Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean.
When speaking at events on behalf of Refugee Empowerment Program, Executive Director Cam Echols is often asked, “What country are you from?”
Her response–“right here”–always leads to laughter. Cam has been working with refugees for the last fourteen years after varied career in the nonprofit sector. While working as a social services director for a local ministry in Binghampton, she was approached by a group needing space for a small after school program to help about a dozen refugee children.
“The children in particular seemed thirsty for knowledge,” Cam says. “I was immediately drawn to this diverse community of newcomers so eager to learn and so committed to the idea of education as empowerment.”
Cam began volunteering time with the small program, quickly becoming invested in the children and the mission. Cam advocated for school supplies and tutors, helping to raise money and awareness of the program. A few months later, Cam transitioned to a full-time staff member.
We chose Cam for The Dean’s List because of her unwavering support of refugee children in Mid-South, an often under-served and politicized group that has become an important part of Memphis’ changing landscape.
If you could describe your feelings about Memphis in three words, what would they be?
Love; Inspiration; and Welcome
Tell us why your job is important for Memphis.
Each year, our city resettles dozens of refugee families. Unfortunately, far too few Memphians know of this special population. So many of us tend to see the social, political, and economic issues of our city as black and white, but Memphis is rich with diversity. Over 20 different nationalities are represented in Binghampton alone. My work is important because it helps give voice to the strangers in our city, eager to be friendly neighbors and productive citizens. We work to build a welcoming community that finds strength in diversity and views education as the key to individual empowerment and community betterment.
Another reason my job is important to Memphis is that so many people in our city are unaware of the daily realities of poverty and the many obstacles their fellow citizens face. This is not because they do not care, but because they have been so disconnected from its impact, particularly in regards to children. Volunteering with REP exposes people to the myriad of ways in which poverty shapes the lives and development of young people. This exposure is unintentional yet unavoidable. Refugees arrive in this country destitute, and as a result, they face many of the same social, political, economic, and structural challenges faced by the city’s native poor. Refugees cannot be empowered in a vacuum. Alleviating their plight means addressing the structural inequalities that have plagued the city for generations. We help to open hearts and minds to the broader struggle for justice and equality by providing opportunities for Memphians to be involved with our work.
Donald Trump hasn’t been a friend to immigrants and refugees. What concerns do the people you serve have about the upcoming election?
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