A concert. A community picnic. A soccer tournament. COVID-19 rendered these World Refugee Day traditions impossible this year, but that didn’t prevent the volunteers on the WRD Chicago Committee from pioneering a virtual event on Saturday, June 20th. Doubling as a fundraiser for Ezra Multi-Service Center, WRD Chicago’s two-and-a-half-hour celebration featured 8 storytellers, 8 associations, and 11 musical performances from among the city’s refugee communities and their allies.

Marketing Chair Katelyn Skye Bennett said the WRD Chicago Committee began planning in-person festivities last fall. Their shift to a YouTube Premiere event just a few weeks ago proved challenging.

“Our committee is composed of highly skilled and connected members who are passionate about uplifting our refugee neighbors, and we have a groove with how to work things when we can interact within the physical community,” Bennett said. “But to capture that same feel while virtual is difficult. Performances have to be shorter to keep the audience’s attention, and you have to know how to actually go live on social media.”

Fortunately, the committee successfully worked with tech-savvy partners to launch an event with over 330 views to date, showcasing the stories and talents of Chicagoans from across the globe. One such Chicagoan was Ali Touré Golden. Originally from Togo, the singer has lived in the city since 2017. The song he performed, “MODOM,” urges those rejected by their families, communities, and societies to persevere because God always stays beside them.

“For me, it was a pleasure to participate in this initiative, to raise my voice, and to share this song to encourage those who think their life means nothing, the most vulnerable,” Golden said.

Ali Toure Golden
Ali Toure Golden performing for World Refugee Day.

Bennett also said she wanted the event to positively impact its viewers. “I primarily hope they walked away from their screens feeling joy and pride at seeing their friends, family, neighbors, and clients demonstrate their gifts and share their stories at the annual celebration,” she said. “I hope they also feel more equipped, hearing about organizations like REACH (Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge) and Agents of Hope Training and Information Center, for example, or the Rohingya Cultural Center of Chicago. Finally, I hope that those with means will continue to share equitably with their communities, as the fundraiser inspired some to do.”

Indeed, another potential takeaway from the event was that its performers and storytellers are true members of the Chicagoan and the American community. During his performance, Golden wore a bazin riche with the United States flag on the chest.

“I’m proud to be an American resident,” he explained. “Because at the end of the day, America is home for me.”