Every year on the Fourth of July, Carnegie Corporation of New York--an organization devoted to advancing democracy, education, and international peace--celebrates naturalized U.S. citizens who have "enriched and strengthened our nation and our democracy through their contributions and actions." This year, the 35 honorees come from 33 different countries, and have all benefited the United States in important ways.

Several honorees on the list are forced migrants, and I want to highlight a few of their stories. While the Carnegie honorees are extraordinary, in many respects, their stories and their contributions are not so different from other immigrants and refugees, including many of my own clients. Every day, I am amazed by what my asylee clients have overcome and what they accomplish once they are here. As our nation celebrates its 247th birthday, it is worth reflecting on the contributions that immigrants--including refugees and asylees--have made. And so, without further ado, here are a few Carnegie honorees who were forced to flee their home countries, and who have enriched our nation by their presence.

Ghida Dagher: At the age of nine, Ghida Dagher and her family fled civil war in Sierra Leone and sought asylum in the United States. “Having moved here as a refugee and growing up in communities of low income is [a] real life experience that I take with me,” she said. “It shapes the trajectory of my career." "I often say that it’s my immigrant experience that grounds me, but it’s my American experience that propels me." Ms. Dagher is the president and CEO of New American Leaders, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to building a more inclusive democracy by training first- and second-generation Americans to run for public office, and by "championing New Americans as crucial participants in the American political system." "As a refugee and as an immigrant,” she says, “there’s a sense of responsibility to carry forward this message of inclusiveness, this message of hopefulness, this message of unity." "Ultimately all of the things that are American in my eyes."

Ke Huy Quan: If you don't know Ke Huy Quan, you should get to know him. Last year, he appeared in the hit movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, and won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and the Oscar for best supporting actor. Mr. Quan opened his Academy Awards acceptance speech by stating, “My journey started on a boat." "I spent a year in a refugee camp." "And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.” When Mr. Quan was seven years old, his family fled Vietnam and ended up in a refugee camp in Hong Kong with his father and five siblings, separated from his mother. The family reunited a year later in the United States, where they received asylum. Mr. Quan had a difficult adjustment in the U.S. and was teased in school. But later, he accompanied his brother to an open casting call where Director Steven Spielberg picked him to play Short Round, the young sidekick in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). At the time, he told an interviewer, “I think I changed a lot." "I was a boat [person], and now I get to make the movie." Mr. Quan continued to struggle after Indiana Jones and had not appeared in front of a camera for 30 years when he was chosen for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Mr. Quan concluded his Academy Awards speech by noting that stories like his only happen in the movies. "I cannot believe it’s happening to me," he said. "This is the American dream!"

Jean-Claude Brizard: When he was a young boy, Jean-Claude Brizard's parents were forced to flee Haiti for the United States after Dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier imprisoned his grandfather and threatened to detain his father. Mr. Brizard and his siblings were left in the care of their grandmother, and would not reunite with their parents for six years. In the U.S., Mr. Brizard began a teaching career in the New York public school system, where he witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by students and the critical role that educators play in their lives. He went on to hold multiple senior leadership roles in public education, including serving as chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, superintendent of schools for the Rochester, NY, City School District, and senior advisor and deputy director in U.S. Programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today, Mr. Brizard is president and CEO of Digital Promise, a global nonpartisan nonprofit organization focused on accelerating innovation in education. In an interview, Mr. Brizard recalled that his parents “sacrificed to get us to America and I will always work to honor their legacy and the gift of opportunity that they afforded me." "It is my fondest hope that someday every child in America will grow up with that same sense of hope."

Timnet Gebru: As a teenager, Timnit Gebru fled political violence in Ethiopia and sought asylum in the United States. She was surprised by the racism she encountered here and realized that she had to be an advocate for herself and others to overcome bias. She went on to earn a PhD from Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and to co-found Black in AI, an organization devoted to increasing representation of Black people in the field. Dr. Gebru later helped lead Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence research team, where she worked to highlight biases and ethical risks within the technology and within the company itself. She was eventually fired by Google for coauthoring a paper examining racial discrimination and bias present in large language models, a type of AI software. As she put it, “I’m not worried about machines taking over the world." "I’m worried about group-think, insularity, and arrogance in the AI community." "If many people are actively excluded from its creation, this technology will benefit a few while harming a great many.” Dr. Gebru now leads the Distributed AI Research Institute, which documents the effect of artificial intelligence on marginalized groups.

Wesaam Al-Badry: At the age of seven, Wesaam Al-Badry and his family fled Iraq after their village was attacked during the Gulf War. They ended up in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia where Mr. Al-Badry first became interested in photography. Eventually, the family was relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska, to a rundown apartment. But as Mr Al-Badry recalled, “To me, it was beautiful… people don’t understand… having running water and a good night’s sleep… just changes a lot.” Still, he felt the disconnect between his experience as a refugee and his new home. His interest in photography and his own experience with displacement would go on to shape Mr. Al-Badry’s work as an investigative, new media journalist, and interdisciplinary artist. His work focuses on marginalized, oppressed, and forgotten people, as well as members of the Middle Eastern and the North African diasporas. Mr. Al-Badry has worked for CNN and Al Jazeera America, exhibited in major museums, and won numerous awards.
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Conversations about refugees and asylum seekers too often involve only what we purportedly give to them (or what they purportedly take from us). We forget that these new Americans often contribute much more than they take. Helping refugees is the right thing to do; it is also an investment in our nation's future. These extraordinary honorees are a powerful reminder of what we gain when we help refugees.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com