First, the big picture: There are more than 10 million refugees in the world today, up from 8.4 million just a year ago. That means that 1.6 million people have been uprooted by war and violence in the last 12 months from all that is known and familiar and displaced to other countries or to safer locations within their own countries.

Let us walk in true compassion as we take our neighbor’s hand. Lifting one and all America as for hope and good we stand.

We are all America. We come from near and far. Everyone, America, each seeking Truth’s bright star. Let us join with every nation, making humankind our home. Living true and free, America, may we love each as our own.

We are all America, each life now intertwined. You and I, America, no more by fear confined. Let us now fulfill the promise that the time for war shall cease. Joining every heart, America, may we lead this world to peace.

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

We experienced just a hint of this level of catastrophic homelessness two years ago, in going through Hurricane Katrina. This level-5 hurricane struck Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Florida on Aug. 23, 2005. Over 1,800 people died in this storm. Millions more are sick from its toxic effects. The worst of the damage was to the city of New Orleans. She bore the brunt of the hurricane fairly well until her levee system failed dramatically. Between 1 million and 2 million people were displaced from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.

Cities with big hearts stepped up and accepted huge numbers of refugees. Houston, Texas, took in over 35,000 people. Mobile, Ala., accepted over 24,000. Baton Rouge, La., adopted over 14,000 people and Chicago opened its doors to 6,000. Every state in the union helped refugees find new homes. And that was a good thing, for New Orleans has yet to clean up the mess or welcome back its own citizens.

Might I live to see the day when weapons wound no more. Might I live to see the day when the suffering has ended, And everywhere I go, there is safety, joy and peace.

Might we live to see the day when the earth is green and blooming. Might we live to see the day when the reign of greed is done. Might we live to see the day when the people lead the leaders And the torch of liberty shall forever light this world.

This day fills our dreams And our hearts grow full with longing. This hope lingers now. It is all we have to hold.

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

The whole of the poorest sections of the city are still without power or water and ignored by repairmen. FEMA was careful to settle refugees far enough away from the city area that it was impossible for the displaced workers to find jobs in New Orleans. Now developers are talking about buying up these poor sections and gentrifying them with new construction aimed not at replacing the low-cost housing that was there before but at creating high-end condominiums, hotels and tourist attractions for urban sophisticates and travelers.

In January 2006, metropolitan New Orleans’ population had come back to 200,000, less than half of its pre-Katrina size. The governmental response to rebuilding the levee system and reconstructing the infrastructure of electricity and water services to the city has been incredibly sluggish. Because we in the United States have a huge population and a vast geographical area at our command to absorb these displaced persons, most refugees are making a new life for themselves elsewhere.

You are a blessing to this land! We welcome you here And our hearts open wide. We give thanks That you now dwell among us And offer our hands In friendship and love.

This is a day for joy and celebration For you are here. At last you have arrived. Now we sing With deep appreciation And lift our voices to honor you today.

Look all around and see the smiling faces, Each honoring your courage And happy that you’re here. We now pledge to grow and learn together And build for all A nation filled with love.

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

Worldwide, however, refugees are literally out in the cold and/or heat. There are 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. There are 2.2 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Many people wind up living in tent cities with no water, power or healthcare. Rescue workers from the United Nations and private organizations like Oxfam have been hassled, harried and fired upon as they attempt to render assistance.

Some of these refugees, somehow, have made it to the United States. A few of them have ended up living in the city I call home, Louisville, Ky.

The Kentucky Refugee Ministries organization has placed over 4,000 families since its inception in 1990. We have accepted people from 29 different nationalities and ethnic groups including Liberian, Colombian, Vietnamese, Haitian, Cuban, Iraqi, Somali, Kurdish, Bosnian, Kosovar, Russian, Ethiopian, Romanian, Sudanese, Benadir, Barawan, Togolese, Congolese, Afghani, Iranian, Ukrainian and Rwandan.

Why is she the one that lives in dread that bombs will steal her life away? Why is he the one who cries in fear he’ll never see another day? Why are we the ones who have so much, yet turn our gaze away? Why not be the ones who ease the victim’s pain?

Why is she the one without a home, her precious room now stone and dirt? Why is he the one who shivers on the floor, no one to heal his hurt? Why are we the ones who close our ears to mute our neighbor’s pain? Why not be the ones who take a stand for right?

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

And that brings us to Harry Pickens, a local jazz pianist and composer who has performed with Art Farmer, Ricky Ford, Gary Foster, Chico Freeman, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Garrett, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Slide Hampton, Pat Harbison, Marshall Hawkins, Jimmy Heath, Joe Henderson, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Robert Hurst, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Herb Jeffreys, Clifford Jordan, Pat LaBarbara and Dave Leibman, to mention only a small percentage of the list on Harry’s website.

Mr. Pickens composed the lyrics and music for a concert to celebrate World Refugee Day 2007 last Sunday. His 100-voice choir was made up of children and adults from the refugee community and from a wide variety of natives to Kentucky, from young to old and in all shades of race, creed and color. He raised our spirits, he raised our consciousness and he raised funds at that concert. This was a labor of love for him, not a job. Mr. Pickens shared his musical score with me, and it is a substantial work. All the quotations in this article are from his poems, which were set to music and sung at the concert.

In my life I’ve seen so much anger and destruction, So many fights and battles, so many people harmed. Now my life is saved, but so many more still suffer. I cannot rest my soul until every child is free.

Will you help me now? For we are all one family. The hurting of any is a sorrow for us all. We can ease the pain that so many hearts are bearing, Living now for justice as we heed compassion’s call.

Let’s build a village of kindness and compassion, Joining our hearts, spreading love throughout the land. Your hands and my hands can build a world of freedom, A village of hope for every woman, child and man.

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

It is a wonderful thing to donate money to ease the distress of refugees. You can donate online to Kentucky Refugee Ministries. A good site for donating to worldwide refugee services is RefugeesInternational.

However when Harry Pickens, a slight and unassuming man still young and very busy, devotes months of his life to creating and producing this concert, it is beyond wonderful. It is the personal, costly, joyful witness of one man who truly makes a difference.

Peace, salaam, shalom - No matter how you say it - Peace, salaam, shalom - One world, one hope, one aim. No matter what your color, Our hearts all beat the same. No matter where you come from, We can move beyond the fear. No matter what you’ve been through, The time of peace is here.

Peace, salaam, shalom - No matter how you say it - Peace, salaam, shalom - One world, one hope, one aim.

[Copyright 2003-2007 Harry Pickens. Used by permission.]

I open my arms and embrace your spirit. Let us move beyond fear and divisiveness together. Let us embrace those around us as people of “one world, one hope, one aim.” Let our loving actions express the inclusion of all people in one beloved tribe of humankind.