As the beat of the Congo drum matched his steps, Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall reached the pinnacle of the last hill in the 5K Run for Refugees this Sunday.

Team Cornerstone, as Crandall called it, consisted of 15 Fairfield University community members who raced in the seventh annual 5K to raise awareness and donate to refugees. The Fairfield team donated almost $320 to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. About 700 participants ran or walked through East Rock Park in New Haven on Super Bowl Sunday morning.

“A lot of people wake up on Sunday morning with dreams of nachos and cheese, pulled pork and beer,” Crandall posted on his blog on Monday. “We, on the other hand, woke up with a mission – an opportunity to bring good to the world in 3.2 miles.”

Assistant Professor of the Practice of Curriculum and Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield, Crandall combined his passions of running, teaching and helping refugees in his English cornerstone classes over the past few years. Abiding by the phrase “scholarship in action,” Crandall explained that there is a responsibility that comes along with the privilege of receiving an education. He challenges his students to discover ways to use their knowledge to benefit people in third world countries.

While Crandall’s English curriculum is centered on the journey of refugees, he was pleasantly surprised last year when he had the opportunity to invite a relocated refugee to join his class. Chitunga Chisenga was selected as one of the students from Bassick High School to attend Fairfield for a class as part of a program between the schools. He was also one of the members of Team Cornerstone this weekend.

After interviewing Chisenga for the program, Crandall said, “I knew that my curriculum was designed for a kid like that.” Because of his experience of moving from Zambia to The Republic of Congo to Bridgeport, Chisenga was an important contribution to the class, according to Crandall. “Chisenga brought the reading to life,” he said.

Chisenga spoke to the Fairfield community last Tuesday as part of the memorial march during Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week. In his speech, he described his struggles coming to the United States, but he also explained that his family in Africa is a source of inspiration. Chisenga said, “I made it to the U.S. and here, I can chase my dreams.”

Freshman Damien Quinn was another member of Crandall’s team. Quinn related the challenges that he faces in sports and in this 5K, in particular, with the struggles that refugees face. “It teaches you to work hard and rely on yourself,” he said.

One of Quinn’s favorite moments at the run was when the refugees sang the national anthem at the starting line. “That was definitely the best memory,” Quinn said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really special moment.’”

Though Quinn admitted he did not know much about refugees before taking the class, he explained that Crandall has taught him a lot. “He’s so busy as a Fairfield teacher. It’s unbelievable that he takes the time out of his day to help other kids,” said Quinn.

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Earlier in the semester, Crandall invited Executive Director of IRIS Chris George to speak to his class.

IRIS is a nonprofit organization in New Haven that was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 1982. The organization works with refugees in many ways involving housing, education, legal assistance and cultural understanding, among many others. Each year, IRIS works with about 200 refugees from many countries, such as Afghanistan, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

George was also in attendance at the run. “When the students saw Chris running alongside them after he came to speak, everything came together nicely,” Crandall said.

When reflecting on the event as a whole, Crandall explained that it would not have been possible without Helen Kropitis, operations assistant for the office of academic engagement, and David Sapp, associate vice president for academic affairs and professor of English, who coordinate cornerstone programs and supply funding for the grants. “They allow us to take the curriculum and make it come alive,” Crandall said. “I have nothing but positive things to say about the two of them.”

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Crandall organized an event with IRIS and Fairfield’s men’s basketball Coach Sydney Johnson. Relocated youth will be invited to attend a Fairfield basketball game with Fairfield students at Webster Bank Arena on Thursday, Feb. 13.

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