On Friday, Oct. 19, Freedom House Detroit hosted its annual Voices of Freedom event at the MotorCity Casino Hotel with hundreds in attendance, including some Freedom House residents. To help celebrate 35 years of welcoming those “yearning to breathe free” were notable speakers like the night’s keynote, John Prendergast of The Enough Project, Mistress of Ceremonies and Fox2 News reporter and anchor Amy Lange, and Deborah Drennan, executive director of the Freedom House.
“Here we are 35 years later, honoring Freedom House Detroit and the over three decades of saving lives and keeping families together,” Drennan said.
She echoed what has been their clarion call since their founding.
“Asylum seekers are our brothers and sisters and, as such, it is our obligation to welcome them, treat them with dignity and with the right support and services. Empowering them to live their lives out of exile and become members of this wonderful nation.”
Drennan expressed to many longtime supporters of the Freedom House, and newcomers, how proud she is to be the CEO working side by side with her “peace-building” staff, board of directors, volunteers and partners. She also gave a nod to her predecessors Father Tim McCabe, Janet Ray and Sister Gloria Rivera.
The night was about uplifting and paying tribute to Freedom House Detroit and those they serve – over 170 men, women and children annually, helping lead them towards freedom, independence and self-sufficiency.
In attendance at the event were some elected officials like Mariana Martinez, chief of staff for council member Raquel Castañeda-López in Detroit’s District 6; State Rep. Stephanie Chang for the 6th House District; Susan DeClercq, chief of the Civil Rights Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District; and congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib.
A special thanks was given to U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), and State Reps. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods) and Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield). They could not attend the event, but sent letters of support and congratulations to the Freedom House.
“Without the ongoing support of these individuals and those of you in attendance this evening, our countless community partners and generous donors, Freedom House Detroit would not be able to succeed in its mission,” said Lange before introducing Prendergast, a lifelong human rights activist and New York Times best-selling author who has focused on peace in Africa for over 30 years. Also, he is the founding director of The Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity. He is also the co-founder of The Sentry, a new investigative initiative focused on dismantling the networks financing conflict and atrocities.
“It’s hard to imagine a more compelling cause at this moment in our history, here in our own country and around the world where the numbers of refugees displaced and asylum seekers are exploding in an unprecedented way – millions and millions and millions of human lives, people driven from their homes because of war, because of violence, because of persecution or other human rights violations,” he said. “Those that show up at the door of the Freedom House are at the end of the line. Without this place, they would literally have nowhere to go. The services provided are essential, indispensable, lifesaving and, most importantly, hope giving.”
Among other speakers, the recipient of Freedom House’s inaugural Volunteer Award was Dr. Vidya Ramanathan, a pediatrician and human rights advocate who has volunteered at the Freedom House since 2006. In her address to the audience she spoke about her personal connection to the asylum seekers with whom she has worked.
“Those who knock at the doors of the Freedom House are the bravest, strongest and brightest individuals from around the world,” Ramanathan said. “Perhaps a little weary from their struggles, but no less determined with the same spark in their eyes and fire in their hearts.”
Other awardees were the ACLU of Michigan, recipient of the Voice of Freedom Award; and Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe, recipient of the Community Partner Award.
Freedom House Detroit is a temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the U.S. and Canada from places like Rwanda, Cameroon, Guinea, Uganda, Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo.
To support Freedom House or for more information, visit freedomhousedetroit.org.