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Triad Residents Show Support for Immigrants

(Last Updated On: November 16, 2016)

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With a robust supermoon in the sky, over 200 people gathered Monday evening at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro to combat a rising tide of xenophobia that is present in our nation.

People came out for food and fellowship in support of the Triad’s immigrant community at the FaithAction International House’s Annual Multicultural Thanksgiving.

The diverse crowd included community faith leaders, volunteers, immigrants and Triad residents.

The event was a food drive for FaithAction’s food pantry as well as a celebration of diversity.

Attendees enjoyed eight tables of food from around the world.

The fellowship was a symbol of community cooperation. The night’s theme: instead of building higher walls, let’s build longer tables.

FaithAction International House serves thousands of new immigrants in the area. Programs include legal services, education, food/diaper pantry, access to social services, and safe spaces for domestic violence survivors and resources for the immigrant LGBTQ community.

In 2015, FaithAction efforts propelled Greensboro to become the first city in the south to adopt community ID programs accepted by local law enforcement, health centers, city departments and local businesses.

The program is expanding throughout North Carolina.

On Monday evening, FaithAction’s motto, “Stranger To Neighbor,” carried extra meaning with the new realities of a Trump presidency as backdrop.

Many in the immigrant community are experiencing unprecedented fear.

Abigail Seymour, who is studying immigration law at Elon College, came to the event with her elementary-aged son.

“This year, there was no way I was going to miss it in the climate after Tuesday’s devestating election,” Seymour said. “My son was born in Guatemala. The first thing I said to him on the day after the election was, ‘You are going to be okay. You are a citizen.’”

She suggested “the fact that I have to say that to my child is scary. My children go to school and their friends are hearing scary things told to them about their immigrant parents. It is just a climate of fear. This is a way for us to come together and try to dispel some of that.”

Reverend David Fraccaro is FaithAction’s executive director. He shared that the goal of the event has always been to “welcome and give thanks for the tremendous diversity of this community.”

He understood that “this year it is hard to talk about diversity and unity because of the very serious fear and concern that we see everyday at FaithAction, about family well-being and survival, in some cases. Tonight is also about committing to serving, protecting, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not in a kumbaya way, but in a very real strong way.”

Fraccaro said that many families indicated to FaithAction staff that they needed a night “where they can be themselves, feel safe, feel good, know that people have their back.”

The night offered a reprieve, and Fracarro felt that “hearing all the laughter, seeing people meeting each other, it is really healing. It helps people take the next step which is actually significant: protection and real service for the community.”

In 2016, Guilford Country welcomed 1213 refugees and asylees, according to information from the Center for New North Carolinians. Most of these were provided initial support by resettlement agencies.

The Newcomers School lists that close to 50,000 immigrants live in Guilford County, and many struggle to navigate the complex system of social services and job placement. Some families are undocumented, a status that complicates and limits resources.

FaithAction tries to fill in the gaps and facilitate resources, and does so with the support of many faith leaders and volunteers.

Melanie Rodenbough is a FaithAction board member and chair of the volunteer committee. She felt that the evening’s festivities were “particularly meaningful at this point and time when so many of the immigrant community are afraid. I am just very proud I’ve been involved with FaithAction for almost four years now. I am extremely proud to be part of something that inspires a night like this.”

The challenges for immigrants are real, particularly with Trump declaring a move to start deporting 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants with the first 100 days of his presidency.

The current political climate is galvanizing many citizens and faith leaders to take a stand.

Rabbi Michael Ross from Beth David Synagogue commented on historical parallels between the Jewish community and the current challenges facing America’s immigrants.

“The day after the election was also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, against Jews throughout Nazi Germany,” he said.

He referenced events that occurred on Nov 9-10 in 1938 when thousands of Jewish businesses, homes, hospitals, schools, and synagogues were destroyed.

Rabbi Ross commented that “the Jewish community not only was mostly grieving the loss of the death of the dream of different leadership, but we were also aware of the history of what had happened to our own people in Europe when we weren’t paying attention to the political uprising. When we were the marginalized and ostracized ones.”

He said that “part of what we are doing here tonight is not just standing with marginalized communities, but to say ‘We want to support them on their own individual journey, their own identity, and know that the are here as an ally.’”

“I think one of the things we learned from the election is that we all live in little bubbles,” Abigail Seymour said. “And you can also live in a bubble that is full of immigrants, so it can be hard to realize that people might not know someone who looks different or who has a different background. I think we all need to get out of those bubbles.”

Wasif Qureshi, a Muslim faith leader, reiterated the event’s call for more active listening and cooperation.

“We are water beings, 70 percent of (our body) is water,” he said. “Individually we are droplets. Together we can be a river, an ocean. We can provide each other with the mercy that we receive from the God above.”

FaithAction International House has several programs throughout the year, as well as ongoing services for the immigrant community. To learn more, visit faihouse.org.

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