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Kansas City Celebrates World Refugee Day Gateway to the World

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Above image credit: Liliane Lemani, fled her home country Democratic Republic of Congo, and stayed in a Namibia refugee camp for 12 years before she came to the United States in January 2017. She began her small sewing business in the garage of her Kansas City, Kansas, home. She later won an award in a small business competition. (Shelly Yang | The Kansas City Star via AP)
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2 minute read

Kansas City’s third annual World Refugee Day celebration will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Northeast Branch. 

The event, organized by the Library’s Refugee & Immigrant Services & Empowerment (RISE), will feature food, family activities and local organizations that serve the refugee community. 

World Refugee Day, which falls annually on June 20, was created under the United Nation’s 1951 Refugee Convention to celebrate refugees’ courage and to call for treating them with dignity. 

The free event is meant to celebrate the refugee community, specifically in the Northeast neighborhood, while introducing attendees to useful resources. 

RISE Outreach Manager Julie Robinson said the event will feature several organizations that serve refugees in Kansas City, including Samuel Rodgers Health Center, Welcoming KC and Della Lamb Community Services, among others. Visits from elected officials and a speaker for the United Nations are also expected at the event. 

Harvesters, a food bank in northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, will be at World Refugee Day to distribute food and fresh produce to attendees with a farmers’ market-like setup. 

“(There is) the piece around culturally familiar foods and things that we know or tie us back to our culture and how meaningful that is,” said Jessica Kejr, director of programs and food+ at Harvesters. “We can celebrate those types of things and Harvesters is really eager to dig in deep with lots of partners in that type of way in terms of really making sure people have access to those familiar foods.” 

Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), which helps resettle new arrivals to the Kansas City area, is a fiscal sponsor for this year’s celebration and will also be at the event promoting some of its courses and offering interpreters in Spanish and Burmese. 

Lauren Weinhold, JVS’ chief external affairs officer, highlighted the importance of World Refugee Day in providing resources and showing support for Kansas City’s refugees. 

“The diversity and entrepreneurship, the multitude of gifts that refugees and immigrants bring to Kansas City is worth celebrating,” she said. “We as a city, we understand that our city is better with refugees and immigrants here. We are only as good as the diversity in our community.” 

While the event will help new arrivals access resources to find a solid footing in Kansas City, Robinson said it also serves an important role in helping refugees connect with each other by finding others with shared languages and experiences. 

“It’s letting (attendees) interact and get to know someone on a different level than if you’re working with them or just seeing them as passing on the street,” she said. “You never get to know anybody until you actually are with them for a while and then you find out they’re really just like you are. They may speak another language but they’re just human beings.” 

Robinson also emphasized that anyone is welcome at the World Refugee Day celebration, as it can help non-refugees connect with their neighbors and appreciate what refugees bring to the community. 

“We’ve had long discussions: ‘Is this for the refugees? Is this for other people? Who is this really for?’” Robinson said. “My personal opinion is it’s for everyone, because if you don’t get to know the person that lives next door to you, or around the corner from you and there’s no interaction, then you never get to find out about other cultures.” 

Teagan King is a University of Missouri journalism student and summer reporting intern at Kansas City PBS and Missouri Business Alert, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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