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The power of working together and being open and honest

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Byakula, a Spirit & Place event, took place at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo by Liz Kaye/Indiana University)

By ERIN KELLEY, DOLLY CRAFT and CASSANDRA SANBORN

Just like many other areas across the country, Marion County’s population is changing quickly. Recently, more refugees came to Indianapolis in 2023 compared to the past two years. These new residents are adding to the city’s diversity by sharing their cultures, traditions, food, religion, art and more. How can those of us who want Indianapolis to be a lively and inclusive place better understand and support these new neighbors? One way is by intentionally spending time together, either by creating events and activities together or by attending events they organize.

Byakula, a Spirit & Place event, took place at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo/Liz Kaye Indiana University)

Spaces where we work together and share openly
In the 1990s, the disability rights movement in South Africa had a strong message that said, “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” No group wants others to speak for them. Instead, activities that really bring people together are made and enjoyed by those who have the most at stake. When more people have a say and make decisions, the benefits are greater. When it comes to refugee communities, activities that celebrate their culture and heritage, while also giving space for people to talk and connect with each other, are very important.

Humans need many things to live, and spaces to build relationships and learn are a part of this list. Events where a wide range of cultures are shared provide nourishment by helping attendees grow and expand their knowledge. However, being part of spaces like these can be tricky. We might have to face our own biases and be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. It also means being open about our mistakes and when we’ve made wrong assumptions. Only then can we try to fix any harm we’ve caused. When we’re ready to work together in this open and honest way, we can make real progress and understand each other better.

“Byakula”

The United Nations says there are nearly 110 million people around the world who have been forced to leave their homes. Out of these, more than 35 million are refugees. In Indiana, the biggest groups of refugees come from Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Byakula, a Spirit & Place event, took place at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo by Liz Kaye/Indiana University)

In 2023, during the yearly Spirit & Place Festival, Northminster Presbyterian Church organized an event called “Byakula,” which means “nourishment” in Congolese. They did this in partnership with Exodus Refugee Immigration, with whom they had already worked with in 2018 to help resettle the Lutumika family. When people from Northminster got to know the Lutumika family better during this time, they discovered the rich experiences the family had cooking and selling food in Congo. While living in a refugee camp, the mother operated a successful food stand. Together, they worked to create a Spirit & Place Festival event that showcased Congolese culture, food and family.

Event attendees spent an afternoon learning, listening and enjoying each other’s company. They heard from Exodus about refugees in Indianapolis from across the globe, including Congo, and from Northminster Presbyterian congregants whose lives were changed through becoming close friends with refugees. Most of all, the Lutumika family cooked an amazing full meal and daughter Helene told stories of their lives in Congo, in Burundi and in coming to Indianapolis.

Add to the beauty yourself

Byakula, a Spirit & Place event, took place at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Photo by Liz Kaye/Indiana University)

How can you help create and support spaces where we work together openly and honestly, bringing people closer and connecting them?

Think about volunteering. Volunteering is an important way to connect with people we might not meet otherwise and to help organizations that share our beliefs and goals. In the case of “Byakula,” it was mainly volunteers— like Northminster congregants, the Lutumika family and support teams from Exodus— who made the event happen. Having a vision, being open to learning, and working together can make a big difference in creating the kind of world we want.


Go to cultural events! Whether they’re organized by Spirit & Place or another group, these events give us a chance to bond with each other. While technology has brought many great things, it hasn’t always brought us closer together. Cultural events are special places designed to bring people together, even if they’re strangers, to share an experience. They can teach us something new, let us celebrate and even change the way we see things.

Finally, learn about the many refugees and immigrants who are settling in Central Indiana. Be more aware and respectful of their different foods, customs, and religious beliefs. By doing this, you can help make Indianapolis a livelier and more welcoming place for everyone.

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