Warren St. John, journalist, former New York Times reporter and author of Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference, will present on his research of the refugee experience and resettlement at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 19, at Hesston Mennonite Church. The event is free and open to the public.
“We are thrilled to welcome Warren St. John to our campus,” said Hesston College First-Year Experience co-director Marissa King. “Author visits are a wonderful way for students to connect the content of the text to the process and research that authors like St. John do every day.”
Outcasts United (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) illustrates the challenges and rewards of creating community in an atmosphere where people do not seem to have much in common through the true story of a refugee boys’ soccer team in a small Georgia town. The book has been published in seven countries and has been a common read at more than 40 colleges and universities as well as in city-wide programs.
Spearheaded by Hesston College’s First-Year Experience, the book is being used as the college’s common read for the 2013-14 academic year with the theme Extending Home: Stories of Migration and Transformation. It will guide classroom discussions and campus-wide events focused on how communities and individuals respond to displacement and resettlement.
“Extending home changes everyone,” said FYE co-director Karen Sheriff LeVan. “The concept of extending home harkens a relationship between long-time residents and new members that is inclusive and transformative, with mutual reciprocity intended. Yet as ‘Outcasts United’ depicts, such mutuality is rarely comfortable and is consistently challenging. It does not come quickly or easily.”
Aside from the New York Times, St. John has also written for The New York Observer, The New Yorker, Wired and Slate and is the author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania (Broadway Books, 2004).
A reception and book signing will follow St. John’s presentation in the Hesston Mennonite Church Community Center with refreshment provided by The Lincoln Perk and Salted Creamery. Reception attendees will receive book signing order numbers upon arrival. Books will also be for sale at the reception.
Representatives from local refugee associations, Episcopal Wichita Area Refugee Ministry (EWARM) and the Wichita branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), will host information booths during the reception.
According to EWARM, international aid agencies estimate between 12 and 15 million refugees in the world today. Most are forced to flee from conflict or persecution in their home countries.
EWARM, which started in 2012, partners with faith-based and civic organizations and individuals to assist in refugee resettlement in the Wichita area. To date the organization has worked exclusively with Burmese refugees, a group which has been given a high priority for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees due to the large number – nearly 150,000 living in nine refugee camps, many for two decades – along the border between Burma and Thailand. In 2012, EWARM resettled 22 Burmese refugees, with hopes of resettling 35 to 40 in 2013.
The IRC, a national agency founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein, provides food, shelter, and legal rights in early stages of resettlement for refugees from 40 countries. The Wichita location is one of 22 regional offices and assists about 150 refugees to Kansas every year.