#RefugeesWelcome: Why We SHOULD Open Our Home (and Hearts) To Them

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When it comes to international refugees, it is clear that we as Americans have mixed feelings about how these folks affect our country. Some feel that we should open our hearts and welcome them here to the United States with open arms. Others, not so much.

I will be honest to say that this really isn’t something I had originally given much thought to. Not for lack of concern, but because I’ve always felt that I really didn’t know enough about it to have any idea of what impact I could possibly have. As cliché (and in some cases, corny) as this may sound, I honestly feel like I was put on this earth to help others. It is something I take very seriously and want to treat with a great amount of respect. It can be very difficult to know when it is appropriate to help, especially when there are so many out there who look to take advantage of kind-hearted people. But one thing I’ve promised to never do is to abandon that part of myself just because of the few bad apples. I never want to reach a point in my life where I feel like I no longer want to help other people. Even when I’m not necessarily able or in the best shape to do so, I always want to at least keep an open mind so that I can help when I’m able. After all, none of us are immune to needing help. Lord knows that I have MANY times over the years.

Many of us know Connie Britton as the beautiful actress who stars on Nashville and has starred on Friday Night Lights, along with many movies. However, she is also the United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador. While I have seen quite a bit about refugees from others, it was through her interviews in which she shares her thoughts about refugees along with a recent interview with a refugee herself that has opened my eyes to this just a little more. I’ve spent most of this morning reading about the refugee crisis and just what many have and had to endure.

I would have to say that the first time this really hit me that there even existed a problem was when I deployed to Iraq in 2003. I was 24 years old at the time and that was my first deployment. During a convoy, some Iraqi kids came running up to our Army vehicles. They had their arms wide open. Some were happy to see us and just wanted to be around. As for others, even though they obviously spoke in their language, I could tell they were practically begging for us to help them. I couldn’t turn away.

The saddest part of this is that our leadership would many times order us to not deal with them. This was because the enemy would often use children to either distract us so they could have their way, or they wouldn’t hesitate to strap bombs to them and send them toward us, which I have sadly seen also, as they cried and again, begged for us to help them. While I understood that we simply couldn’t, I despised the fact that they would do this to them, along with my own stubbornness of feeling I can “save the world” and still want to try and figure out how I could help them, as dangerous as it was.

In another instance, during a convoy to Baghdad, I looked to my left and saw what I assumed was an Iraqi child (maybe 10 or 11 years old) lying dead in the street. Not far away from him was a soccer field. Kids were playing there at the time. That hit me pretty hard also. I could only assume that the kid was simply looking to go and play. I think back to when I was a child. My childhood wasn’t the best, but not even close in comparison to what these children have to go through. I remember the wonderful feeling that came over me whenever I went out to play sports or even to run with the neighborhood kids. All my “troubles” went away. Long after our convoy drove past that spot, I could only imagine that this kid was simply looking to go and play soccer to escape the hell that was going on in his home country. He was just a few feet away from this relief, even if only for a few hours. And someone felt he didn’t deserve that.

A question I see and hear a lot is, “Why should we take care of refugees? Why don’t we take care of our own people here?”

My favorite aspect of living here in the United States is that we are truly a melting pot of races, cultures and pretty much anything else you can think of. We have a little bit of everything and everyONE here. To me, that is the epitome of living in this country.

One thing that has always confused me is how there seems to be so many people out there who claim to love America so much, they act as if they’re the grandest patriots in existence, figuring that all they need is a U.S. flag to express this, yet this “melting pot” aspect appears to elude or annoy them in some way. It’s as if they’re embarrassed we have so many cultures and races living here, or they imply that America is “only” for Americans.

Well here’s my question to that. How many of us are purely 100% American?

Another question. Who exactly are “our own people”? To a black person, “our own” in some cases means other black people. Same for some white people. Some women would say “our own” when referencing their fellow sisters. You get the idea. Just about everyone has a different concept of what “our own people” is.

Obviously I get it. Some folks believe we should take care of our own citizens before we address issues with other countries.

But what’s wrong with “our own” meaning our fellow HUMANS, no matter what country they live in?

I find it incredibly disheartening that so many people find excuses to label and group others into whatever categories they feel folks should be in, and this is all because it’s just easier to do so. In this case, some people feel that we as Americans are somehow above those in other countries, especially Third World countries. Many have said we should be kept separate from them and there’s no way we should allow refugees to enter the United States.

There have been a ton of reasons given, but probably the most ridiculous one I know of is the notion that if we bring these people here, then we are raising them in our own country to be terrorists to attack us later on.

People make fun of or insult what they don’t understand and this, in my opinion, is one of them. What if the same thing was said about our ancestors before they arrived to the U.S. whenever they did? Where would each of us be today? How many of us can say that every single one of our ancestors were born in this country?

Do I feel like we as Americans should be more accepting to welcoming refugees into our country? I absolutely do. Here’s why.

From my perspective, the U.S. represents HOPE for many refugees. And we all understand how it feels any time hope exists. Even the smallest glimmer of it is enough. If you’re a sports fan, you’re watching your favorite team and they’re down…you look at the clock and if you think there’s even the smallest piece of hope there, you keep watching. Just about anyone who is a sports fan can probably recall that monster comeback from a team everyone counted out. They kept trying because of HOPE. Eventually, they won because of that same hope.

