African-born advocate and refugee, reflects on being a Black woman in the US — Global Issues

Lourena Gboeah begins by describing how she and her four-year-old daughter, Moriah, read stories together, especially those that celebrate the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans and their roles in country formation.

Most recently, they’re focusing on picture books by African-American authors, like Floyd Cooper, Moriah’s favorite writer and illustrator, Max and the Tag-Along Moonabout a boy and his grandfather.

Lourena said: “We read books based on self-love, so that when children grow up, reading not only helps improve their vocabulary but also helps them appreciate and love themselves more.

Lourena Gboeah poses for a portrait.

Struggle to achieve

For many African-American refugees, Black History Month offers an opportunity to reflect on both the journey that forced them to leave their homeland and their new life in America.

And the appointment of the first African-American to the country’s highest court was a shot in the arm of hope for a prosperous future.

When we talk about being a Black woman in America, especially for me, as a former refugee, I always think about how hard I struggled to get there. today.“Lourena, a social worker and president of the US-based advocacy group Refugee Congress.

Run away when threatened

As a young girl in Buchanan, Liberia, naturalized Americans enjoyed watching soccer games and traditional Sunday dance performances in the park there.

But after the First Liberian Civil War broke out in 1989, her life quickly changed.

The shouts of joy in the game of scavenging were replaced by gunfire in the massacres carried out by the warring parties. Those who dare to continue dancing are seen by the rebels as supporting the opposition, and so they too become victims.

Lourena’s mother Martha Gboeah, who escaped with her eight children after rebel groups threatened the family, said: “We were absolutely terrified.

A dream come true

Lourena, her mother and siblings, are among 750,000 people displaced from their homes in a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The family first crossed the border to Côte d’Ivoire, where they lived for two years, before being resettled in 1992 to Staten Island, New York City, where they were reunited with the family patriarch.

At the time, when she was 4 years old, Lourena was surprised by the idea of ​​​​a sandwich made from ice cream. And her mother found joy in work and taking care of the family.

“The first thing that’s really great is having a job,” says Martha. “In Liberia, women [couldn’t] just get a job. Here, I was able to work and move freely.”

The Staten Island Ferry provides transportation into Manhattan, New York.

Unsplash / David Jones

The Staten Island Ferry provides transportation into Manhattan, New York.

Reality set in

But soon the family also learned the fact that there was black in America.

“We went through being called. We would be teased that we lived in huts, and that really seemed like a lack of cultural awareness at the time,” Lourena said. “I still remember that to this day. We’ve all been through that bullying.”

Years later, while working for Delaware Family Services of Delaware, she taught young children in Delaware schools about refugees.

Lourena says cultural awareness education is increasingly focused on contributing to changing perceptions of refugees and other disadvantaged groups – but maintains that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Complete the work

As a Black woman, Lourena says navigating the US workforce has proven difficult.

Despite having the necessary qualifications and experience, she still struggles for career opportunities and a decent salary.

While Lourena, unlike some of her peers, has never been “clasped for positions”, she admits that “it really excites me when I can help someone”.

Against the odds

According to a 2021 analysis by the Brookings Institution research team, the job market situation for Black women in the US continues to be difficult.

For example, the unemployment rate for black women increased from 4.9% to 6.2% in November, while the rate fell from 3.7% to 3.1% for white women. .

A study by and McKinsey & Co. shows that women of color in the US workplace face more violations and have to spend more hours proving their worth.

Chairman of the board

Lourena works to help people overcome these obstacles.

In addition to her work as a social worker, she is the President of the Refugee Council and a member of the Refugee Council of America – another US-based advocacy organization that helps those in need. left home because of war or repression.

Lourena and her counterparts speak at public events, conduct community training and advocate with state and local governments, and promote welcoming refugee policies and practices .

“I like to take pride in being the person who connects people, places and things,” she says. “I’m really excited to be able to help someone find a solution to whatever challenge they’re going through.”

From left to right: Elijah Gboeah, Martha Gboeah, Lourena Gboeah, Moriah Flomo and Jonah Flomo in their home in Delaware, USA.

© UNHCR / Ashley Le

From left to right: Elijah Gboeah, Martha Gboeah, Lourena Gboeah, Moriah Flomo and Jonah Flomo in their home in Delaware, USA.

A ‘dedicated’ warrior

As the senior manager of community engagement at Unite Us, a network that coordinates community-based organizations, she helps ensure that health and social services reach be with those in need.

Alyssa Bradley, a former colleague said: “One thing I will miss Lourena for is her dedicated fight to advocate for those who lacked awareness and resources.

“If you need a voice or a hand, Lourena is ready and strong to lend her a hand.”

Lourena draws on her family’s refugee experience in her work.

“We are hard workers,” she said. “But of course, coming to a whole new land, any form of extra support would be helpful.”

Building a brighter future

Lourena feels a special obligation to Black women and hopes she can create a bright future for her daughter, who wants to be an astronaut.

She took Moriah to Refugee Congress meetings and to a Black Lives Matter rally, hoping that the experiences would teach her daughter to appreciate her values ​​and rights. his force.

“I didn’t want her to think about herself because of the color of her skin,” Lourena said. “And I want her to know that her mother was in this fight.”

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