Common Humanity and Radical Difference

October 11, 2018

As part of our initiative to promote justice and equity within nonprofit communities, CNE is introducing a series of guest writers who have been grappling with what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to them and their organizations and who have agreed to share their insights. Our fourth guest piece comes from Harriet Kuhr, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville and Richmond. IRC provides opportunities for refugees, asylees, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and other immigrants to thrive in America. Let us know how your organization approaches issues of diversity and how we can help by filling out this short questionnaire

One very important question guides much of our work: how do we help new Americans integrate successfully into our community, recognizing our common humanity while respecting our radical differences?

For refugees and other immigrants forced to flee their homeland at risk of their lives, learning to adapt to life in the U.S. can be disorienting and challenging. Is it possible to come to a country so different from your own, where you will struggle with language and complex cultural norms—and still maintain a sense of your own identity?

The label “refugee” itself complicates a newcomer’s identity. Some are proud to be known as former refugees, with its connotations of resilience, strength, and capacity to successfully navigate a new culture. Others can’t leave the descriptor “refugee” behind fast enough, as emblematic of suffering, deprivation, and being “less than” others.

Immigrants often take on a new identity as a member of a religious or ethnic minority in the U.S. As the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noted, “I didn’t know I was black until I came to America.”

Gender equity is an issue that affects almost everyone the IRC serves. We strive to ensure that the women and girls we work with, whatever their background, are allowed to envision their own lives and futures. We encourage them to respect their traditions and social networks while empowering them to explore new alternatives.

By helping refugees navigate these challenges, we allow them to regain self-determination over their own lives.

Harriet Kuhr
Executive Director
The International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville and Richmond

Join us on Wednesday, October 17 for a discussion about how coalition leaders can more fully embrace the principles of equity when convening their coalition, engaging members, and conducting outreach to impacted parties. Also, please be sure to check out our website for a curated list of resources related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonprofit sector.

© Center for Nonprofit Excellence 2019

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