Honoring AAFSC’s New Citizens and Sharrif Wilson’s Legacy

January 17, 2020

On January 9th, 2020, the Arab-American Family Support Center was proud to host a Citizenship Celebration in our Brooklyn Headquarters in honor of our students who became American citizens in 2019. Becoming a citizen is not an easy one, and for some, it can take decades. Knowing this, we took the steps to ensure we recognized this important milestone in the laborious journey of immigration. The special celebration was a huge success, and we were honored to have Council Members Stephen Levin, Carlina Rivera, and Mathieu Eugene, as well as staff from Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s office, join us to present awards to our new citizens!

Our Citizenship Preparation Classes, part of our broader Adult Education and Literacy classes, serve as an entry point into the remainder of our programs. Through U.S. Civics and History lessons, we support immigrants and refugees in New York City prepare to become American citizens. We are proud that 100% of the students who participate in these classes pass their exams. AAFSC offers support in a dynamic group setting led by our dedicated teachers, and intensive one-on-one support led by our robust team of volunteers that graciously donate their time and expertise to support our students achieve their goals.

As you know, we have dedicated ourselves to creating an inclusive, safe haven for immigrants and refugees for over 25 years. We are deeply proud of the diverse New Yorkers that we serve every day at our Center and prouder still that we are able to extend our reach across all five boroughs of a city that values inclusion and celebrates the melting pot of cultures that make us one of the most vibrant places in the world. In 2019 alone, AAFSC served individuals from over 96 different countries thanks to our culturally and linguistically competent, trauma-informed team, who collectively speak 20 languages.

This celebration also served as a reminder to us all about our collective duty to uphold justice. A few months ago, the Arab-American Family Support Center was proud to receive a generous gift from the Sharrif Wilson Charitable Foundation to reduce barriers to opportunities for low-income New Yorkers. While this gift will bring relief to those in need, the story of Sharrif Wilson who the foundation memorializes is a difficult one.

Sharrif Wilson was wrongfully incarcerated at the age of 15, spent 22 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him, and died from health complications exacerbated by his time in prison shortly after his release. Sharrif and his family faced an unbearable injustice. Our democracy robbed Sharrif of a long and prosperous life and his story is a call to all of us – citizens who hold the responsibility to ensure that such deep-rooted inequity does not continue. Sharrif’s sister, Tiffany Wilson, turned darkness into light. Tiffany set up the Sharrif Wilson Charitable Foundation to carry on her brother’s legacy and his desires to support people making a difference. Through her generosity, AAFSC will support a new generation of citizens committed to making the world a more equitable place.

On January 8, AAFSC staff honored Sharrif through a Day of Service with New York City-based organizations that are dedicated to supporting criminal justice reform and incarcerated or formally incarcerated people. We spent the afternoon volunteering our time with Black & Pink NYC, Hour Children, Brooklyn Defender Services, Brooklyn Bail Fund, and Getting Out Staying Out. We wrote letters, assembled care packages, organized clothes donations, and put together information packets. As an organization dedicated to justice, we were thrilled to participate in such important work that will benefit hundreds of marginalized New Yorkers.

Although the Day of Service was a single afternoon, we knew it was important to honor Sharrif in a more permanent way too. A special plaque dedicated to his memory was unveiled at our Citizenship Celebration and will be featured in our Headquarters to remind us about why we do the work that we do. We are steadfast in our commitment to building a stronger New York and cannot thank the Sharrif Wilson Charitable Foundation enough for believing in our work and giving us the opportunity to extend our reach even further.