There is so much to celebrate in the gifts that former refugees and immigrants bring to our lives and to the communities that welcome them.
I want to tell you about an amazing young man named Checago Bright-Sawo. He is a former refugee from Liberia. He fled violence in his homeland and began anew in the United States. He has excelled in his studies and in his professional life. As a New American, he is contributing to our economy and his community in Maryland and the greater Washington, D.C. area. But that’s not enough for Checago. While he looks forward to a bright future, he is also moved to make a difference for refugees who have shared his experience.
Checago understands that he CAN improve the lives of individuals through simple actions, and he has organized this work through the Checago Bright Foundation – improving sanitation and health back in villages in Liberia. But he also understands the bigger picture – the need to bring about systemic change to make an even bigger difference. This is why Checago is a tireless advocate with LIRS on Capitol Hill. We were honored this weekend when his foundation presented LIRS with its Outstanding Achievement Award in Community Service.
We all have an important part to play in making a difference by welcoming newcomers to this land. On Sunday, my op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, “‘Immigration Reform’ is Just the Beginning,” called on individuals and communities to embrace immigrants to bring about true welcome. Comprehensive immigration reform is absolutely essential to laying the foundation for systemic change in pursuit of justice for newcomers. But legal change needs to be accompanied by changed hearts and minds, kind words, and deeds that prove this is a nation that recognizes the important value of immigrants in our past and our future. Here are a few specifics from the op-ed:
Cities around the country would do well to follow Baltimore’s lead by setting explicit policies that welcome immigrants and make it easier for them to settle down. Congregations can make a difference, too: There’s great value in dedicating a few intentional moments of a service or study time to encouraging people to connect with their immigrant neighbors. School systems and curricula have their own pivotal role. From universities to kindergartens, teachers of tolerance are vitally needed. Making wise policies, as Maryland voters did on Election Day by approving in-state tuition for hard-working young undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, can help increase this tolerance.
I am counting on you to join me and Checago, the City of Baltimore, and all of our communities in going the distance to make a difference as we Stand for Welcome.
And please bookmark this blog and visit regularly for the latest updates and action alerts on immigration reform, refugee resettlement, the DREAM Act, detention, and other critically important issues. Here’s a schedule of what you can find here, and when.