Celebrating Refugee Art and Culture

Refugees are incredible contributors to their communities. We often talk about the economic impact refugees have on our communities, but on this World Refugee Day, we also want to celebrate their cultural and artistic contributions. Metro Atlanta is home to new Americans from a myriad of cultures and we all benefit from the rich diversity of our city. At the recent Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies’ World Refugee Day Celebration, we saw the performances of several local groups, including two groups of young people.

Eritrean Community Dancers

One such group is the Eritrean-American Community Association’s Dance group. This group consists of 16 young women who are bringing their community’s celebratory dances to Atlanta. The dancers choreograph their own routines, drawing on their cultural background. The group started in 2013 and has grown since then to perform around the community. The dance they perform is a traditional dance from the Tigrinya community in Eritrea. This dance is subtle and centered on circular movements, and is often performed at weddings and other celebrations.

Ushindi Choir

The Ushindi Congolese Choir was another group of young people that wowed us all with their performance. The Choir formed a year ago in a local church congregation. What started as a small group of five Congolese young people has now evolved into a group of 40. The students have performed across the United States and have recently been connected with an individual who is helping them get studio time to record some of their songs for a demo album. The church’s pastor, Daniel explained that choirs and dance are a central part of Congolese culture and communities celebrate and express themselves through music and dance. Their performances are engaging and joyful, and it is clear that these young people are passionate about sharing their talents with the broader community. You can contact Daniel if you are interested in learning more about the youth choir.

MJK Design Photo Credit: Joseph McBrayer

We enjoyed browsing the handmade products made by refugees inspired by their cultures. MJK design is a t-shirt company owned by three young men from central and west Africa. They use traditional fabrics and create creative designs on t-shirts. Organizations like the Johari Africa program at Amani Women’s Center and Refugee Sewing Society teach practical skills to refugees while empowering them to create beautiful items that are inspired by their own culture. There are so many beautiful cultural influences in our country that come from the refugee community.

Sweet, Sweet Syria. Photo Credit: Joseph McBrayer

We often think of artists as individuals who share musical or visual art talents, but artists come in many forms. Our friends at Sweet, Sweet Syria were at the World Refugee Day Event, selling their delicious cookies to attendees. Suryana Cuisine was also present, selling delicious Syrian dishes to attendees. Both of these companies were founded by Syrian refugees and have been delicious additions to the Atlanta food scene. There were also delicious Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Burmese food options that were truly culinary masterpieces.

Our communities benefit greatly from the artistic contributions made by refugees, both past and present. We are a more vibrant, richer city because of our diversity. On this day where we honor refugees, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the amazing contributions they make every day.

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