I can understand the concern for terrorism, as it has become a very constant problem all over the world. But when I turn on my television and can barely watch five minutes of a news broadcast before I see a report of a murder happening by “our own people” on our soil, my honest and deeper concern is there. And then the frequency in which this happens. As crippling as terrorism is, it happens at barely a fraction of the rate that killings happen in our own country. Right here at home. Five minutes of a news broadcast. Pretty much every single day. These are who we call our “fellow” Americans.

As Connie Britton said about terrorism, in a recent interview with Refinery 29: “I do not believe that those issues should somehow make us change the way we behave as a country, a nation, as human beings to our fellow human beings around the world.” We have to take a step back for a minute and understand that the only terrorism many refugees will ever be involved with is what’s possibly happening to them right now. The belief that we should not accept any of them because they “could” become terrorists is nothing more than excessive and unfounded paranoia.

At first, it was easy to not want to accept male refugees out of fear of terrorism. But then once people realized that it wasn’t only men, but women and children as well, then came the potential issue of “raising them to be terrorists.”

Connie recently sat down with a young lady by the name of Sandrine, a 20-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In listening to her speak, I was just in awe at all she went through. I can barely even put it into words. I will be 37 years old in about two weeks, and I don’t think that at this age, I could have done very well in dealing with what Sandrine has, let alone back when I was 20. When I hear people here complain about what we like to call “first world problems,” I shake my head. People like Sandrine would love to have some of our “problems.”

It’s not about being “weak” or having a “bleeding heart” as some like to say. In my opinion, it’s like this. If you were walking down the street in a known safe area in broad daylight and you saw someone lying on the ground who asked for you to help, would you ask what country they were from before you helped them? Would you think twice if they were a difference race as you? I think that for the most part, again, if it were a known safe and populated area and there was little concern of that person pulling a knife or gun on us, many of us would help that person. I know I would. I have before.

Obviously when it comes to a refugee, it’s a little more involved than that. But I don’t believe the concept is much different. If we did not know they were refugees, I don’t think many people would object to helping. I think the label of “refugee” and everything that has happened in recent years is why some feel it’s better to just dismiss them, citing the potential for terrorism, along with them “taking our country away from us.”

Many refugees experience, among may other horrible circumstances, sexual violence. We’re not talking only women, but children as well. Human trafficking is a common occurrence. Refugees don’t look to flee to our country to dream about committing terrorism on American soil. They do so to escape from this daily torture. If any of us experienced anything nearly as harsh, I don’t believe there is a single one of us who would not attempt to flee that as well.

Even worse is that these people didn’t in any way bring this on themselves. In many ways, they were simply born into this. My heartache comes from the fact that there are way too many of us who simply don’t care. People don’t want to hear their stories. There is not even an attempt to understand. How many times has a terrorist had a sob story about their upbringing? None that I’ve heard of. So when refugees speak about what they’ve gone through and are going through, what’s the reason we should have to not believe them? Many of us are so consumed with our daily lives and our “first world problems” that it shows such a gross insensitivity. In many ways, this is just disturbing to me. Especially since as a soldier, I have visited these countries and seen firsthand, the way many of them live. Yes, I was away from my family for several months, but when times got tough for me over there, I remembered that in x amount of months, it was over for me. None of the country’s citizens had that luxury.

The bottom line is that the reason many of us love living in this country stems from just this; helping others. That’s the only way we have ended up where we are today. If we never opened our hearts and minds, there wouldn’t be nearly the people we have here, to include many of us who enjoy being here ourselves. We have no problem taking delight in all that, but we fail to realize that if not for our ancestors who had many of the same mindsets as today’s refugees do, we would not be able to. Not a single one of us.

One thing I’ve also heard very often is phrases like, “For all those celebrities who want to accept these refugees, maybe they should open their own homes to them!”

Referring again to Connie Britton, she actually sort of. Back in 2011, she adopted a young boy from Ethiopia named Eyob. I’m not certain if Eyob was a refugee per se, but many others have done the same. However, the response then is back to, “Why can’t they adopt our own children?!”

Obviously, there will always be some fight against this. But as Americans, we need to do better. Plain and simple. None of us like to be grouped in with the bad apples. As a black man, I obviously deal with this all the time. Successful women who are believed to have “slept their way to the top” just because of what other women have done have to hear that as well. And the list goes on. It is unfair to assume that all refugees are coming here to be terrorists. That is shortsighted and just plain inaccurate.

They simply want to come here because again, the United States represents HOPE for them; the very same hope our ancestors saw way back when in how we ended up here several generations later. If we took the time to stop assuming, being paranoid and actually getting to know some of these refugees, especially when they are willing to share their stories as Sandrine has with Ms. Britton a few days ago, we should listen. Not to judge, not to respond prematurely, but to just…listen.

And remember that Sandrine’s is one story of many. Many of our ancestors have similar stories. WE all have stories. If you feel your story is important enough and others should listen, then these refugees not only deserve that same respect, but they are ENTITLED to it, just as we are.

After all, once upon a time…none of US were welcome in this country, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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