USA: Building Community with Refugees in Mobile, Alabama

19 July 2018

Spring Hill College students during their cultural night. (Khalid Al-Shethry /Spring Hill High School)

At Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, a passion for social justice and service drives the JRS Action Team to advocate for refugees and fight stereotypes about the globally displaced.

Dot Brown, senior and president of the JRS Action Team, has worked to expand the group’s reach in the local community over her college career. After meeting refugees in the Dominican Republic and Italy, Brown decided to get more involved with JRS on campus to learn more about displacement and the refugee crisis. “Our school is based in service, and JRS has given us to the tools to raise awareness about this social justice issue,” said Brown.

Over the past two years, the Spring Hill Action Team has found different ways to engage with refugees and advocacy. A centerpiece of their programming is the JRS Walk a Mile in My Shoes refugee simulation. As a part of Spring Hill’s annual Social Justice Week, the Action Team gives students and community members in Mobile the opportunity to walk through a series of stations that replicate the refugee experience. Students can see and reflect on the amount of food, water, shelter space, and education that refugees receive in camps all over the world. 

The Action Team also found a key partner in Dwell Mobile, a local organization that supports resettled families in the area through professional development, youth programs, and community engagement. The Action Team partnered with Dwell for a showing of Salaam Neighbor, an acclaimed documentary chronicling the life of a Syrian refugee in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. The showing was followed by a conversation with the Director of Dwell and Spring Hill students and allowed students to visualize the plight of global refugees.

One of the Action Team’s favorite events is their annual Cultural Night, an event that brings together resettled families and neighbors throughout Mobile for a night of food and entertainment. “Everyone is invited,” said Brown. “The Action Team, anyone on campus, Dwell staff, refugees and their families, and adults. It helps to introduce people from Spring Hill to refugee families, build relationships, and take away any stereotypes they may have about refugees.” The night begins with a potluck with cuisine from all around the world, leading to a community talent show featuring performances and dances from participants of different cultural backgrounds.

In these diverse ways, the JRS Action Team at Spring Hill is working to raise awareness about refugees and build a community understanding of displacement. “Working with JRS is a great way to fight for social justice,” said Brown. “It helps me to feel that I am able to make a difference on such a big issue in the world right now. I may not be changing the world in a minute, but I get to interact with others in my community and educate others on refugees beyond the statistics.”

Want to organize your own Refugee Action Team or host a simulation in your church, school, or community? Take a look at our materials here and download the toolkit to begin today.