Longjones is a volunteer for Rainbow Railroad’s Communities of Care program. Based in Boston, he is part of a Private Sponsorship Group (PSG) with four other community members who are welcoming an LGBTQI+ newcomer through Welcome Corps. Below, he describes how his own experiences resettling in the United States have informed his commitment to supporting other LGBTQI+ newcomers. Learn more about volunteering to support a newcomer in the United States here.
Why did you get involved with Welcome Corps?
From my own story of having to run away from persecution and find a new home with no one I know but strangers,
I can understand what it means and fit in the shoes of those newcomers who arrive in the USA/Canada.
I am passionate about working with LGBTQ+ communities. Getting involved with Welcome Corps was a way for me to support newcomers and help them feel welcome and support them to navigate the systems as they settle into their new homes.
How did you hear about private sponsorship?
One of my comrades with whom we have worked for many years back in Uganda and who is in Canada now reached out to me. After visiting the website and learning more about it,
I felt like this was not something new to me because I had already been doing this kind of work as an individual with the support of individual friends and my church. But, now as a PSG, we would be working as a team of five. I went on to reach out to a couple of folks I trusted and I know had a passion for such causes.
Please tell us a little about your group and its members. How do you all know each other?
Our group comprises five folks with different backgrounds from health to education and social work. What stands out is that we all believe that humans should live with dignity and that people should be free no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation is.
Have you done anything like this before?
Some members of the group have done this kind of work before but this time, it’s more structured. Three of our members are part of Choro Allegro Choruses based in Boston and they have been using music to advocate for human rights. One other member has been working in the health sector around HIV with LGBTQ+ communities of color. I personally started this specific kind of work to support refugees in 2015, based on my own experience and journey.
Please tell us about your experience working with Rainbow Railroad.
Our experience working with Rainbow Railroad so far has been amazing and interesting. The communication has been awesome, and the teamwork with the PSG has been great, answering all our concerns. The training has been tremendously helpful in welcoming our first match about two weeks ago.
What makes your city or community a great place to resettle and live in?
The city is diverse and a great place to live in. It has an urban-suburban mixed feel and is easy to navigate.
What are you most excited about with the newcomer’s arrival? What are you most nervous about?
What has excited us about the newcomer’s arrival is that we have helped someone escape persecution. As we navigate communication with each other, we’ve been utilizing various language apps, including Duolingo, Google, and Apple translators. Paying attention to the small details has made our new arrival feel welcome. Knowing their birthday was the day before they arrived, we made a birthday cake and had it with us at the airport when we welcomed our match. Seeing how they reacted made our eyes fill with tears.
What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a part of a PSG but is on the fence about it?
I would encourage them to do so. I would share with them my experience and how wonderful it feels knowing their support for the newcomers plays a key role in ensuring the refugee feels safe, loved, and welcomed.
One doesn’t have to feel pressured. Once the new arrival is here, things unfold and one realizes the tasks are manageable. It’s helpful to have clear, structured check-ins at least twice a week.
They need to do a lot of research around the cultures and services, and let the new arrival be part of the planning. Check in with what they want to do, and outline what could be achievable in the short and long term.
What does community — queer community — mean to you?
It’s the open-mindedness as to how one views gender and sexuality identities. One doesn’t have to necessarily be an LGBTQ+ identifying person to be considered Queer. It can also mean challenging traditional norms and fighting social inequality.
What does Black queer resistance mean to you? How does it inform your involvement with Welcome Corps, and with Rainbow Railroad? What does Black queer excellence mean to you?
Black queer excellence and resistance relate to the struggle that the LGBTQI+ community and allies have fought for — to be visible and accepted. Breaking the chains of tradition and viewing the world from a different lens. It’s about realizing the countless sacrifices among Black folks.
Queer resistance — the act of refusal to be treated differently or less than others — standing up against injustices.
Volunteering with a PSG is in line with Black excellence and resistance, by standing up against injustices, volunteering time to welcome a new arrival and creating a safe space and environment for them.
While Rainbow Railroad is working tirelessly to ensure a safe passage for those facing persecution and injustices, they need PSGs to help expedite the process to ensure more of those at risk get out safely. We at the grassroots level play a key role in the work of Welcome Corps and Rainbow Railroad.
I am grateful for being a part of this great work.
If you live in the US and are interested in learning more or becoming involved in Rainbow Railroad’s Communities of Care Program, please complete the volunteer form.