Thriving vs. Surviving in a Multicultural City: Hannah's Story

Thriving vs. Surviving in a Multicultural City: Hannah's Story

The following is an excerpt from a speech given at our annual fundraising luncheon by Hannah A., a current cross-cultural partner at Treetops Collective.

It was a Friday morning, March, 2020. I was taking the subway to the west end of Toronto, another day of work in my multicolored dream come true, I was in my dim sum on Saturdays, salsa dance on Fridays, momos on Monday promise land where my pastor was Sri Lankan just like my dad and even my white friends had pita bread stocked in their pantry, just like my mom.

I was listening to another episode of The Daily where Michael Babaro was again discussing a quickly unfolding, mysterious disaster. We all know what happened next. For me, a global pandemic led me home to Grand Rapids. I was heartbroken. A dream interrupted.

I knew if I was going to try to survive here again, if I was going to find belonging, I needed to find my people.  I needed a place to be seen, to be heard, to be understood, to be loved. What I really needed was friendship.

I know Treetops is a non profit, and I know when we think non profit we think “helping people in need” Well. I was in need.

I’d heard about the opportunity to “volunteer” through a program that matched women up for 8 months of doing life together. Just every day stuff. I met Halima when she and I were matched as partners. It was awkward at first, but the Treetops staff were totally cheering us on. The goal – be friends! No obligations, no responsibilities, no special skills required, just be open hearted to something new, a friendship.

It wasn’t our job to change the world, or each other. It was just an opportunity to be in relationship, and isn’t that where all change begins? In relationships of trust and empathy and listening and laughing and crying and learning and growing?

picture of hannah and halima smiling outdoors on one of their "hikes"

Halima and I spent the winter eating Korean foods - our favorite - picking apples, making pies, I once sent leftover apple pie home with Halima and she brought me the pan back full of samosas. For Halima’s birthday we baked a beautiful cake and decorated it with pink frosting to resemble the Instagram posts we had been sending each other for a couple weeks as inspiration. We watched Freaky Friday. I met her sisters, her mom. She met my family, some of my friends.  We saw the butterflies at Fredrick Meijer Gardens, we went for walks that we called “hikes”. We listened to Taylor Swift endlesslyyyyy.

When I lived in Toronto I did not just survive, I thrived, and that is because it is a diverse city of immigrants and native people who are committed to making room for each other and honoring the dignity of every human. Grand Rapids is growing to be more welcoming and inclusive, and Treetops is modeling what our city could look like if we cherished belonging as much as surviving. The flourishing of this city depends on the flourishing of people living in the most vulnerable circumstances.

My parents immigrated here and raised me and my 3 siblings. We survived and thrived because of the people who stepped out of their bubble not to help us but to befriend us. They are the ones that came to our weddings, our funerals, our birthday parties. Someday maybe Halima and I will throw each other baby showers and bring each other meals, I bet she will make samosas and they will save my life. 

halima and hannah smiling holding a freshly baked apple pie

I came to Treetops looking for deeper connection, and I found that in my relationship with Halima. Today I want to invite you to not merely share space and a meal with those at your table today, but to take advantage of this time to deepen your sense of community and connection. Instead of hopping on our phones to kill time, let’s actually look up and see one another.