The following is a reflection by Calilee, a smart and spunky AmeriCorps member who teaches English to newcomers at World Relief and cares deeply for the success of her refugee students and friends. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the English classes had a writing activity in which they interpreted their own “I have a dream…” statements.
I stood in front of my English students getting goosebumps up and down my arms as I read the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on August 28, 1963. “I have a dream” I read aloud, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I am from Georgia. I have read this speech and have learned about Martin Luther King Jr. many times over the years, but the story of who this man was and the message that he brought to our country had never impacted be like it did during this particular class.
Our program participants have left their homes to find refuge for various reasons. One student explained that she came to America because her mother “has dark skin and curly hair, so people treated her badly.” I am sure there was more to the story than that, but truth was that this young, intelligent woman came to a new country so that her mother could live in a place were she wasn’t defined by her differences. We sat around a large plastic table, with our varying nationalities, speaking the only language we are all fluent in–broken English–and talked about how this was once a much larger issue that separated Americans from each other.
My students were more engaged than I have ever seen them in any other writing activity. They have dreams that one day they will be able to find a stable country where they and their families will be safe. They dream that they will have a house of their own and find a job that can help sustain their families. They dream to return to school. They dream that one day they might contribute to our society and demonstrate their thankfulness for the assistance we have provided. Some even dream that one day it will be safe to return to where they fled from–they want to help the rest of the world fix what is broken.
These are our friends and our neighbors. God has called us to love them, to welcome them, and to stand beside them. These are their words: some of the structure has been lost in translation, but their dreams and ideas are evident. I hope you will take a moment to read through what they have to say.