When Donald Trump signed his infamous anti-immigration executive order on Jan. 27, which initially blocked refugees and visitors from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States, it not only threw airports around the world into a state of chaos, it put refugee organizations into a state of confusion.
Reporters and officials in cities across the U.S. were speed-dialing random refugee organizations that worked in several different spheres of refugee relief. Spokespeople for those agencies didn't always know exactly how to handle the calls — particularly when some of the questions often needed to be passed along to another refugee organization.
In Charlotte, the confusion led to miscommunication. Most importantly, it took refugee workers' attention away from the urgent needs of many of the estimated 700 new refugees who arrive in the Queen City each year from various spots around the world — during an especially crucial time in their lives.
That's where Refugee Charlotte comes in. Founded about three weeks ago in the midst of the confusion, it is an umbrella organization made up of various refugee services organizations in Charlotte to help those organizations communicate and collaborate together more efficiently.
"The spotlight had never really been on us so heavily until then," said Lindsay LaPlante, who has worked for various refugee services organizations over the past decade. "This came about out of a need for us to collaborate across agencies."
But Refugee Charlotte needs funding and support to accomplish this goal. And that's where "Rock for Refugees: A Benefit for Refugee Charlotte" comes in. The concert features a wide range of Charlotte bands — veteran garage-rockers Modern Primitives, soulful rockers Radio Lola, gritty folk-rockers the Menders, the punk band Aloha Broha and even 16-year-old singer-songwriter Maya Beth Atkins. It takes place Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Evening Muse in NoDa.
LaPlante tapped area music-scene photographer Alex Cason and rapper Red Jesse to help reach out to the local musicians, who were more than happy to lend their voices to support an effort to stand by a group of Charlotteans who are in more desperate need of support and a welcoming hand than ever.
"We're doing the show because it's our responsibility to be part of the resounding voice that cries, 'This is not OK and we stand with you,'" said Radio Lola frontwoman Dani Engle.
Tim Nhu, the bassist for Modern Primitives, echoed Engle's sentiment. "We are all in this together and everyone deserves an opportunity to lead a better life," Nhu said. "We're happy we can contribute to it through our music."
"We hope this show brings a focus on a [refugee] community that's very much a part of who we are as a city," LaPlante said. "These people are very much a part of Charlotte, they've brought so much to this city. And we want people to understand that. We all should know who our neighbors are."
The concert, LaPlante said, is the second event Refugee Charlotte has sponsored in the past week. The first was a town hall meeting that drew 150 to a panel discussion designed to answer three key questions: 1) What's going on with the executive order right now?; 2) What does it mean for refugees living here in Charlotte?; and 3) What can Charlotte citizens do to help?
"The panelists talked about what people can do, locally, and the event allowed them to find people who work in specific areas that they might be interested in getting involved in," Laplante said. "People asked lots of good questions, and they got good answers."
Panelists included representatives from four participating organizations as well as two actual refugees. Numerous other area organizations showed up to talk with attendees about some of the specific things they do — including representatives from the Catholic Charities Resettlement Office, Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency, Refugee Support Services, OurBridge, Central Piedmont Community College, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Davidson Refugee Support, Galilee Ministries of East Charlotte, the International House and experts in cross-cultural counseling.
"When the executive order came down, it pushed things so quickly — there was a desperate need for uniform information," LaPlante said. "We all had to scramble to make sure that everybody was on the same page and that no one was speaking for anybody else, or that organizations weren't contradicting each other."
Refugee Charlotte, which was in the works even before the executive order came down, aims to allow communication among the organizations to flow more easily.
"There's info that needs to get out, especially now," LaPlante said, "but also there's a need to work together and collaborate more across organizations."