A couple of Wednesdays ago I stepped out of my car onto a cracked parking lot. The cracks were deep and wide and made the concrete look as if it had endured the weight of many different feet. The feet it was bearing that Wednesday were colorful and humble and had once walked in far away lands.
I went to this parking lot with the sole purpose of documenting. But I quickly found myself a participant in a beautiful show of selfless humanity.
Every week this slab of concrete is the place where barriers are torn down. Americans with huge hearts meet with brave refugees who have fearlessly fled their homelands to escape persecution. They are making a new life for themselves. Right here in Charlotte. In the Land of the Free. In the land of confusing paperwork and unfamiliar social customs.
Refugee Support Services was born out of the realization that refugees are facing incredible challenges in their first few years in America. RSS began as a one woman show. One passionate woman. Teaching English as a second langauge. Followed by the addition of self-sufficeincy classes. Topics covered range from banking to the medical system to preparing children for their first year of school. Things that come naturally to people living in this society their whole lives. The organization has grown to include many services. One of which I was able to document a couple of Wednesdays ago.
Refugees gathered in the parking lot patiently awaiting the arrival of an old pick up truck. The truck holds the fate of their week's culinary adventures. When it finally arrives many sets of hands begin to unload. Hands from Vietnam and from Burma. Hands from Afghanistan and from America. Hard working hands. The boxes move fast and seasonal treasures are discovered. Fresh ginger is a favorite. An enthusiastic cheer makes its way down the line that has now formed.
Americans hold brightly colored vegetables in the air and shout their english names. Bags are stuffed with a variety of freshly picked produce and they are recieved with grateful smiles by colorfully dressed refugees. The exchange of food is powerful and beautiful but it is the sense of equality that impacts me. Everyone is the same in this parking lot for an hour on Wednesday mornings. Friendships are true and people are respected. It feels safe. It feels like the way it should be.
I got to document this slice of life for Speak Up. These guys are committed to telling the story of social justice initiatives that occur all over town in their magazine that is sold by homeless vendors on the streets of Charlotte. Speak Up Magazine is an incredible source of life for the local homeless population -- providing them with a legitimate alternative to panhandling and dependency on social services. Selling the magazine reults in dignity and hope and often in a rehabilitated life off of the streets.
You can see more images and read the heartfelt story of Refugee Support Services in the next issue which will be going into print in just a few weeks. Purchasing the magazine from a local vendor supports this movement in an incredible way, but if you want to know more about the organization or contribute to the printing cost for the third issue head over here. The more issues that are printed, the more jobs there are for the homeless. And the thought of fewer homeless people makes me happy.