October 28, 2019

Refugees keep this coffeeshop buzzing in suburban Atlanta

The owner Refuge Coffee Co. gives refugees a job and an opportunity to build a new life in America.

Photos courtesy of Refuge Coffee Co.

My husband, Bill, and I have four grown sons. They bring us so much joy and pride, especially these days. I can barely remember that season when I fretted over those crazy teenage boys … when I wondered if our sons would ever learn how work hard. When their adolescent entitled attitudes made me cringe. Those days are long over. Whew!

I’ve been called a “bleeding heart” on social media, which could make one think I esteem handouts and give something for nothing. But trust me, you can’t raise teenage boys and think that way!

I’m convinced work is important to the health of cultures and families. We founded Refuge Coffee Co., a coffeeshop in suburban Atlanta, on the bedrock of a solid work ethic. We believe every refugee has a right to the American Dream; we believe that right comes packaged in the opportunity to work hard.

The funny thing is, we haven’t had to teach this part of it at all. Our refugee employees actually teach us a thing or two about how important it is to rise above your circumstances on the steps of your own labor.

Two of our former trainees, Frey and Malek started small businesses on the side that they dived into full force when they finished their time with us. They both applied for the rigorous Start ME Accelerator Program, a local business-mentoring program that selected just 17 of 100 applicants. Frey and Malek were both accepted AND praised for their obvious combination of intellect and drive. Malek’s business eventually provided a path back to the college education the war in his country, Syria, forced him to put on hold. The side hustle, what could be more American Dream-y?

One day I overheard Leon Shombana, our first trainee and now the manager of our coffee shop, on the phone with one of his children who at that time still lived in the Congo with Leon’s mother. Later, he told me he was instructing his children to stay inside the house until the gunfire in their neighborhood ceased. (U.N. peacekeepers showed up to push the fighting out of his area the very next day.) Let me tell you, I would have used that traumatic conversation as a reason to take a personal day in a split second. Leon could have, too, but he stayed at work instead.

Ahmad Alzoukani, our director of catering, simply will not say “no.” We tell him that work-life balance is important, but he has a hard time turning down any opportunity to share the “Refuge love” no matter how many hours he’s worked. If at all possible, he’ll make it happen for our customers every time.

Ahmad and Leon believe in their work, they believe in our mission, and their exceptional work ethics prove it. But they also work in an organization like Refuge, one that believes you work so you can live, not the other way around. Because they have dignifying work, they’re able to live dignifying lives that enhance their families and their communities.

Rest assured that when you give to Refuge, you don’t give an empty handout; you give to a culture of hard work. You give to dignity, to thriving, and to giving back. You help our refugee neighbors shine.

Refuge Coffee Co.

Kitti Murray

Founder, Refuge Coffee Co.

Kitti Murray and her husband Bill (or Kiki and Chief to their growing tribe of adorable grandkids) live on the edge of Atlanta in a refugee community that has been called the most diverse square mile in the country. This has been the most intense and inviting neighborhood in their experience, and it has taught them to dream big and love even bigger. One expression of that love has been Refuge Coffee Co., a nonprofit Kitti founded as a way to join hands with neighbors near and far to create opportunity and true refuge through coffee and community service. Refuge has been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Senator Bill Bradley’s radio show, American Voices, Food & Wine magazine, and NPR’s The Salt. Kitti has spoken about Refuge at Creative Mornings, the Q Commons, Leadercast Women, Google Atlanta, and at other venues where people come to hear stories about justice and mercy. Connect with Kitti and Refuge at www.refugecoffeeco.com or on social media @refugecoffeeco.