Meet George, A Liberian Refugee Bringing a Positive Message to Capitol Hill
By Rachel Nusbaum, HIAS.org
Oct 05, 2016
George has called America home since he was seven years old. Originally from Liberia, his family fled a violent civil war – escaping first to the Ivory Coast and then to Ghana. He arrived in the U.S. in 1999, settling in Parkview, Staten Island. It wasn’t the easiest neighborhood to grow up in, George recalls. Despite an epidemic of gang violence which led many of his peers to drop out early, George made it through high school and is now in his final year at Brooklyn College.
“I’m one of the lucky ones who made it through,” he says. He credits this in great part to a mentor, who has been a guiding force in his life. It’s a role he’s now trying to play for others in his hometown.
George was on Capitol Hill last week to meet his representatives in Congress because, he said, “I wanted to be a voice for refugees. I know their struggle.”
George is an incredibly sweet and caring young man, so soft-spoken you have to lean in sometimes to catch what he is saying, but whose face lights up when he gets animated about a topic. This topic is usually helping others. In fact, over the course of the day it becomes obvious that George is perpetually trying to help others deal with and overcome any problem he himself has faced.
After being mugged a few times near campus, for example, he decided to run for student government to address campus safety issues. He has also worked as a peer counselor and tutor for refugee kids, as they adjust to life in the U.S. as well as to the public school system in New York City.
These qualities greatly impressed the representatives and staffers George met with as part of Refugee Congress, an event put on by UNHCR to bring refugee and asylee “delegates” from all 50 states to the nation’s capital, to meet their representatives face-to-face.
It’s a chance for refugees to tell their own stories, in their own voices. To say for themselves who they are, what challenges they face and also what they have contributed and hope still to contribute to this country that has welcomed them and saved them from danger.
George has been heavily involved with African Refuge, a neighborhood non-profit organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth. He is passionate about steering kids away from gangs, and towards resources that can help them adapt and be successful. He is a powerful example of how resettled refugees contribute to their communities – not only overcoming the challenges of starting over in a new country but also turning around and making sure the rest of the community succeeds as well.
While on Capitol Hill, George also had a chance to observe a Senate hearing on the refugee resettlement program.
HIAS paralegal Jonathon Orta, who was George’s escort for the day, noticed that although some of the rhetoric at the hearing got rather heated, George wasn’t really surprised.
“He’s lived in this country for seventeen years, so he’s heard all that stuff before,” Orta said. “But I could see on the faces of some of the other refugees in the room that they were more shocked to hear some of the things people were saying.”
After meeting with Congressman Dan Donovan (R-NY), however, George walked away impressed.
“He gave me the space to talk and listened to what I had to say. I really respected that,” George said. “A lot of powerful people aren’t like that.”