Friday, December 17, 2010

What no one else is doing

Kayse Jama was a boy in rural Somalia, growing up, he told me, "with the animals." His family led a traditional pastoral life, with herds of goats and other livestock to support them. Born into this ancient lifestyle, he could not have known his unimaginable trajectory as the war first pushed his family into the capital, Mogadishu, and then out of the country, across a scattershot of 15 other nations before alighting in Portland.

Since arriving here, Kayse has been tireless in standing up with great courage and persistence for the rights of those who are also just managing to come to America from lands of war and persecution, often finding themselves unwelcome and stereotyped in America. He calls for peace, he calls for understanding and appreciation for all people, and he confronts those who practice the kind of hurtful and hateful behaviors that he well knows lead to deeper and destructive conflict.

Stephanie Stephens was a liberal girl, politically sharp and socially adroit, a young woman on the inside track in Portland who knew everyone. She was with Portland City Club and organized important events. This is how she met Kayse, who spoke eloquently at one of them about the need to work with and honor immigrants rather than regard them as the enemy. Stephanie is tireless, now the mother of their twins, and keeps their organization afloat.

The two of them began their work without a named group, just trying to organize support for immigrants facing troubles, and more specifically Muslim immigrants facing rejection in the post-9.11.01 America. They began by helping to organize around the FBI persecution of a Somali imam, falsely accused of having ties to terrorists. They have gone on to organize many initiatives, both positive and protective, with many allies, constantly reaffirming their base as all immigrants.

Kayse is recognized, last year awarded the 18th annual Steve Lowenstein Trust Award. He is turned to for a wise opinion when there is a crisis.

I believe they have an organizational mission and model worth emulating, which is why I've asked Kayse to speak at several conferences. They bring together Eritreans and Russians, Laotians and Brazilians, groups that don't normally operate under one banner, and they also are advocates, not merely service-oriented. This means it's harder for them to find funding, and I'd encourage you to consider a holiday gift to the Center for Intercultural Organizing. They do amazing work, empowering and educating, and they affect community relations and public policy toward the positive and inclusive.

I've known them and admired them since before they formed an organization and can attest to their authentic positive peace work that is simply irreplaceable. Even a small gift will make a big difference for refugees and immigrants. As hate and xenophobia find more voice, so too must the voice of inclusivity, common sense and compassion, the touchstones of CIO.

No comments: