Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Kansas City PBS/Flatland, a member of the KC Media Collective, which also includes Startland News, KCUR 89.3, American Public Square, The Kansas City Beacon, and Missouri Business Alert.
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The Kansas City Public Library’s Northeast Branch parking lot was full of lively music and friendly chatter Saturday morning as people gathered at Kansas City’s World Refugee Day event.
As the sun shone down, attendees talked with friends and volunteers and watched the performers sharing traditional art and dance from their home countries.
The event, organized by the library’s Refugee & Immigration Services & Empowerment, offered a range of resources to the local refugee community, including several organizations that support new arrivals in finding work and gaining important job and life skills.
One such organization present was Della Lamb, which helps resettle refugees by getting them set up with Medicaid, food stamps and housing, among many other services.
Taleah Brewer, part of Della Lamb’s community sponsorship team, said events like the World Refugee Day celebration are important for outreach to potential new volunteers and for reaching people who may need their services.
“We just want them to know that we’re out here and available to help,” she said.
Della Lamb, along with other organizations at the celebration, also help provide support to new arrivals looking for jobs. KC Scholars, another such group, used Saturday’s event to share information on its new program, Great Jobs, which offers courses in certified nursing assistant training, information technology security and construction basics, among a long list of others.
This program is virtual, self-paced and free to join, which KC Scholars Recruitment Manager Edwin Locke said helps make education and career advancement accessible.
“We’re in the workforce, and we know people have lives and they have jobs. So we’ll help work around those,” Locke said. “We’re trying to level you up so that you can better your life and your family.”
Reda Ibrahim, a visitor at the event, started his own business as another way to provide support and resources for refugees in Kansas City.
His company, RK Contractors, hires Middle Eastern refugees and teaches them how to find and keep jobs, as well as non-career skills like renting a house and learning U.S. cultural customs.
“When I came here, I didn’t find enough resources to help me out, so I struggled to start and basically make the way. So I’m making the way (for others),” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim also runs a nonprofit, Mercy in the City, to create housing for refugees and displaced persons to help them become self-sufficient. He is now planning on creating a Middle Eastern Chamber of Commerce. The current Chamber of Commerce provides no representation for business owners like him, Ibrahim said, so he wants to create this new Chamber of Commerce to better represent businesses run by people with Middle Eastern backgrounds.
His business and organizations, as well as events like World Refugee Day, are important to welcoming new arrivals and helping them truly become part of the Kansas City community, Ibrahim said.
“If we’re not gonna absorb these minorities in the fabric of the society, they’re gonna create their own bubble, and this is going to create more segregation,” he said. “They’re gonna create a more, not diverse, but divided, city and we don’t want that because I love this city.”
Multiple food trucks were also at the event, including Sugar Skull Grill. Though not a refugee or immigrant himself, owner and founder Ricky Franco said he was inspired by his family’s story and history in the restaurant industry to start his own company.
He said his dad and uncle came to the U.S. with $5,000 and a goal to open a restaurant, so the inspiration for his Sugar Skull food truck had “been in the family a while” after seeing his family’s business
Jerusalem Cafe, another popular food truck, was at the event, as well as speakers with the United Nations (UN), which created World Refugee Day under the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention to celebrate refugees’ courage. The UN has designated June 20 as the official World Refugee Day.
Martin Okpareke and Abdul Bakar, two local residents and former refugees, spoke at the event on behalf of the UN about their experiences and why this event is important to them.
Mayor Quinton Lucas also briefly stopped by the celebration to speak with attendees. He said Kansas City’s cultural diversity, especially in the Northeast area, which historically has been a local gateway for immigrants, is beneficial for the city.
“(The cultural diversity) welcomes new people, welcomes more business opportunities, and lets us be this great place,” Lucas said.