Clarkston, Georgia - Friends of Refugees (FOR)
Known as "The Most Diverse Square Mile in America", Clarkston, Georgia is home to immigrants and refugees from all over the world. Those who know me well know the special place that Clarkston holds in my heart. They know the ways that this small town has shaped my worldview, my passions, and my life. They know that I am the person I am today because of the people of Clarkston who have welcomed me into their lives and shown me the meaning of peace, resilience, and joy. It has always felt like home to me. This summer I was given the opportunity to invest all of my time and energy into the place that has given me life. Instead of Clarkston just feeling like home, it became my home. It's where I loved, where my heart was broken and healed, where I found refuge, where I was given the freedom to be completely who I am.
Over the course of 10 weeks along with 15 high school girls, we actively celebrated who we are and who we are becoming. My project, a female empowerment curriculum for girls of color, focused on reclaiming the parts of ourselves that the world has tried to take away and using that newfound strength within ourselves to promote goodness and change within our community. We walked through lies people speak over us, setting a self-care plan, asking for space to heal and grow, and the importance of setting goals. We celebrated women in our lives, women in the larger framework of our history, and each other. We discovered what we care about, what we want to see changed, and how we can become active participants in changing narratives right here in our community. We spent time together and listened to each other. We made promises of honesty and kindness to each other. We built lives together. I say "we" because liberation work is about placing youth in positions of teaching, becoming co-authors of the narrative we are shaping, and co-founders of peace and justice in the world around us. Youth have powerful voices that push back on power structures, and I lived a summer of opening up a space for those voices, dreams, and stories to grow and be shared.
The program finished with a capstone project designed completely by the girls. After two full sessions of brainstorming, we took our conversation back to the first week of the program and answered the simple but profound questions of "What do people say about us?" and "What is the truth?" After naming the lies people speak about Clarkston-needy, hopeless, unworthy-the girls decided to commit themselves to speaking one solid truth over Clarkston: "This is our home and it is good". They didn't want anyone else telling that story for them. Their capstone, rooted in a desire to remind residents of Clarkston of its goodness, manifested itself in a website dedicated to sharing good news every month and at-shirt with the slogan: GOOD LIVES HERE. They plan to sell it at their churches, at school, at businesses around Clarkston. They have committed to interviewing people throughout the year to tell of the inherent and growing good in their city. They want the money they collect from shirt sales to go towards crafting a bigger event for the community next summer. They are dreaming and working together to show their community what is true about them, and I could not be more proud to call them friends and sisters. call them friends and sisters.
This summer I learned that empowerment work is directly linked to telling the truth. Telling the truth about who we are. Telling the truth about what we see. Telling the truth about what needs to change. Telling the truth about the role we play in making that happen-claiming that we, as women of color, are active participants in the liberation and advancements of our communities. I created this project because I believe that when girls are empowered our world changes for the better,and now more than ever, I know that is an unwavering truth.