[August 8, 2012] By Ray Duckler / Monitor columnist
In recent days, the story of Guor Marial, a Sudanese refugee turned Concord High student turned Olympic athlete, has made us feel good – full of community and Olympic spirit.
Yesterday, though, we were reminded that not everyone has welcomed newcomers to the city.
We were reminded of the racist graffiti written on the Concord homes of three African refugee families last September.
And, after more hate was found printed on the home of another African family, we were reminded that the color of one’s skin still makes a difference, at least to the person the police were looking for as of last night. The Thompson Street family, who live in the area where the crimes occurred last fall, awoke Sunday morning to find words like “scum” and “primitive beasts” written below a front window. Wiping away the letters, written in black permanent marker, isn’t easy. Putting an end to this idiocy has proven difficult, too.
It’s naive, of course, to believe that this kind of behavior will be part of the past anytime soon. It won’t.
As Concord’s Sue O’Connor, a teacher at the Multicultural Family Center, says, “For the most part, I think Concord is welcoming. But there are always a few people who aren’t accepting. I think every group of refugees, going back to before Ellis Island, has a hard time when they first come.”
And while that’s both true and troubling, Honore Murenzi, a Rwandan refugee, injected hope with his own take.
“What I know is most of the population of Concord is good,” Murenzi said. “I can say that I never experienced any hate or anything like that.”
Murenzi, who lives in Chichester with his wife and three children, is the director of the New American Africans, a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants adjust to life here.
His resume of goodwill includes Love Your Neighbor, the group he founded after last year’s hate crimes rocked the city. He also adopted a little Liberian boy three years ago, because, he says, the boy “didn’t have someone to give him love.”
And he wrote letters and advocated to ensure that Marial would finish his paperwork in time to fly to London for Sunday’s Olympic marathon.
Marial’s story has been well documented, in these pages and all over the world. The story about his family, murdered by the Sudanese government. The story about his escape to the United States and his three years at Concord High, where coaches marveled at his speed and endurance on the track.
And the story of the local families who brought Marial into their homes, the Cofrins and the Fords and the Samuelses, who treated him like one of their own, who taught him how to drive, who made his transition smooth, like his long stride to the finish line.
“He’s a joyful story, a marvelous juxtaposition to what happened here,” said Maggie Fogarty, a board member for New American Africans. “We claimed him; he’s our son. We celebrate his achievements as we celebrate the achievements of the wave after wave of immigrants who come and build our communities.
“We know how to celebrate these things,” Fogarty continued. “They’re getting tripped up in some very complex political questions, and it can bring out the worst in some of us, and we have to be ready to say no to this kind of behavior.”
O’Connor has been active in the refugee community for 20 years. She says she’s seen racism up close, like the time a woman asked why she even bothered helping people from other countries.
“I told her that I thought it was worthwhile,” O’Connor said. “I told her that I didn’t think you needed to look a certain way or be from a certain place to be treated as another human being, that we’re all in it together.”
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