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Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter

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On this day, the luncheon was put on by several local chambers of commerce including the Willoughby Lake County Chamber, the Eastern Lake County Chamber, and the Mentor Chamber in partnership with "Begin the Conversation" which is a local organization whose purpose is "to have an open and honest conversation regarding race relations and justice in our community, to lay the groundwork through education and communication regarding our community's commitment to peace, cooperation, accountability, and equality and to build a relationship of trust between the citizens of Lake County and community leaders."

Certainly Mr. McNallan's presentation was consistent with those goals.

After the diversity program concluded, we hurried over to the Solon Community Center to attend an ICC-WIN program about the refugee process in which our friend Mr. Alassane Fall and Ms. Claudia O'Brien coordinated a discussion and a "Q and A" involving Mr. Patrice Maketa, a refugee from the Congo and Mr. Mahmoud Jafaar, a refugee from Iraq.

We listened as Mr. Maketa (with the help of Mr. Fall who translated for him) talked about how he had been a refugee for some 18 years before he and his wife and their six children were finally able to resettle in Cleveland with the help of the "International Organization for Migration" and was very appreciative of the opportunity to start their lives over again. Thankfully, at this time he is working in for an automobile manufacturer and is part- owner of a garage where Mr. Fall had his car's oil changed recently.

Moreover, even though Mr. Maketa still struggles with the English language at this time (he vows to soon have it down) his children speak English fluently and are doing very well in school.

As for Mr. Jafaar, he was a college professor teaching marketing in Iraq before the U.S. took control in the early 2000's. After he volunteered to help the U.S. Armed Forces, his life was endangered so he was forced to flee to Syria. After a few years of interviews and screenings, Mr. Jafaar was allowed to resettle in the U.S. with the help of Catholic Charities. Right now, he is taking classes so that he can once again teach marketing and is very happy to be here.

In the course of telling their stories and answering questions, Mr. Maketa and Mr. Jafaar along with Mr. Fall (who is very well-versed in this area) explained to the attendees what it is to be a refugee and the often overwhelming resettlement procedures. Both Mr. Maketa and Mr. Jafaar seemed to agree that mastering the English language was one of the most formidable challenges that they faced after coming to the U.S. but most people have been very helpful and supportive of them.

Because he is from the Middle East and speaks with an accent, however, Mr. Jafaar believed that a few people who first meet him may regard him with some suspicion but after they get to know him things are fine. Interestingly, he also mentioned that one of the things that is different in the U.S. is that when we go to the grocery store we often buy enough food to last for a week whereas the people of Iraq mostly shop meal by meal.

Needless to say, both soon found that the weather of Northeast Ohio is quite different from that of their countries of origin particularly in the winter. On this subject, Mr. Maketa maintained that in the Congo they are used to having just two seasons, one wet and one dry. But, on a positive note, Mr. Jafaar said that he has come to like snow and believes it to be healthy. What's more, he feels a lot healthier since he came to Northeast Ohio.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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