CLEVELAND — On Friday evening, about 150 people came together at King’s Church in Cleveland to learn about different cultures.
The event “Cleveland For All” was organized by Cleveland Vibes, a media and apparel company; Building Hope in the City, a place for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers; and King’s Church.
“The three of us, King’s Church, Building Hope in the City and Cleveland Vibes, came up with this idea to have this event so people could come and gain awareness about what was happening and what its like to be the people coming into our city and what they’re coming in with and how we can tangibly serve and help them,” said Matthew Lopresti, the associate pastor at King’s Church.
In August, tens of thousands of Afghans fled their homes when the Taliban took over and since then, more than 600 of those Afghans have resettled in Cleveland.
Eileen Wilson, the director of refugee ministry at Building Hope in the City, helps those starting a new life in Northeast Ohio get acclimated and keep moving forward.
“After they’ve been in Cleveland for awhile and they’ve been resettled and gotten some help, it’s really a way for them to move forward, it’s what I call going from surviving to thriving,” she said. “They don’t need us to take them through it they need us to stand beside them. There’s a lot of fear of the unknown and a lot of lack of confidence.”
Kaitie Nickel is the founder of Cleveland Vibes. She said she wanted to find a way to welcome Afghan refugees to Cleveland with open arms.
“I think a lot of people have a lot of passion and they go to the internet and they tell everybody how they feel and then sometimes it ends there, they don’t have the tools to take this passion and turn it into action, so we want to give people the tools,” she said. “I can’t imagine how it would feel to be taken from your country, to leave people behind that you love.”
Wilson has worked and helped asylum seekers in Cleveland for years. She said the best way to make them feel at home, is to understand they’ve left the only home they’ve ever known.
“When you think about that those choices they’ve had to make, I think that’s how you best understand,” she said. “One of the most heartbreaking things about the Afghan refugees is that they never had the time to grieve home.”
Wilson said there’s no choice for them but to learn a culture that is so different from their own and Friday’s event ‘Cleveland For All’ is an opportunity for Clevelanders to learn a little bit about Afghanistan, too.
“We hope that people that come and are immersed in this experience will learn that there’s people that are coming into our city that have names, that have stories, that have lives,” said Lopresti.
It featured traditional Afghan food, a Kabul market, portraits of refugee families that have settled in Cleveland and Wilson sharing stories and talks about the people she’s met at the Hope Center.
“You won’t really know them unless you come out and see and recognize ‘ok this is a culture I never understood,” she said.
Their hope is that the attendees walk away feeling like Cleveland is stronger because of its diverse population. Nickel said Cleveland Vibes hopes to do several more similar events.
“Cleveland is full of very compassionate people,” said Nickel. “ I hope it is an eye opening experience that allows people to go on to be more compassionate in their day to day lives.”
Lopresti echoed her sentiment.
“Leave knowing that refugees aren’t people to be politicized they are people to be loved,” he said.
The ticket sales from Friday’s event will benefit Hope in the City. Cleveland Vibes has also started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Hope in the City to further help refugee and asylum seekers who settle in Cleveland.