Love & Liberation: Putting Immigrant Students on Road to Success
Even in communities most welcoming to immigrants and refugees, folks offer promises of a better life but scarcely provide services to make it possible. Since 2015, Yusif Bashir, a Somali Bantu from Kenya who came to the United States as a refugee, has worked to give immigrants in the Kent area a fighting chance at succeeding in America—with a primary focus on women and children.
In 2015, Bashir launched Falis Community Services in Kent to help support children and families in local school systems. Among the areas he sought to address: schools that are unequipped to either educate refugee students, communicate with their parents in any language besides English or understand the unique challenges that immigrant families face.
That’s why Bashir turned to Love and Liberation, a series of afterschool programs launched by United Way of King County and more than a dozen BIPOC-led, community-based organizations to ensure that children receive an education that reinforces and engages them in their own history, race and culture.
Love and Liberation aligns with United Way’s efforts to place children on a path toward success in education during the early learning years. Understanding that communities of color are best suited to lead the way in solving their problems, United Way supports the work of coalitions that include immigrant families who arrive in this country full of hopes for a better life only to find that services and resources are difficult to acquire.
Love and Liberation is designed to keep BIPOC youth engaged and to persist with their education. It helps build leadership development and advocacy skills by drawing strength from their identity, race and culture. Falis has used Love and Liberation to bolster youth programs launched in 2018 that began with monthly conversations led by youth and supported by adults.
At Falis, that means hosting a youth training program suited to the backgrounds, languages and cultures of immigrant families. The certification program includes training in leadership, problem solving, drop-out prevention, and communication between parents and youth.
Falis serves primarily Somali Bantu and other East African residents in the Kent community, but also works with the area’s Indian population as well as recent newcomers from Afghanistan. Falis provides platforms for youth to discuss both the hopes for their futures as well the challenges of growing up in an unfamiliar land. It follows cultural norms of involving parents in every aspect of what is being taught to their children.
[Love and Liberation] has done so much for us, especially with school supplies, homework help, forming groups that help students do their homework, leadership classes, drop-out prevention and drug prevention.Yusuf Bashir, founder and executive director, Falis Community Services
And it hopes to work with local school boards to help make assimilating into schools easier for children and parents—particularly those who don’t speak English.
Bashir said that often students with English language barriers have become frustrated and drop out of school after struggling with assignments that were provided to them only in English. At Falis, he said, youth volunteers create space on WhatsApp that allows kids to post homework questions, get referral resources and navigate the school system. The result is that more students are inclined to stay in school.
Love and Liberation’s impact on Falis Community Services, Bashir says, has been immeasurable.
“Love and Liberation is actually, you could say, the starting point for Falis Community Services,” said Bashir, who named his organization after his older daughter, Falis, who is now a student at Western Washington University. He said Falis has helped more than 500 youth through its program.
Bashir added that before United Way’s Love and Liberation program, Falis found it difficult to find local supports “for our youth—which have the lowest graduation percentage around the Kent area, live in low-income housing, and migrated to the country with parents who don’t speak English and couldn’t help their kids with their academic needs. Love and Liberation came in at the right time.”
Falis Community Services programs have helped more than 500 youth.
Love and Liberation was launched as, not surprisingly, graduation rates for King County students of color have long stagnated. According to Communities Count, when gauging graduation rates by race and ethnicity, Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander students were less likely than their white counterparts to graduate from high school on time.
But Bashir can attest that behind those statistics are students eager to succeed in school but lack resources to do so. Some students who have benefitted from Falis Community Services have gone off to college and are eager to give back to their communities after graduation. He said that Love and Liberation has created an avenue to make that possible.
“[Love and Liberation] has done so much for us, especially with school supplies, homework help, forming groups that help students do their homework, leadership classes, drop-out prevention and drug prevention,” said Bashir. “It also makes it possible for their parents to learn the same classes so they can work together to be successful at any school.”