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Neighbors and fellow refugees, in solidarity

Along with 1500 other Richmonders on Sunday afternoon, I joined many of you at the Islamic Center of Virginia, for Standing Together: One Nation, One Community. It was an experience I won’t forget; and, if you were there, I’m sure you won’t either. It was beautiful. The sunlit crowd, sprawling across the hill in front of the mosque, some sitting, some standing, people of all ages and colors and faiths. And there was an unmistakable, wonderfully palpable spirit of joy and warmth and kindness and solidarity, intermingled with an equally palpable and fierce, if gentle, determination to see that justice is done in this land of ours.

Afterward, speaking with a Muslim family, we spoke of how this, this right here, is the kingdom of God, this is what God wants: neighbors coming together in kindness, standing by one another, and standing up for justice and equality and the dignity of every human being.

As part of the program Sunday afternoon, I was asked to speak on the theme of “Refugees, Aren’t We All?” Below you’ll find the reflection I offered. It was, needless to say, a blessing to be part of the day. I look forward to the next such gathering; and I’ll make sure you know about it.

Yesterday evening, my wife Gena and I watched Yassin Falafel with our two sons, Fin (age 7) and Nelson (age 11). 

We want them to know the story of Yassin Terou and his family. 

And we want them to know the stories of other refugees, as well.

We want our boys to know the story of a refugee named William Colquhoun, a seventeen-year-old Scot suddenly caught up in a war, a soldier in the ranks, when his country was invaded. Captured in battle, force-marched out of his homeland, never to see it again. Treated brutally, he was then sold into indentured servitude in this country, arriving here in 1652, in the port of Boston. William worked in an iron works, then in shipbuilding, then brickmaking. One of the original settlers of Block Island, he eventually managed to gain his freedom; and he and his wife, Deliverance, raised a large family.

William and Deliverance Colquhoun, refugees: my boys’ eighth great grandparents.

That’s on my side of the family.

And then there’s the story of Dominico and Isabella Cappabianco, refugees, -- economic refugees, escaping relentless poverty in rural Italy. Dominico came into the port of New York in 1898, and Isabella, his wife followed a year later. They then made their way to upstate New York, to Glenn’s Falls, where they found restaurant and factory work, had a large family, and made a life for themselves.

Dominico and Isabella Cappabianco, refugees, my boys’ great-great grandparents. On their mother’s side.

I could go on. And perhaps you could too.

For the truth is, to a person -- to a person -- we all have the blood of refuges flowing in our veins, whether or not we happen to know their particular stories, stretching back across millennia of human history.

The story of the refugee is part of our story, the American story, the human story.

Indeed, it can be said, we are all refugees.

I want to make sure my boys know this, in their bones.

And in their hearts.

And, let us pray, may all Americans embrace this truth about who we are:

Yes, we are all refugees.