Julia Williams 

Kansas City Public Library’s (KCPL) North-East branch, along with Della Lamb Community Services (DLCS), Harvesters and at least 50 vendors, gathered June 20 at Columbus Park’s Garrison Community Center (1124 E. Fifth St.) to celebrate and welcome Northeast refugees. 

Crafts were available for children and teens, live musicians performed and nourishment was offered from Kenya, Malaysia and Bolivia origins. 

Photo by Julia Williams

Additional organizations attended including KC for Refugees, Samuel U. Rodgers Health Care, Food Enrichment Commission and Church of the Resurrection, among others.

In June 2001, in all preamble fashion, the United Nations designated June 20 as “international day” to bring awareness and honor refugees — World Refugee Day. The designation was sparked by the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Status of Refugee Convention, which was held in December 1951 to address displaced World War II refugees. 

Photo by Julia Williams

This annual celebration came to the Northeast around 19 years ago. With founders including Della Lamb and Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), this commemoration has occurred across many Northeast locations — including the North-East library parking lot, Samuel U. Rodgers and UMB bank. However, this was a first for the Garrison Center. 

Now hosted by co-chairs Julie Robinson and Andrea Smith, the two work with the North-East Library Refugee and Immigrant Services and Empowerment (RISE). 

Robinson — refugee and immigrant services, empowerment outreach manager at the North-East branch — has participated in World Refugee Day since 2015. 

“I just want them (refugees) to have a good time — everything is free,” Robinson said in an interview.

Photo by Julia Williams

With interpreters supplied by JVS and multi-nation flags — including Korea and Ukraine —  displayed from Northeast Chamber of Commerce, these organizations have created a must-attend, inclusive event for all individuals. 

“We just want it to be a happy time for everyone and for them to feel welcome to Kansas City,” Robinson said. 

Andrea Smith — Ethnic Enrichment Baraza Commissioner — has previously worked on the library board, aiding with refugees for numerous years. Smith formerly taught English in Taiwan and high school in Kenya. She is additionally a distant relative of Robinson’s.

After working together several years, the two decided they must be related following their mutual-ancestry discovery at an Iowa cemetery. 

“It’s just fun,” Smith said in an interview. “It’s another relative in the area.” 

 It is this familial dynamic, which continues working to create a home-like experience for its attendees and volunteers.

Photo by Julia Williams

North-East Library Branch Manager Amanda Rodriguez — who became involved with World Refugee Day within the last few years — said she hopes it brings people together and awareness to the community.

As Northeast was a traditional refugee resettlement area, Robinson said around 500 to 600 residents attended World Refugee Day in 2023; Similar numbers were projected for this year’s celebration.