Anna Morris | Asisstant News Editor
This Saturday, students and their families will have an opportunity to connect with their South Sudanese neighbors through a basketball game and film screening. The event will seek to introduce the South Sudanese and Wheaton communities and to develop relationships with some of the 1000 plus Sudanese refugees in the Chicagoland area.
The event is organized by the Global Engagement Committee. Many refugees have fled from genocide and war in Darfur and South Sudan and, as a result, are now members of the Wheaton community and its surrounding cities.
Junior David Robinson, executive vice president of global engagement, was inspired to create this event at the end of the last school year when he met South Sudanese resident and president of the Sudanese Community Association of Illinois James Deng Kog during his cab ride to the airport. Kog shared that the Sudanese community had wanted to connect with Wheaton College, so he and Robinson began brainstorming an event to do just that.
“The event will be a celebratory atmosphere that is a living and breathing picture of collaboration and interaction between the Sudanese community and the Wheaton community. It will be fairly informal and we should have lot of people from the Sudanese community there,” Robinson said.
The event will consist of a basketball game in which both members of the Wheaton community and members of the South Sudanese community will participate. President Ryken will perform the tip-off, and, in keeping with the theme of basketball, paraphernalia from South Sudanese Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng will be available as prizes.
It will be followed by a screening of the film “God Grew Tired of Us,” which follows the journey of three of the “lost boys” of Sudan as they adjust to life in the United States and seek to help the friends and family that they have left behind in Sudan. Sean Tenner, president of KNI Communications and senior advisor for the Sudanese Community Association of Illinois will be part of the panel answering questions following the film.
Tenner has also contributed to the organization of the event through his knowledge of the Sudanese community in the Chicagoland area and through facilitating opportunities and connections for people interested in following up on the event. “My story is not nearly as interesting as their story, so I will try to let them speak more because they have the first-hand experience, but I try to help where I can, helping people who want to volunteer or donate or be involved,” Tenner said. “I try … to facilitate connections between the different communities since I am from DuPage and also know the Sudanese guys pretty well,” Tenner said.
Tenner also spoke of the philanthropic tendencies of many of the Sudanese people with whom he has worked and added that he had hopes that Americans would embody the same kind of charitable giving.
“It’s tough to come over from a refugee camp and you are trying to make your way in a new country, support your family here and maybe help the family or the village back home,” Tenner said. “You know that is difficult to do to begin with, but then you add onto it the work and the money involved in trying to do philanthropic projects back in South Sudan as well – but every single person I know does that … so hopefully Americans can emulate that spirit of giving as well,” Tenner added.
Robinson said that the event being held during Family Weekend was particularly exciting to him in that it would present Wheaton families with an activity that would be both unique to the typical line-up and also indicative of the continually globalizing nature of the Wheaton College community.
“It’s really exciting that it is hosted on Family Weekend because Wheaton parents and siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins will get to experience the ever-increasing global presence of Wheaton College,” Robinson said. “It is a way to recognize, love and respect our global local neighbors all at the same time.”
Robinson also said that he hopes that the event will be a welcoming start to forging many relationships with the South Sudanese community spread throughout our neighborhood.
“I really hope that attendance will be high … and I hope that they (the South Sudanese community) see this as a gesture of love and respect from the Wheaton College community saying, ‘Hey, we finally recognize that you’re here, although you have been here for many years prior,’” Robinson said.
Tenner echoed Robinson’s call for action and said that he hoped that the event would inspire others to get involved with their South Sudanese neighbors.
“I hope that more people will volunteer with the Sudanese Community Center and that perhaps people will be more willing to work directly with a Sudanese family,” Tenner said. “Maybe they could tutor a child from a Sudanese family or get involved in the lives of some of the refugees that are here.”
Robinson said that his vision for the collaboration between the Wheaton and the South Sudanese communities is greater than just Saturday’s event. His vision is to see students involved with members of the South Sudanese neighbors, learning their stories and befriending them.
“I don’t want this to be a one-off event,” Robinson said. “I hope that it is just the beginning of many beautiful and long-term friendships and partnerships.”