By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Emma Nunn, a senior at Assumption High School, was in the audience Feb. 28 as President Donald Trump delivered his first joint address to Congress and called on citizens to embrace a “renewal of the American spirit.”
Nunn, who says she’s “passionate” about the immigration issue, was invited to hear the president speak by Congressman John Yarmuth, the U.S. representative of Kentucky’s third congressional district.
Nunn said she received a call from her teacher Lisa Wieland on Feb. 23 asking if she’d like to be Rep. Yarmuth’s guest for the president’s address.
“I started crying,” said Nunn during a phone interview Feb. 25. “I never thought I’d get such an opportunity,
but it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Nunn was already set to be one of a dozen Assumption juniors and seniors taking part in a mission trip to Washington, D.C., this week. The group visited the Sisters of Mercy, who founded Assumption High School, to learn about social advocacy and the sisters’ core values.
Rep. Yarmuth said during a phone interview Feb. 27 that the Democratic caucus wanted to invite someone like Emma who has an interest in immigration to be their guest during the president’s congressional address.
“Over the last couple of decades there’s been a developing sense that government isn’t important, doesn’t work well or doesn’t affect people’s lives directly,” the congressman said.
It’s important to get young people like Nunn to take an interest in government in order to change that outlook, he noted.
“I’m on a continuing mission to talk to young people about how government affects their lives and to take an interest in government.”
With Nunn, he said, he’s probably “preaching to the choir.”
“She’s already so engaged and has a commitment to public service and helping people.”
He hopes this experience will serve to “reinforce the importance” of the work she’s already doing.
Eighteen-year-old Nunn said her interest in immigration grew out of her other “passion,” human trafficking. She realized, she noted, that immigration and human trafficking are “closely connected.”
“When people can’t emigrate legally they try to emigrate illegally, which has a negative impact on their lives. If immigration was legal this wouldn’t happen and human rights could be protected,” she said. “I’m all about people being able to move to new places and seize opportunities that are available.”
Nunn said she wants President Trump to know that immigrants “are people, too, and are just trying to make the best of the life they have. If they think the United States is the place to do it, then why not?”
“There are plenty of job opportunities that are not being taken by people who are citizens,” she said. “They should be open to people who are willing to do them whether they are from another country or not.”
Rep. Yarmuth said that Nunn and other young people will be the ones to “assume important roles and change national policy” in the near future.
“Young people Emma’s age are seeing the world change and are comfortable with change,” he said. “We need their perspective in making policies in a world that is rapidly changing.”
“Young people are much more comfortable with diversity,” he said. “It makes them the best people to advocate for the immigration policy the country ought to have.”
Nunn isn’t the only young woman at Assumption taking action and seeking change.
Sara Bruner, Yufei Wang and Maggie Jordan are leaders of Assumption’s Global Outreach Club club.
In December, the club led an effort to raise more than $5,000 for a school in southwestern Cambodia. The funds paid for two computers, text books, an Internet connection and a salary for an English and computer teacher.
The school has a special connection with Assumption. In 2007, 10 Assumption students had an idea to build a middle school in Kampong Cham in Cambodia after learning about the plight of young girls who were forced into the sex trade because they lacked other opportunities.
The Assumption students believed that empowering Cambodian girls through education was the answer. They spent the next three years raising $19,000. The school, called “Change: Hope through Education,” opened in 2010.
Now members of the Global Outreach Club are working to keep the school going.
The Global Outreach Club also aims to raise awareness about the plight of immigrants and refugees in Louisville. The club started in 2014, but hadn’t been very active recently.
Bruner, Wang and Jordan said they felt the time was right to re-animate the club. Bruner, who was a member of the club her sophomore year, said it helped her to develop a passion for global issues.
“With political discourse at the forefront, I thought it was a good time to get people educated and passionate about global affairs,” said Bruner.
Like Nunn, Bruner, Wang and Jordan are passionate about helping immigrants and are using the club to make other students aware of what is happening in the immigrant and refugee communities.
Bruner has tutored refugee children through Kentucky Refugee Ministries and was among the thousands of advocates who attended the Rally for American Values at the Muhammad Ali Center Jan. 30. The event was organized by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in response to President Trump’s executive order targeting refugees. All three club leaders traveled to Frankfort, Ky., Feb. 16 for Immigrant and Refugee Day at the capitol.
Bruner said she understands there must be some “standards and restrictions” when it comes to immigration, “but the way they are going about it isn’t humane,” she said. She’d like those in charge to “take time to realize that immigrants are just people.”
“The ones they are keeping out are those who need the most help,” she said.
Wang, who moved to the United States from China four years ago to attend school, said she can relate to other immigrants. She also learned about the hardships refugees and immigrants face in a Catholic social teaching class at Assumption, but she came face to face with them while volunteering with students at the Americana Community Center in South Louisville.
“We learned that they come here when there’s no choice left and they face many difficulties,” said Wang. “Shutting so many out because of generalizations doesn’t make much sense.”
Jordan became interested in the life of refugees and immigrants living in Kentucky when she was a seventh-grader at St. John Paul II Academy. That interest lead her to volunteer to help children through Kentucky Refugee Ministries. She plans to keep working to create awareness among her schoolmates on these issues.
The three club leaders also plan to continue raising funds and advocating for the school in Cambodia. When the club meets this month they will discuss a letter-writing and phone-call campaign to lawmakers to advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees.
Nunn said she hoped to learn during her Washington trip the different ways young women her age can become advocates for immigrants.