As a child, senior Lindsey Morgan attended a solemn, staid Christian church in the Midwest. She was not sure what to expect, however, when she attended her first service at Galesburg’s Glory of God International Church, which boasts a congregation composed almost entirely of francophone African immigrants.
As worship began, Morgan was astounded by the vibrancy and liveliness of the worshipers around her, who danced and sang without fear of judgment, without a shred of self-consciousness. Buffeted by a storm of music and enthusiasm, Morgan felt stiff and uncomfortable even as a worship leader bounded up and urged her to sing, to find her own voice in the throng of enthused worshippers.
This was Morgan’s first immersive experience with Galesburg’s African immigrant community a group of people that would go on to inspire not only Morgan’s senior research project, but her personal development as well.
Morgan, a double major in French and Education, spent her junior year abroad in Nantes, France, where she worked to develop her French language and written communication skills. When she returned to Knox in the fall, Morgan became aware of the growing population of French-speaking Africans in the Galesburg area. This influx resulted in a greater need for French speakers in the Galesburg school district, where Morgan began to work with elementary and middle school students.
“I really enjoyed working with the students and wanted to learn more about their culture to expand my worldview, but also because I felt it was important in order to know how to effectively teach them,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s commitment to understanding her students’ culture led her directly to Apostle Ado Tshiamala, the senior pastor at Glory of God International Church. Inspired and intrigued by the open and enthused spirituality of the church and its congregation, Morgan began to attend services regularly.
“It’s been an awesome experience, especially because they’re so welcoming and seem so happy to have me there,” Morgan said.
As Winter Term approached, Morgan began to consider potential topics for her French senior project and decided she wanted to incorporate the francophone African immigrant community into her research. Morgan consulted Debbie Moreno, the Grant and Program Coordinator at the Galesburg Community Foundation, who suggested that Morgan’s skill set and interests rendered her qualified to assure that Galesburg’s French-speaking population would be heard as the foundation commenced its Community Heart & Soul Project.
The Community Heart & Soul Project is a grassroots approach to community development that endeavors to discover the essence of a community, and use that essence as a rallying point to garner greater civic engagement in planning for the future of the town.
“It takes a really positive approach to community development. Instead of starting with all of the problems that there may be in a community, it starts with identifying the values and what matters most to a community,” Morgan said.
Community Heart and Soul consists of four stages, and the Galesburg Community Foundation is currently embroiled in stage one as they publicize the project and identify partners and leaders in the process. But because Morgan’s senior research needs to be completed by the end of Winter erm, she has started the second phase of the project early Ñ gathering personal stories through interviews, conversations and group gatherings.
Through her involvement with the church and the school system, Morgan has begun to gather information about the community she seeks to understand. She has learned the Francophone African population in Galesburg stems largely from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and many of these immigrants gained entry through Diversity Visas, a lottery system which provides Green Cards to residents of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. A large portion of Galesburg’s African immigrant population is highly educated, and values the community of friends and family they have built here.
Responses to Morgan’s questions about the community’s perceptions of Galesburg have been positive so far. “When it comes to community development, people [often] want to instantly talk about the problems in a city, É Whereas, I’ve noticed this community is very, very positive about the opportunities that have been open to them in Galesburg,” Morgan said.
Despite this positivity, a recurring theme within Morgan’s conversations with the francophone African community is their frustration with the limited access to English language instruction. The recent defunding of the Carl Sandburg Literacy Coalition, which offered ESL classes, exacerbated this problem.
This dissatisfaction is present in Morgan’s interviews, but it is also evident in “The Air We Breathe,” a recent photo and video project, which sought to showcase the stories and accomplishments of Galesburg’s immigrant community. Many of these interviews served as a springboard for Morgan’s research, including the words of a man named Charlie, who hails from the Republic of Cameroon.
“When you come [to America], you are empty. It is like starting over, like a baby. You don’t understand nothing, so you renew your life,” Charlie said. “The only thing that makes the country complicated is the language. No language, no life. Nobody understands you, and you don’t understand anybody.”
Morgan understands the importance of ESL education, and considers it a viable career path. She plans to student teach in the fall, and intends to remain in Galesburg throughout next year. She hopes if the influx of francophone immigrants remains steady, there will be increased opportunities to teach ESL in the Galesburg school district.
Although she has not yet made a final decision, Morgan is very open to the possibility of residing in Galesburg on a long-term basis. “Not only do I think it would be difficult to leave Galesburg because I’ve grown very fond of the city É but I also think it would be difficult to pass up the opportunity of using my French in a way that could potentially really benefit the community,” Morgan said.
Throughout her time at Knox, Morgan has maintained a positive outlook toward the Galesburg community, but her experience with the immigrant population has broadened her perception of the town and its inhabitants.
Morgan’s project has fed her optimism, and renewed her hope in Galesburg’s future. “Galesburg has had its fair share of struggles over the years, as have many cities, and I think that the educated, ambitious population of local immigrants could really benefit Galesburg, if given the chance,” Morgan said.