I remember posting the above photo on MLK Day a few years ago. It felt a little arrogant connecting one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to one of my loves, Refuge Coffee. But I don’t think I was being completely tone deaf, either. Dr. King’s belief in the Beloved Community, in the hope that “love can transform opponents into friends” and the beautiful world that could result if we would only love everyone like that, this belief was one everyone at Refuge shared then and shares now.
And so, once again, I hope it’s not arrogant to say that it just seems right that our Welcoming Community has moved into the Beloved Community. Refuge isn’t, of course, the only welcoming community, but we are working hard to be a place where “love can transform opponents into friends,” by slinging doors wide open for those who have been officially and violently unwelcomed in their own home countries, by offering jobs and training to the marginalized, and by forging unlikely friendships over many cups of coffee.
So, today is the day! We are moving in to the neighborhood. We can’t help but celebrate this opportunity that still feels like an unexpected gift. We will party later this week, and then we’ll simply get down to the business of welcoming people. Are we up for that challenge in a new place? Are we going to be able to recreate the beauty of a safe, agendaless, diverse space like we have in Clarkston, where every single human being is welcomed? That’s the question we hope to answer with a resounding yes.
Rebecca Solnit wrote, “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down in the bottom of your heart.” I feel the tension in this statement deeply, and I imagine you do, too. I’m hopeful, yet uncertain. The possibilities do not harden my resolve, they render me tender and vulnerable. What if we don’t do it well? What if we are, as I know I can be, tone deaf in the welcome we announce to the world? What if we fail?
But this is a tenderness I’ve come to embrace. It makes us dig deeper to mine the complexities of what it really means to welcome. It makes us struggle to change. To grow.
A few years ago, Refuge Coffee had another opportunity thrust upon us: We needed raise the funds to buy our current property in Clarkston or move out. Moving wasn’t an option for many reasons, and so we chose to do what felt impossible. We raised the money. We bought the property. You did it with us. And our trainees did it with us, too.
I remember feeling the uncertainty of that time. Looking at our trainees, Frey, Ahmad, Tha, Malek, and Ibsa, and wondering if this experiment in welcome would fail, which would mean our failure to provide their livelihoods. I remember making a little video together. Frey and Tha laughingly tried to produce tears for some added drama. But they decided to laugh instead of cry, all on their strength of their courage. Frey is back as the team leader at Sweet Auburn, and she displays the same courage today. She will lead us as we all dig deep and find the courage to grow. She celebrates this opportunity; knowing full well the journey won’t be easy.
You are about to grow with us, too. We will most likely stumble some along the way, but—as the quote reminds me—real change involves uncertainty and hope, tenderness, and a resolve to continually change that comes from deep within.
Thank you for joining us every step of the way,