As part of its monthly Conversation Series, Christ the King Retreat House and Conference Center in Syracuse hosted a lively panel discussion, “The Changing Face of Syracuse and What Multiculturalism Adds to Syracuse,” on April 9.The discussion opened dialogue on different ideas as well as challenges with multiculturalism, which occurs when different cultural identities

within a specific society come together.

   The panel discussion was facilitated by Dr. Grant Reeher, a professor of political science and director of the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute at the Maxwell School of Citizenship in Syracuse. Panel participants included Beth Broadway and Jai Subedi from Interfaith Works, Dominic Robinson from Northside Urban Partnership, Chol Awan Majok from the Syracuse Mayor’s Office and Linda Green from the Newland Center for Adult Learning and Literacy.

   The evening began with the panelists giving their personal backgrounds and explaining what they felt were the key benefits and challenges of multiculturalism in the city of Syracuse. Chol Awan Majok, who emigrated from South Sudan and now works at the Mayor’s Office, led the discussion explaining, “Globalization brings all of us together. It connects us all over the world and that connection is happening faster than ever… Being connected shows that multiculturalism exists.” Majok went on to point out that refugees and immigrants bring with them new skills, foods and ideas on worship that have ultimately changed the face of the North side of Syracuse. “With what we bring to the table we now have to think differently… It is a different community than what it once was,” stated Majok

   Beth Broadway, executive director for Interfaith Works, a non-profit agency working to settle refugees and build understanding between ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups, discussed how her agency brings more than 1,000 refugees each year to Syracuse, creating an influx of cultures that have resulted in positive changes. “There has been an increase in tolerance and an outgrowth of interest in multiculturalism,” stated Broadway. She also pointed out with the growth of multiculturalism, there is a challenge to find ways to build a new democracy that gives a voice to new citizens. Broadway also felt that a key to a successful future for all cultures is to create a deliberate space for all groups to speak and have heartfelt conversations on how to break down stereotypes.

   Jai Subedi was born in Chirang, Bhutan, and emigrated from Nepal to Syracuse with his family a few years ago. He now works at Interfaith Works. Subedi pointed out that New York State is the third-largest state in the nation to welcome refugees. “I have my own experience [to define multiculturalism]. I am very happy in the city of Syracuse…and [my] neighborhood on the North side is made up of different cultures and is fully diverse. I think we have come with talents and experience and are hardworking people who improved the quality of life.” But Subedi also sees the challenges, mainly acclimating the older refugee generation to their new life in Syracuse. “It’s hard for them to learn the American values, the language and without it, they have difficulty finding job opportunities. But we will come through all these challenges by learning from our past,” he said.

   Linda Greene, executive director of the not-for-profit Newland Center, pointed out that every agency should have a literacy component in order to help refugees not only understand and speak English, but to also comprehend the nuances of it in order to retain their jobs.

   Dominic Robinson from Northside Urban Partnership believes economic vitality for the community is predicated on multiculturalism, but stated that in order to embrace the vitality, there is a need to create more economic opportunities.

   Once panelists had a chance to speak, Reeher fielded questions and comments from the audience. Melanie Franklin brought her son, Kenyon, 21, a student at Syracuse University, to the discussion. “I raised my son with the mindset that he is an American but when he goes into institutions, they don’t treat him as American. It’s very difficult to raise our children on how to come up against racism. How do you live your life if the state of your skin color is always an issue?”

   Several attendees also shared personal stories, thoughts and opinions before the evening’s event concluded. As participants began to leave, one man remarked, “Even a few years ago, a discussion like this would never have happened. But tonight, we shed light on a lot of issues. What it shows us is we all have a lot of work to do.”

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