I sat on the cool pavement of the pavilion, one among hundreds, watching the colors and movement of the Rvwang tribe as they shared one of their native dances with us. It was a hot day, but that didn’t stop them from putting on the thickly woven sweaters and long skirts. They were committed to sharing this piece of their heritage with us, and we were better for it.
I glanced back and forth between the dancers and the audience, barely able to keep my awe at bay, trying to casually wipe the tears (errr.. sweat?) from my eyes. I wasn’t sure which was more mesmerizing – the dancers and the dance, or the people watching the dance. Both were profoundly beautiful.
The audience was composed of people from all over the world, speaking a multitude of languages, from a variety of cultural backgrounds. They shared the space under this roof together: watching, laughing, eating, celebrating – despite their differences. It was a snapshot of the World in One Place. The world, right here, together, in the middle of America.
I couldn’t tell you all of their stories – how they got from there to here – but I know that they each have one. Stories marred by loss, destruction, a feeling that once was that can never again be. But they are also stories, people, marked by resilience and hope.
As I looked into the crowd, colors, ages, race, wealth, gender, and health across the spectrum flooded together. We were unified at this very moment.
These are the moments that radiate deep within, the moments that serve as reminders: this is why you do what you do. This is why volunteers give countless hours. This is why individuals from all over the community give hundreds and hundreds of dollars. This is why our staff answer the phone late at night to respond to a plethora of needs. This is why college students submit intern applications. This is why people give clothing and kitchen supplies. This is why churches host basic needs drives and why businesses sponsor golf tournaments.
Because something radical happens when we come together.
Something changes within us when we encounter the clashing of cultures on our front steps. Our perspective changes… what was can no longer be what is. Because now we have new eyes; different expectations. Our eyes cannot unsee the beauty, our minds cannot forget how profound this unity is.
Because, for just a moment… everything feels exactly the way it should be. A coming together, instead of a tearing down. Unity, instead of division. Looking at and celebrating what we have in common instead of honing in and elevating our differences.
Columbia showed up to our World Refugee Day Celebration. A Columbia comprised of many languages, many countries, many tribes: a reflection of true unity.
Thank you, Columbia, for this display. For coming together; for being a city of refuge.