Refugee community thrives in Georgia town


(CNN) — While governors in some states want to turn way refugees, a Georgia community is welcoming them. In fact, many of their neighbors were not born in the U.S.

It’s Friday and the Refuge Coffee truck in Clarkston, Georgia, is in the middle of its morning rush.

Behind the counter is a collection of cultures: The three baristas, all refugees, are each from a different part of the world. Ahmad Zoukni arrived in the United States two months ago from Syria, Leon Shombana is from the Congo and Eleni Tsegu was born in Ethiopia

“This company give us like job training,” said Tsegu. “In the job training we have … sharing our language which each other. He’s from Syria, he’s from Congo and I’m from Ethiopia. So it’s nice we feel like family.”

Clarkston is perhaps the most diverse square mile in the country after it was singled out as a good place for refugees to re-settle a generation ago. Of the nearly 8,000 people who live here, more than half are foreign-born.

Native-born residents like Kitti Murray not only like it that way, but are opening businesses to make sure it stays that way.

Six months ago, she started Refuge Coffee. “I don’t think we could do what we do if there weren’t other groups assimilating refugees and working with them,” Murray said.

As director of Clarkston’s community center, McKenzie Wren plays perhaps the biggest role in Clarkston. She helps the thousands of refugees in the city transition into American life.

“In the early days, about 25 years ago when Clarkston began to change, people were not welcoming refugees with open arms. It has been a long evolution for people to see the benefits of a truly diverse multicultural community,” she said.

Just around the corner at the local mosque, afternoon prayers are being done. The topic of the lecture — “how to be nice to your neighbor” — appropriate for the city known to locals as “the Ellis Island of the south.”

Clarkston’s mayor Ted Terry says one of his missions is to keep the city diverse.

“This is a great way for us to show the true principles of America. We are a welcoming nation. We’ve always been a nation of immigrants,” he said.

And Clarkston is a town that counts on them.

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