Editorial: Monday mix on refugee family; black activist; young readers

  • Edouard Ngoy, left, and Olivier Ngoy, right, both Congolese refugees resettled in Northampton, are reunited with their brother Isaac Ngoy, 5, center, as the rest of their family arrives Feb. 8 at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, February 11, 2018

We welcome to the community the remaining five members of the Ngoy family who arrived in Northampton on Thursday, joining three relatives who have been here since last year.

The family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and settled in a refugee neighborhood of Burundi in East Africa. The Ngoys were separated last April when the two oldest sons, Olivier and Guylain, immigrated to Northampton. They were joined by brother Edouard in November.

Their parents and three younger siblings left Burundi on Wednesday and landed the next day at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The family was glad to be back together. “Very, very happy,” said patriarch Jean-Claude Ngoy. “God blessed us.”

Olivier Ngoy said he cried when he received a text message from his father last month that the family would be reunited. “I didn’t expect they would come. I didn’t have this idea that they would be able to come quickly.”

The Ngoys are one of four refugee families, totaling 17 people, who have been resettled in Northampton during the past year by Catholic Charities. Up to 10 families and 50 people had been expected, but fewer arrived due in part to policies of the Trump administration.

“I think overall the plan hasn’t changed,” said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of Catholic Charities in Springfield. “It’s the amount and the frequency of arrival that has changed.

“We did not see the kind of movement in the Syrian and Iraqi population we thought we would, in that we specifically said we were open to those populations, and that movement just never happened because of the tightening of all the travel bans, and the security vetting that has gone into place.”

Northampton has embraced the Ngoys and other refugees, with volunteers forming “circle of care” groups to help with the transition.

Betsy Yount leads the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish circle of care assisting the latest members of the Ngoy family in Northampton. The volunteers collected clothing, furniture and kitchen items.

“People were very generous and excited,” Yount said. “We’re just excited to have the family here. We want them to feel warm and safe and welcome and we’re glad they’re here.”

It’s been a long, challenging journey for the Ngoys and we wish the reunited family well in their new home.

* * *

Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges delivered a powerful message earlier this month when she spoke to about 2,000 people at Smith College in Northampton.

“Racism is a form of hate, and that’s hard to contain,” said Bridges, who gained national attention in 1960 when she became the first black student to attend an all-white public school in the South. “It festers, and it grows and it spreads, and if you think that it won’t affect you, it will. It will and it has. And that’s why we are where we are today.”

Bridges came at the invitation of Dana Warren, a 10-year-old student at the Westhampton Elementary School who read “The Story of Ruby Bridges.” Dana asked Smith College, her mother’s alma mater, to host Bridges’ visit.

“Ruby’s story is unique. She changed the country as a whole and she helped the civil rights movement,” said Dana. “She has a really good lesson to teach that it doesn’t matter what exactly your background is or the color of your skin. It’s about your perspective.”

Those are words that should resonate with us all.

* * *

We applaud award-winning children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems of Northampton for his commitment to inspire young readers by visiting elementary schools and donating books.

On Thursday he was at the Mosier Elementary School in South Hadley, where he read aloud two illustrated stories that are part of the school’s curriculum. Willems then gave one of his books to each of the 139 second graders and donated 60 picture books by various authors to the school library.

“If a kid has a book in their home, they are exponentially less likely to go to prison, more likely to have fulfilling jobs and stable relationships,” he said. “There is a direct correlation. To have a book in your home is a real game-changer.”

Thanks to Willems for helping to change the game for hundreds of youngsters.