Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What’s a little sunburn to learn about refugees?

By Andrew Nelson | Published May 23, 2019

There’s a stretch of the Stone Mountain Trail where the shade trees disappear. And it was there I felt the smallest pang of the experience of a refugee.

The Marist School Chapter of Share the Journey organized a pilgrimage in solidarity with refugees Saturday, May 18. The route would be five miles, winding from the parking lot of St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, to the Refuge Coffee Shop, Clarkston. The early miles were easy and shaded as the band of some 60 students and parents walked East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The sidewalk passed under the cover of the trees as it took us through from the city center and alongside beautiful homes and churches. The temperature at 9 a.m. felt like spring.

I reconsidered my idea to leave my hat in my car during the middle miles. My bottle of water had turned warm. (There were cold water, snacks, and air conditioning in a support van, but I stuck with my plan not to rely on it.) The sidewalk had been replaced by the wide trail, which links Stone Mountain with Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. But the surroundings got gritty. We passed a MARTA train yard, an adult strip club, and a pet crematory. The view, which was once uplifting, was replaced. It became a place unwelcome to walkers where you wanted to get through quickly. The unfriendly atmosphere heightened when the trail veered and we hugged the shoulder of the busy road for roughly half a mile.


Without the shade and the nearby speeding cars, it struck me how I did this for work and soon my cocoon of comfort would return. Others walk in tougher environments – a thousandfold more serious and harsher than my morning jaunt – with bad people holding guns chasing them and an unknown future ahead. They crowd into flimsy boats to risk escape across roiling seas. Children, men, and women flee across borders looking for a safe haven. It’d be folly for them to ignore the luxury of a support truck and its goodies.

Catholic Charities Atlanta is an agency that assists refugees. Staff members are the first to greet weary refugees at the Atlanta airport and whisk them to a new apartment and the start of a new life.  The nonprofit has been forecast to expect some 140 individuals to resettled through the fiscal year, which ends in September.

I appreciated I got hot. I appreciated I got a sunburn. I appreciated the warm water in the bottle. I appreciated all of it to raise my consciousness about the plight of refugees.





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