Lisa Noël Babbage
Author, Teacher, Philanthropist
Jan. 17, 2018
“Rebuilding communities for these new Americans is part of the organization's mission; and it is the essence of Lazarus' welcome to all immigrants: come and dine with us, you are welcome here.”
As a seventh grader, I was charged with reciting the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor…” I recall the feeling of anxiety as the entire school was herded into the gym for the assembly to kick off our December holidays. Being in the middle of middle school was a terrifying time for me, a shy girl with few allegiances. I would rather be found in the stairwell or at the top of the bleachers, as I was now, hoping to become invisible. I had skipped rehearsals for the assembly. I had practiced before no one. It would have been quite acceptable if my name were omitted from the memory of those emceeing the program. But just in case, I learned the poem anyway.
The last of the last students squeezed onto the wooden benches and we were addressed by our Principal after the Pledge. The pressure of speaking in front of the student body lifted, this was beginning to mold into just another mindless drone by an adult that didn’t know me. I could meld into the indistinguishable banner of faces that sat inattentively on row upon row of seats, each of us eager to leave but not eager enough to go to class. I think someone was whispering a joke about something and I was laughing with a group, pretending to belong when I heard it echo off the high ceilings and back down to my ears. It was my name being called to read the poem I had hoped would be dismissed. Awkwardly, I made my way, clanging down each metal step until reaching the gymnasium floor where I approached the microphone. It was my first time my voice was broadcast to a crowd. And there I repeated Emma’s lovely words that characterized our nation as the epitome of all nations. The creed Emma coined seemed to hover above the student’s heads and drop little challenges to us all - go out, Emma called, and welcome all of those into your hearts, those undesirables, those unlike you. Go out she cried, and be the difference maker. It was just a poem but it was the most powerful words I could have spoken to a public school crowd.
The New Colossus, the poem from which our inscription is based, was written by a woman who sought to raise funds for the construction of Lady Liberty’s pedestal. Although not a direct immigrant herself, Lazarus often wrote about persecution and immigration. Albeit fitting that her name is synonymous with efforts toward unity and rebuilding. Such is the case with Emma’s Torch, a classroom cafe of sorts, that pops up in New York boroughs to serve delicious cuisine at the hands of refugees. Every student chef at Emma’s Torch are asylum seekers. The school gives students a free chance to learn and master skills that make them not only job ready, but also to heal the wounds that accompany traumatic change. Emma’s Torch ran five training sessions in 2017 and seeks to expand this year. It is the heartbeat of mission-based work and a living example of how each one of us can reach someone else. The transition assistance Emma’s Torch offers students is beyond the skill training they receive. Rebuilding communities for these new Americans is part of the organization’s mission; and it is the essence of Lazarus’ welcome to all immigrants: come and dine with us, you are welcome here. To support Emma’s Torch, please see their website found at https://emmastorch.org/.