Patrick Augustin

Transcript of Patrick Augustin
Interviewee: Patrick Augustin
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren
Place: Pan-African Association, 6163 N Broadway, Chicago, IL
Date: February 27, 2015, amended July 30, 2015
Time: 24:28 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is February 27, 2015. My name is Dorothy Nygren. I’m here at the Pan-African Association doing this interview for our upcoming exhibit on immigration. Thank you so much for allowing me to come. I’d like to ask you what your name is, what your title is, what your experiences with Pan-African might be, what the mission is? So I just turn it over to you now.

APA: Thank you. It’s a pleasure having you at the Pan-African Association. My name is Patrick Augustin. I was born in Haiti and came to the [United] States in 1971. While working at the Interfaith Refugee Ministries (now Refugee One), where I was a case manager, I saw a need to help the African population. I saw that the African population needed on-going help with Integration service, beyond the initial assistance they were receiving from their resettlement agencies. That’s when I met with the community leaders and together we began developing a strategy to provide longer term assistance to the African new-comers.


I met with the state refugee coordinator at the time, Dr. Edwin Silverman, and shared the idea to have an organization that would be there specifically to help the African population with the goal of providing Integration and Employment services, and provide the community at large with Cultural programs. In 2002 we incorporated with the name of Pan-African Association. Our motto is “One Family” so any immigrant or refugee from Africa could get help, regardless of tribal or religious situation. Based on our assessment we knew there was of a concentration of Africans in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park. We found this location at 6163 N. Broadway and opened our doors on January 20, 2003, Martin Luther King Day, under the umbrella agency of the Interfaith Refugee Ministries. We started with one grant focusing on Integration and Employment services.


You were asking about our mission. Our mission is to serve, empower and promote the integration of refugees, aslyees and immigrants from Africa and around the world. Pan-African Association does not limit itself to serving the refugee clients individually. We also believe in strengthening the refugee and immigrant communities.

About five years ago we were approached by the Bhutanese community, and asked of Pan-African Association (PAA) could become the umbrella agency and mentor organization to the newly formed Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois (BCAI). After I met with our Board of Directors and I had their support to apply for the funding for the Bhutanese community, we were successful in securing a grant from the Office of Refugee Settlement. And BCAI is still part of PAA and we continue our partnership.


Four years ago I was approached by the Burmese community to do the same thing - to help them. We did help them as well; we were able to secure funding through the state [of Illinois] for capacity building. The community formed an organization called the Chicago Burmese Community Center (CBCC). We still serve as their umbrella agency, and they are housed at PAA.

It’s been very challenging because since the recession, foundations do not provide money as before. We were actually successful with the Pan-African Association to get three foundations’ grants. But after the recession, we did not receive their funding. We are grateful to still have one foundation, the Ravenswood Heath Care Foundation to provide us with a grant to help with our Wellness Program. (9:00)

DN: I was not aware when I came today that you, yourself, are an immigrant from Haiti and you said you came in 1971. Did you come directly to Edgewater or did you come later on?

PA: Later on. Actually I had to move around. My father fled Haiti because it was around the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier and they were after our family. We are a family of seven and we had to spread all over Haiti because we could not stay in one place. My father found his way here to the United States. A few years later we were able to come here and be reunited with him. During those initial years we lived on the North Side of Chicago. I spent quite a few years living in Uptown.


One of the reasons why I thought about the Pan-African Association as being a community based organization is because even though I had my parents here to support me, by working with the resettlement agency I had seen those that don’t have any family members. How can they survive? What will they do here without anybody?

That’s when I thought of the model of “One Family.” We are fortunate enough to have very committed staff at PAA. I commend the staff for the job that they are doing. We have people from the Congo. We have people from Ethiopia; from Eritrea. As I mentioned also, we have aslyees that are from Togo and many other places in Africa. We have to find staff that have those language capacities. Right now I would say we are not at a good place because diminished state funding has been an issue. With the new governor in place, we have seen severe budget cuts. As an organization we have to be very creative and pro-active with our fundraising strategy in order to survive and be able to provide services to our clients.


It will be very devastating if we are not here to provide the services for these individuals. They have issues from back home. They are traumatized. They were accepted by the U.S. government to come here. Even though they are here for their resettlement and for their integration, the government assistance they receive is time-limited and short term. If you come as a family, you will find a resettlement agency will serve you for two years for your integration. For a single individual, it’s actually months. So where will they go if there is not a Pan-African Association or if there is not another community based organization? We are trying our best to strengthen our community. This is one of the reasons why I am grateful that you have come, Dorothy, to talk to us, to learn about us. Maybe you can spread the word out there.

DN: What do you see the need of refugees when they come here being: the most important need and then the other needs?


