Segullah: Interview with Melissa Dalton-Bradford
Written by Megan Carson
Our very own Melissa Dalton-Bradford, one of the founders of Their Story is Our Story, was recently interviewed by Segullah. She shares the experiences that initially inspired the creation of TSOS, gives her unique vision of the work we've done so far, and offers her compassionate plea for the world to embrace those among us who are seeking refuge. As she so carefully illustrates throughout this interview, we've seen and will likely continue to see, the stories of these refugees frequently remind us that their story is our story. Whatever our response to this crisis will determine how this story goes.
For the uninitiated, what is TSOS and how did it originate?
The greatest humanitarian crisis of modern history pushed against the floodgates of Europe early in the summer of 2015. Escalation of the Syrian war (and tangential events throughout the Middle East, including extremist groups and the Taliban) drove unprecedented numbers of desperate people westward, seeking refuge. The media was aflame with the images, European politicians were scrambling, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel took the bold lead in announcing that her country would open its doors, hoping that the rest of the surrounding countries would follow suit.
Our family had just settled in Frankfurt. I was ready to finally write my series of historical novels, a project I’d been researching for over two decades on the global road. Then the world tipped on its axis. Into our cozy German town skidded trainloads and busloads of refugees. Instinctively, and probably because I am a woman who knows what it takes to move countries, languages and cultures and to experience major loss in the middle of that all, I dove in to serve with my close friend (also US native) Trisha Leimer. Her daughter’s high school gym (right down the road from my home) had been converted overnight into an emergency reception center for 170 Syrian and Afghan refugees fresh off the trail. The hour I stepped into that gym to teach bleachers crowded with these humbled, hungry and distressed people German, I was consumed with a spirit I had never before felt. My heart swelled with love and compassion. How could I go home and write historical fiction in the face of such current reality? My life—our lives—were profoundly redirected.
The Emerald Project is a Utah-based organization that carefully designs dialogues to engage with non-Muslims to make Salt Lake Valley a more welcoming home to Muslims. As many of our refugee friends belong to the Muslim faith, we applaud opportunities that foster understanding and were pleased to support The Emerald Project’s 3rd annual “Slam the Islamophobia” event on February 15th.
Refugees often risk their lives crossing deserts, jungles, and oceans all in the search for shelter, freedom, or happiness. Yet, even once they’ve reached physical safety, mental mountains emerge that make daily life an uphill climb. At the November 2022 conference for the Utah Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (USOPHE), presenters Shurooq Al Jewari and Sasha Sloan discussed mental health and inclusion, focusing on immigrants and refugees.
Holidays are an important time to include newcomers. Newcomers are often aching for the traditions and holiday magic they knew at home - and the connections with family and friends. The Garcias* came from a strong family and community that knew generous and giving holiday traditions. I knew, when I met our new friends from Venezuela, the rich bond we would have; this was a kindred spirit family. Even though we have been bad at communicating (Google Translate is such a false hope), it was easy to find connections that helped us love each other.