Rachele King is the state refugee coordinator for the Resettlement Programs Office of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She is helping to develop a task force of representatives from 10 states to address policies about refugees and unaccompanied children. The goal is to bridge the gap between state employees who work with refugee populations and legislators who make policy.
King says her priority is to create a system that allows all Minnesotans to live with respect and dignity. To do that, she wants to help counter the narrative that defines people by their refugee status. One of the biggest challenges, King says, is “making sure people have accurate information. We have seen how misinformation can change the narrative in communities and conversations about this topic.”
What she wants more Minnesotans to understand is that individuals who resettle through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program “have been granted the opportunity to rebuild their lives with freedom and hope in the United States,” King says. “Today’s young refugees are tomorrow’s workforce, civic leaders, business owners, and citizens.”
Her office partners with about 40 community organizations around the state, including school districts, large non-profits, small community-based organizations, and local resettlement affiliates. King says collaborative public and private networks are key, involving experts who specialize in different areas, such as school systems, health programs, employment and training, as well as the community at large, employers, and volunteers who work within these systems to provide connection to our communities.
The best thing Minnesotans can do to help refugees resettle, King says, is to “learn more about refugees. Conversations are happening all over Minnesota, and one of the best things people can do is to engage in those conversations with accurate information, as well as to reach out to provide connection and support.”
Nekessa Julia Opoti works as an advocate for immigrants. Although injustice consumes her work, she is still hopeful, seeing people coming together nationwide for issues such as clean water access.
Her recommended action steps:
• Fight racism in all its forms.
• Support immigrant-led organizations with your time and money.
• Watch for opportunities to volunteer. Most grassroots organizations are running on empty and need support with grant-writing, event planning, accounting, and other organizational skills.
• Be radical. Think outside of systems. Ask elected officials how they will materially support immigrants. It is not enough to declare a city a sanctuary if the justice system criminalizes people of color.
Many state organizations and groups are working on building new grooves of cultural awareness. For example, the Change Network Minnesota leadership program launched in 2017 with 17 participants of different backgrounds who learned how to become leaders who embrace their own cultures while also working to make inclusivity happen at multiple levels in organizations.
Veronica Quillien, who is attending the University of Minnesota for a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, was in that first class of leaders. She is a member of the Bàsàa people of Cameroon, and also identifies as an artist by her Bàsàa name, Sandjock Likinè.