PA: The first thing is the language barrier. This is a must. As mentioned before the public benefits our clients receive are time limited, and not enough to cover basic living needs. Therefore clients need to get a job as quickly as possible. Our clients are eager to work, but without the language and the competitive job market it is very difficult to find even entry level jobs. That’s why we have ESL classes, and our Volunteer Coordinator helps find mentors and tutors for clients who need the additional one-on-one assistance. Our mentorship program is very important, because clients don’t only practice their English language, but they have a friend who is willing to show them how to live their life in the US. Take them grocery shopping, teach them which products to buy; take them to the library and help them get a library card; etc. With the help of volunteers, our clients start having more confidence in themselves, to say, “Okay. I am here but I have friends.”


DN: Through my interviews with immigrants and refugees, I’ve learned so much. First of all, the difference between the legal status between immigrants and refugees, but more importantly, what is called “social capital” and what peoples’ expectations are. Immigrants usually come here by choice. They come here because they want to be in the United States and they have some knowledge or expectation of what greets them here. Refugees are torn away from their home country because of some traumatic reason usually; political, economic, social religious. They would love to be in their home country but they can’t be there anymore because of death threats and other things. When they come here, as you said, they often don’t speak the language; they don’t have any family members to meet them and help integrate them into the society. So they depend on others.

I think the whole idea of Pan-African’s “One Family” captures in two words what you are trying to do: to have a place where they can come and feel like there is a family to greet them and to provide the functions that a family would provide who greet immigrants that come here – to help them speak the language; to help them find housing; to help them make the transition to a culture that they don’t even know or are aware of. I think that that is admirable and tremendous. I’d like to applaud the association for all the good work that you do.

PA: Thank you Dorothy. One other thing – when you came in I’m sure that you came into the reception. Did you take a glance at the room that we have downstairs?

DN: It’s changed from the last time I was here.

PA: Okay.

DN: It’s much more open. You’ve done a lot of things down there. But you still have those wonderful pamphlets on the wall that people can look and see what services are available in different languages.


PA: Yes. We have a conference room that is like an all purpose room. This room is actually where we have our workshops for individuals that are coming for services or for presentations. That’s where we do that. On every last Friday of the month we hold a “Welcome to Chicago” event so that those individuals that are resettled here will know that we are here for them. Again once they arrive in Chicago with the help of a resettlement agency, their time is limited for getting services. Ahead of this cut off time, we want them to know this is their home. We have the Loyola [University] students come and help us have this celebration for them. If you go downstairs you will see how we set up the room. Especially now, there are many Congolese refugees arriving, so today’s celebration is for the Congolese, but everyone else is welcome because we want the community at large to be there and to show the newcomers that we are there for them.

DN: I’d like to ask you what people from Edgewater can do to welcome immigrants, refugees, and aslyees.


PA: As I said earlier, we want the community to be engaged. We have a good relationship with the Alderman [Harry Osterman]. I’ve met most of the businesses in Edgewater. What I would like to ask the greater community is to visit the Pan-African Association. Come and see the work that we do. Come here and volunteer, and give a warm welcome to your newest neighbors.

The most important thing is really when we have an appeal for donations. Help us. One dollar, five dollars, ten dollars, any amount really, would help us continue providing services for the client. I will give you a good example. A client would like to come here for services, such as ESL, because everybody is looking for jobs. But they don’t have transportation to be coming here. During this cold weather they will find their way difficult, walking a couple of miles to come to Pan-African. It’s a climate that they are not used to. We used to provide them CTA bus passes. But now with funding cuts we can no longer do that. So if the Edgewater community can help with donations, that would be a tremendous help. We worked with Care for Real. Every winter we have a winter preparedness workshop for our clients, and at the end of the session each participant receives a winter coat from Care for Real. We need people to come and see the work that we do. We want people to invest into their community because we want the community to be as strong as possible.


DN: You’ve been in various communities around Chicago. Do you think there’s anything different about Edgewater as compared to other communities, with reference to the diversity, or to a welcoming attitude, or is it similar to Uptown or Rogers Park? This is your honest opinion.

PA: The Edgewater community is one that I can always count on, especially with the businesses. Now that I’ve met you, I think in your heart you will hear the story. You will have other friends that you will reach out and say, “Go and visit this organization.” This is what the community has been doing. Edgewater to me is a warmer community; one has a big heart to serve the population that we have over here.


DN: I’ve asked all my questions. I’m wondering if you have anything else you would like to say or share in this interview because it’s about you, your experiences and Pan African. I can see how Pan African grew out of your heart, out of your own experiences, and….it’s beautiful.

PA: Thank you Dorothy. All I can say to my friends and the Edgewater community at large is to think of themselves as if they were to travel to a country where they don’t have anybody to help them, and don’t’ speak the language. How would they feel? So think about that and come to us to see the individuals that we are serving and you will witness first-hand what I am talking about. They are good people, hard working individuals, who have been through trauma, and have lost everything. All they want is to be given the opportunity and the assistance to begin their life in their new society. I want to thank everyone, all the businesses, and everyone else in the Edgewater area that has helped us. I want them to be part of the Pan African family. So please come and knock on our door. See the work that we do, and partner with us.

DN: On that note I think I’ll end the interview. It’s been a wonderful interview. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us Patrick.

PA: You’re quite welcome.