Watch our Segment on “WTTW’s Chicago Tonight” originally aired Monday, Feb 11

International Photojournalist, James A. Bowery Shares Poignant Images and Stories of Refugees and Leads Open Conversation of Issues Surrounding Refugees in America

Join the conversation:
Wednesday, February 13 at 7:00pm
Unity Chicago
1925 W. Thome Ave.  Chicago
$20/$10 students and seniors

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See the exhibit:
When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Stories of Refugees in America

Photography Exhibit at UNITY Chicago’s Sunshine Gallery

Through Thursday, February 28
Saturday & Sundays, 9am-2pm
Monday-Friday, by appointment only


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Caravans, border walls, asylum seekers, refugees, fearmongering, xenophobia…all words being tossed around in the Media that turn anyone wanting to immigrate to the U.S. into political fodder. Can anything be done to solve such a polarizing issue? It can begin with a conversation.

Documentary Artist and Photographer, James A. (Jim) Bowey and one of his subjects, “Kenny”, a refugee who endured an arduous 10-year journey after fleeing from civil war and genocide in Burundi before finding his way to the U.S., are starting that conversation.

Jim is an International Photojournalist who created the traveling exhibit, When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Stories of Refugees in America, currently on display at Unity Chicago in Rogers Park. The exhibit features refugees from around the world who share their stories in their own words, accompanied by an intimate photographic portrait of each subject.

In addition to the exhibit, Jim will lead a Community Conversation about refugees in America. The event will begin with a presentation by Jim along with members of the local community reading the refugees’ stories followed by an open audience discussion. Kenny will also be on hand to share his story and answer questions about his journey. The Conversation is taking place at Unity Chicago on Wednesday, February 13 at 7:00 P.M.

As an International Photojournalist, Jim saw many of the horrors and injustices bestowed upon people in countries torn apart by corruption, war, and poverty. The focus of his work became national and international human rights and the plight of the refugee.

There are more than 65 million refugees in the world according to the United Nations. These displaced people are fleeing war, famine, and natural disasters. Yet, each year, less than 1% of the world’s refugees are given the chance to restart their life in a new county. And the U.S. is on pace to accept the fewest number of refugees in 40 years. There has been a 73.5% drop in refugee resettlement from 2016 to 2018 (from nearly 90,000 to about 22,500)

“I have seen a seismic shift in our relationship to refugees and migrants,” states Jim. But, he says, making a political statement is not the driving force for creating this exhibit. “I cannot solve the world’s refugee problems, but I can expand understanding, encourage empathy, and start conversations by helping my subjects share their stories.” Jim believes that we can create the world we want from the stories that we share. He believes art can bridge division.

One of Jim’s subjects is Rénovat “Kenny” Kenese, a Burundian refugee who fled his home country’s genocide and civil war in 1993. That led him on a 10-year odyssey that included being lost and alone in the Congo Rainforest for a year, being imprisoned and tortured by Burundian rebels, and fleeing to Zambia. Though Kenny now lives in Chicago, is employed and has a family, it is still very difficult for him to relive those difficult years, but he, like Jim, believes that sharing his story will help spread understanding of the plight of the refugee.

About When Home Won’t Let You Stay

In a penetrating exploration of America’s evolving attitudes toward refugees, documentary artist James A. Bowey has been traveling the United States meeting refugees, listening to their stories, and photographing their portraits. The photographs are taken on location in a setting of the portrait subject’s everyday life. Along with the portrait, Bowey interviews each person and their first-person story accompanies their photograph. The individuals in this exhibition share poignant stories of violence and loss, as well as perseverance and hope; and their images and experiences produce a compelling human portrait of refugees in America.

About Jim

James A.  Bowey is a Chicago-based documentary artist who explores issues of human rights and social connection. He has spent his career covering a wide range of global and national stories from the war in Bosnia to Hurricane Katrina. His photography and writing have been featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine, the Associated Press, as well as in numerous exhibitions. Bowey is also an educator and professor, and a winner of the national WOW award for innovation in higher education.

About Kenny

Rénovat “Kenny” Kenese, 45, is a Burundian refugee living in Chicago. Fleeing civil war and genocide in Burundi in 1993, Kenny endured a ten-year odyssey before resetting in Chicago. He first fled to Congo where he was lost in the jungle and lived alone for a year without human contact. He was found by hunters and moved to a refugee camp, before being imprisoned and tortured by Burundian rebels who were backing up the Congolese government. He eventually escaped to Zambia where he was granted refugee status and approved for resettlement to the United States in 2004. Kenny went on to earn a B.S. from Loyola University and master’s degree in Public Health from Argosy University in Chicago. He currently lives with his wife and children in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood.