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January 15, 2021

Inspired by Martin Luther King’s words, these former refugees and humanitarians are working to build a more just world

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy is one of trailblazing a path for peace, justice, love and acceptance of all people regardless of race, nationality or religion. We hold his values close to our hearts as we work to create a better world for refugees and displaced people.

To honor Dr. King’s legacy and to learn how his words inspired a new generation, refugees and refugee advocates here in the United States share their favorite Dr. King quote and how it inspires their work today.

Dr. Heval Kelli, former Syrian refugee

Dr. Kelli House

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“My people faced oppression due to our Kurdish identity and we believe in the words of Martin Luther King: I am standing up against injustice because I want my children to grow up in peace and not be judged based on their backgrounds or looks,” shared Dr. Kelli at a Black Lives Matter event in June 2020.

Dr. Kelli is a former Syrian refugee, who after years of hard work, is now a cardiologist and practicing medicine in Georgia.

Dr. Kelli arrived in the United States in 2001, and just months after arriving, he enrolled at Georgia State University where he washed dishes at a local Atlanta restaurant to help pay his tuition. Nearly 20 years later, he is a cardiologist and co-founder of several non-profit organizations mentoring the next generation of doctors from migrant and refugee communities.

Besem Obenson, UNHCR Country Representative Guatemala

Besem with child

“ Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“I have this quote posted on a wall in my office and it is one of the first things I read every day," shares Besem Obenson. “Throughout the span of my career, from a Peace Corps volunteer 30 years ago, to the current UNHCR Representative in Guatemala, I make sure this quote guides my actions.” 

“At the end of the day, I need to hold myself accountable by being able to respond to the question ‘What did I do for refugees and asylum seekers today?’ I cannot forget for whom I work and advocate for.”

Basma Alawee, former Iraqi refugee

Basma voting

 “America is essentially a dream, a dream yet unfulfilled.”

“Dr. King’s message helps me realize that, as long as I am living safely, I should look after others.”

“I am an American citizen now, I can vote and I can make a change. I can make a change even around the world. My American dream now is to help others to be safe, free and speak for themselves. My American dream is to be able to help the needy here and everywhere else in the world.”

Basma is a former refugee from Iraq who became a citizen of the United States in 2016. She is the Florida Refugee Organizer for the We Are All America project at the Florida Immigrant Coalition and she co-founded the non-profit organization, WeaveTales, which focuses on empowering refugee voices.

Anne-Marie Grey, Executive Director and CEO of USA for UNHCR

AMG with rohingya children

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“In the end we will not be judged by what we have achieved for ourselves but rather what have we achieved for others,” shares Anne-Marie Grey. 

“I have chosen a career that allows me to put my whole being into making the world fairer, more just, and more equitable for all its people. Everyone, regardless of race, creed or circumstance, has the right to food, security, education, hope and dignity. My work leading USA for UNHCR, and my career in the United Nations is inspired by this Dr. King quote.”

How you can help…

Are you inspired by Dr. King’s powerful words?  Turn inspiration to action by joining the thousands of Americans helping to save, protect and rebuild the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.