perseverance within me. Growing up in a very diverse community, Clarkston, Georgia, allowed me to have an open mind, to accept different people, and to be socially conscious. These experiences changed my views of the world around me, but most importantly, they changed my view of myself for the better. I combined knowledge gained from my studies, work, and community service with these experiences to forge a mission for myself, one that centers around achieving the American dream while igniting positive change that ripples into a movement of action. Like my story, there are endless stories of refugees and immigrants contributing to their communities through education, work, and volunteerism.

I say all of this to illustrate that citizenship status does not make one an “American,” but what does is one’s allegiance, sense of belonging, and overall contribution to society and country. Refugees like myself found not only refuge in the U.S. but also a home. Many refugees witnessed war, destruction, and loss of loved ones. In their new homes, they work, educate themselves, and contribute in various ways. America is unique and strong because of its diversity. Take it away, and you take away America’s most prized possession.

My refugee status did get erased when I became a United States Citizen in 2008, but millions of people worldwide still live their days with this label. But we are more than a label or a term. We are people with beautiful dreams and hopes. We are just like you. Generally, I notice in the media that refugees are represented in images either in a pitiful way or as super humans having to overcome the unthinkable. Refugees indeed face horrendous circumstances and more often than not, overcome them. But that does not mean we are any different from you. The reality is that anyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, or any other characteristic you wish to identify people with—can become a refugee if unfortunate, horrible conditions arise. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that 70 million people were forced to flee their homes by the end of 2018. World Refugee Day is the day to acknowledge these stories and the names behind the numbers we hear or read with regards to refugees, asylum seekers, or displaced individuals. Most importantly, today is the day we acknowledge the beautiful lives and contributions of refugees worldwide.

Archived Thought Leadership Stories

May 2019: The Power of Refugee Stories in Advocacy by Adamou

April 2019: Moving Forward in Service by Faratiana

March 2019: The Opportunity of an Open Door by Zinah

February 2019: My Life’s Purpose by Thien

December 2018: Thank You, America! by Nawroz

November 2018: A vote for Resettlement is a Vote for Democracy by Ashley

September 2018: Greetings from MODA! by Laura Flusche

August 2018: The Ideal Candidate by Justine Okello

July 2018: My Role in Welcoming, and Being Welcomed by Mary Martha Myette

June 2018: A Reflection on a Year of Service by Laurel

April 2018: Why I Serve with Refugees by Minji Kim

February 2018: Where are the Refugees? by Stephanie Jackson Ali

January 2018: Sharing Riches Through Mentorship by Kelsey Smith

December 2017: Thoughts on Doing Good This Season by Andrew Leba

October/November 2017: Thoughts on Thankfulness by Paedia Mixon

September 2017: Undocumented and Unafraid: My Parents, My Heroes by Raymond Partolan

August 2017: Building PathDriver: My Path to Drive an Impact by Robin Deutsch Edwards

July 2017: Civic Engagement Regardless of Citizenship by Maria del Rosario Palacios

June 2017: Celebrating World Refugee Day by Rabbi Peter S. Berg

May 2017: Love>Fear: And It’s Good For Business by Bonnie Kallenberg

April 2017:Talking with Babies Makes Their Brains Smarter by Nitza Vega-Lahr, Ph.D.

March 2017: It’s All About Student Support by Terry Segovis

February 2017: Clarkston, Georgia: An Ever-Changing Town by Awet Eyasu

January 2017: Reclaiming Georgia’s Legacy of Love by Paedia Mixon

December 2016: Reflections on Welcoming Communities Trip to Germany by Alicia Phillip

November 2016: Thanksgiving in America by Bishop Robert Wright

October 2016: Voting: The Real American Dream by Elizabeth Poythress

August/September 2016: From the Road: das Willkommen by Paedia Mixon

July 2016: My Life In AmeriCorps by Lauren Mertens

June 2016: Reflecting On World Refugee Day

May 2016: A Gift for my Parents by Bee Nguyen

April 2016: The Ripple Effect by Breauna Hagen

March 2016: Lessons I’ve Learned Tutoring a Refugee by Ashley Hager

February 2016: For the Love of Humanity by Safia Jama

January 2016: 4D Service Learning at The Galloway School by Scotti Belfi

November and December 2015: A Case for Syrian Resettlement by Paedia Mixon

October 2015: Creating a Welcoming Atlanta Interview with Luisa Cardona

September 2015: Third-Annual Red, White and NEW Event Exceeds Fundraising and Advocacy Goals by Kelley Lugo

August 2015: Patti Garrett – August 2015 Food for Thought by Patti Garrett

July 2015: Engaging International Families in Parent Groups by Patti Ghezzi

June 2015: Reflecting on the Fourth of July by Kevin Abel

May 2015: Looking Back on Iraq by Whitney Kweskin

April 2015: All Hail Hall by Spencer Hall

March 2015: Honoring our Volunteers by Adriana Varela

February 2015: Celebrating New Americans by Charles Barnwell and Bob Glick

January 2015: What Refugees Leave Behind by Wendy Cheeks

December 2014: Welcoming Week in Atlanta by Emily Pelton

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