By Michael Melara, Executive Director
This is my friend, Raphael. I met him and his two daughters, Belvic and Octavie, in 2016. I greeted them at the Syracuse Airport with a team of coworkers from Catholic Charities whose work it was to resettle Rafael’s family. They were refugees from the Central African Republic. They had lived in a refugee camp for over 12 years before making the three-day trip to Syracuse. By the time I met them, they were exhausted from the trip, but managed to smile and express their appreciation for being someplace safe, a place where they could start a new life.
Raphael and his children were no strangers to pain in all of its forms. He still carries the wounds of being shot a half dozen times during conflict in his homeland. His children are without their mother. Because of continued instability and violence in their home country, it would be dangerous for them to return even for a visit. Despite the hardships, he and his children are optimistic and engaged in their new community.
While Belvic and Octavie are excelling at school, Raphael is learning English at our Opportunity Center. He’s making great progress. When asked if it is difficult, he provides his perennial response: “No problem.” He’s determined to learn and contribute. I like his odds.
It was reported today that the president used a vulgar term in reference to African countries and Haiti. It was not only a new vocabulary word for Raphael, but its meaning was intended to disparage and degrade him. Fortunately, the greater Syracuse community does not share this point of view about Raphael, his children, or the many refugees and immigrants who live here and call Central New York home.
As far as Raphael, Belvic, and Octavie are concerned, America is a good place, a welcoming place, a caring place. We intend to keep it that way. And we intend, with great urgency, to pray that our political leaders demonstrate, as Lincoln said long ago, “the better angels of our nature.”