World Refugee Day, Clarkston-style

A global tapestry of culture found its home in Clarkston on June 23rd. In the span of two hours at this year’s World Refugee Day celebration, hundreds of supporters could see performances from Laotian and Peruvian dance groups, hear traditional Asian drumming, buy clothes and handicrafts from around the world, eat Syrian sweets and hear inspiring messages from a wide array of community leaders.

During uncertain times for refugee policy, the outpouring of love, camaraderie and support for World Refugee Day offered a breath of fresh air. An event like this, with people so diverse and yet so intimately connected, is truly representative of the exceptional community of Clarkston.

The achievements of refugees in our community were on display like never before. The event boasted a vendor’s market where attendees could shop locally from refugee and immigrant business owners. Vendors sold everything from fruit drinks to clothes, accessories and sweets. The Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA), which planned and oversaw the celebration, was there in full force, offering pins and shirts proudly proclaiming that “GA Loves Refugees”.

An exciting lineup of speakers headlined the celebration: Congressman Hank Johnson, who represents Clarkston and the rest of Georgia’s 4th Congressional district, expressed how proud he was of his constituents and how honored he felt to represent them. Dr. Heval Kelli, a Syrian refugee, current Emory Cardiology Fellow and New AP’s 2017 Friend of Freedom, spoke about his incredible educational journey and the tremendous potential of refugees. Finally, Crispin Wilondja, a Lutheran Minister and Congolese asylee, gave a rousing speech urging attendees to enact change in their communities to combat xenophobic rhetoric from Washington.

This World Refugee Day celebration had the highest turnout in the event’s history, a fact that CRSA Chair Emily Laney found reassuring, “The CRSA felt really supported and felt like our refugee families were appreciated—people would take the time out to come on a really hot Saturday morning to connect with refugee vendors and to take advocacy action as well,” she said in an interview with The Champion. “It was very encouraging, from where I was standing, to see so many people that were there and engaged.”

With recent immigration policy changes severely cutting refugee arrivals, this year’s event had unique significance and weight. “I think any time when you’re in an environment where there is a lot of misinformation going out, where there is a lot of contention and disagreement, coming together to show support is so important, especially for our refugee families,” Emily said. “To know that people do welcome them and want them to be here is important right now because it can be so easy for negativity to drown out the reality, which is that Georgia really does love refugees.”

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