HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - Jolie fled Congo because of war and spent 10 years as a refugee in Uganda. When she finally boarded a plane to come to the United States, she brought her four children, two suitcases stuffed with their possessions and a dream of a better life.
"I didn't have a husband," she said. "He was dead in the war. I don't have (a) mother, no auntie. I didn't have anybody."
Jolie said she was lucky to end up in the United States and to find help right here in this 2-square-mile borough. The Highland Park-based Interfaith-RISE program, a U.S. State Department designated official resettlement agency that resettles refugees and asylees in New Brunswick, Highland Park, Edison, Woodbridge, Franklin (Somerset County), Piscataway and other municipalities across the state, helped her with food and shelter, enrolled her children in school and taught her how to speak English in the year and 4 days since she arrived.
Jolie's tale of dignity and desperation is universal to many who find their way here from distant soils and it's the reason Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale organized Sunday's Interfaith-RISE Walk For Refugees.
About 400 people, including refugees, asylees and asylum seekers, attended the walk that traversed the streets of the borough with stops at the Highland Park Conservative Temple, Bartle Elementary School, Borough Hall, Trinity United Methodist Church and Main Street Highland Park.
Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) and Keith Jones II, the Chief of Staff in New Brunswick in Mayor Jim Cahill's office, were among the dignitaries to speak at the walk's launch on the steps of the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
The walk was organized to raise money for Interfaith-RISE's resettlement program, but it was a platform for Menendez, Pallone and Commissioner Carole Johnson of the New Jersey Department of Human Services to deride President Donald Trump's immigration policies.
The walk was staged just one day after Trump signed off on a plan to cap the number of refugees taken in by the U.S. at 18,000 in fiscal year 2020. That represents the lowest number of possible refugees accepted by this country since the program began in 1980. In the final year of the Obama administration, the refugee ceiling was 85,000.
Jones said New Brunswick has always opened its arms "for those looking for a better way of life, whether that is housing, whether that is in our school system, whether that's a sense of community, whether that's an opportunity to just be - be a part of something, whether they are fleeing from religious persecution or war or conflict or natural disaster. That's what Mayor Cahill has always put forth and under his leadership we've been continuing to do this work."
Pallone reassured those assembled that "there are voices very much opposed to what the Trump Administration is doing and appreciate what you do here on a local level."
Rabbi Philip Bazeley of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, which often partners for community service events with the Reformed Church of Highland Park, spoke when the walk stopped at Borough Hall. He drew a parallel between the Torah's call to defend the defenseless with helping the refugees, asylees and asylum seekers.
"Our scripture says that those who are strangers, those who are orphans, those who are widows are the three most vulnerable," Bazeley said. "Our scripture tells us this because if that is how we are to treat the most vulnerable, then we have to treat everyone that way. So every time we do this march, we are essentially recommitting ourselves to protecting the most vulnerable among us."
Kaper-Dale said this was the fifth year he's helped organize the walk. He said about $53,000 had been raised before this year's walk even began. He said that's about $30,000 more than was raised in any single previous year.
Interfaith-RISE has resettled 191 people, including 80 this year. It has helped enroll 24 kids into schools.