President Obama’s second book is titled The Audacity of Hope. In it he recounts his upbringing and the insights that his culturally diverse background instilled in him. His message is that our country has the potential to offer “hope” to everyone regardless of their background or experiences. And yet, in order to guarantee equal opportunity for all, a number of legislative changes must be put in place.
This week I welcomed my first refugee family. I greeted and shook hands with a mother, a father and their 10-year-old son outside of a CVS in West Palm Beach, Florida. They told us they had been waiting for eight years to come to the U.S. and between the three of them they had only the clothes on their backs and one small suitcase. I could sense that I was witnessing a dream fulfilled — this was moment they had been waiting for and imagining — and yet I couldn’t help but think about the mountain of challenges that invariably lie ahead.
Each year on June 20th we are invited to commemorate World Refugee Day. This commemoration is audacious. It is bold to affirm the strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee from persecution, conflict and violence, to insist on bearing witness to tragedy, while having the courage to move beyond tragedy.
In a country seemingly overwhelmed by xenophobia, racism and ethno-centrism, it takes guts to celebrate the human community as one community. To proclaim the dignity and value of all God’s people, to affirm our commonalities, and be enlightened by our differences.
And yet, at its core, the audacity of World Refugee Day is a powerful reminder of how far we, as a society, have to go in order to grant equal opportunity to all. It is a reminder that we do not treat newcomers with the same rights and privileges that we want to claim for ourselves. It is a reminder that silence can only be interpreted as complacency if we do not oppose the detention and deportation of our brothers and sisters and policies that tear families apart.
Let’s be audacious and advocate for the dignity of refugees and immigrants! Let’s be bold and demand a pathway to citizenship for all, and not second class status for some! Let’s have the guts to reach out and involve more people, and congregations, in this transformative and vital ministry of welcome.
Learn more about World Refugee Day at www.cwsglobal.org/wrd13
Joya Colon-Berezin, Ecumenical Relations Coordinator, Immigration and Refugee Program, CWS