Is it possible for a duo of Houston immigrants to change the way our neighborhoods interact with migrant communities? DR. YEHUDA SHARIM, an artist and professor at Rice University, and YAN DIGILOV, a strategist at the local nonprofit Firestarter, are hoping that their unique perspectives as immigrants can do just that.
The pair is leading a team of community activists building connections between migrant communities from across the globe in a project called Houston in Motion. By combining tools for community inquiry with creative methods of social advocacy, their team is exploring the impact that boundaries – both visible and invisible – make on local populations.
Yehuda, who was recently named as a Kinder Scholar at The Kinder Institute for Urban Research, has been compiling an archive of digital content depicting the daily experiences of refugees and migrants as they navigate the complex path towards integrating with newly neighboring communities. In parallel, a systems analysis of the organizations offering support services along that path is being conducted through survey and visioning techniques developed by Firestarter.
This comprehensive approach encourages the expression of polyvocal viewpoints to build modern tools for bridging the gap between previously isolated groups. Advocates from a diversity of migrant communities are invited to host open events to discuss shared experiences, helping to coordinate and strengthen collaboration between local community support institutions. A digital resource map for local support services, a documentary film entitled Portraits of Displacement and an annual report helping the local philanthropic community to fill service gaps are all being developed through this innovative process.
As a global conversation emerges about the desperate circumstances of a rapidly growing refugee population, Yehuda and Yan have been challenging the status quo by championing the simple idea that our communities stand to benefit from fluid boundaries and that we should question the need for borders serving to artificially divide us.
While a complex geospatial, socioeconomic and cultural landscape presents unique challenges to movement across boundaries in Houston, the model being developed here has promise of being adapted for local communities across the country. By reframing the conversation about race, religion and communal identity, organizers from across the city are making a statement about the multicultural values embedded in the fabric of our society.
For information on future events, to join the community organizing team or to contribute visions for Houston in Motion, visit www.houstoninmotion.org.