by Rebecca Tombaugh
Dixie cups. With hearts. Chatter. Kids.
A child’s voice is heard.
Boxes of crayons.
Three little girls. One looks over the shoulder of another coloring on a postcard. She holds it up to show to the two girls on each side.
They huddle over the postcard.
Round tables. Metal chairs.
A young woman with a purple jacket wearing a backpack sits down to write at a table. At another table, a woman sits her baby on the table top. At another table is a man with a beard wearing a khaki hat. The string of his hat hangs loose under his chin. He stops writing. He holds his pen up in mid-air. His eyes glance toward the wall. He tips his head and starts writing on his postcard.
A toddler stumbles along the back wall crying all the while, an American flag hangs perfectly still in the corner not making a sound.
It’s Saturday morning, and the fifth floor of the Kansas City Public Library, 14 W. 10th St., in Kansas City, Mo., is full of children, strollers, men and women, young and old, families, babies and backpacks — all here for “To Immigrants with Love Open House Valentine Event.”
Hannah Johnson, of Wyandotte County, is with Americorps Vista. She organized the event.
“I’ve been really happy,” she says. “There were people lined up before we opened up.”
In the main room everybody is writing on postcards and kids are coloring valentines that will find their way immigrants and refugees in the metro.
A man in the room walks up to a giant valentine box.
“Do these cards go in here?” asks the man.
“Yeah,” says Nathan Hernandez with a big smile. He is a volunteer at the event. He is part of the local group “Resistance KC.”
“We promote love and acceptance of all people,” he says.
Hernandez says the group provides volunteers for activist events. He calls this a “positive protest.”
He says the group formed after the election.
“It’s important because people are important, and people’s rights are important,” he says.
More people get off the elevator and walk toward Hernandez, who gestures to the tables in the main room.
“In the middle of the tables there are crayons…,” he says.
The elevator doors open and more people approach.
“Hey guys!” says Hernandez. “Are you here to color postcards?”
In the wide hallway, everybody lines up to take a selfie with their valentines to be sent along with their valentines.
The three little girls, along with their parents, hold their valentines with both hands and pose for their selfie to send with their valentines. The photographer gives instructions. The shortest girl crosses her feet at the ankles.
The little girls freeze in place.
The girls giggle.
Nearby, Julie Robinson watches the people passing by. Robinson is the refugee and immigrant services outreach manager for the library.
“This is the largest event we’ve done,” she says.
Robinson says they printed 1,000 cards and were down to about 200 after the first hour or so.
“It’s an awesome thing,” she says.
Robinson says this event is to show the people that are coming that Kansas City really welcomes and appreciates them coming here.
“Moving to a new country is hard,” says Robinson. “We want to be their neighbors.”
And, she says welcoming newcomers doesn’t have to be a one-time event, but can be a daily occurrence.
“Smile at people whether you know them or not just so they feel welcome,” she says.
Rebecca Tombaugh is a reporting artist in the Kansas City area. She is a former managing editor of the Kansas City Kansan.
Copyright 2017 by Rebecca Tombaugh