NBA player Luol Deng is bringing the South Sudanese community together this weekend through South Sudan Unite.
Deng, a native of South Sudan, launched the annual event last year in Washington, D.C. through his foundation.
This year, he is hosting it in Omaha, which has the largest South Sudanese population in the U.S.
The annual event is three days long, and part of that gathering will feature a leadership workshop for young people. In a YouTube video, he explained he wants to bring refugees and migrants together.
Thursday morning, young South Sudanese adults filled a large room inside Kaneko where they say they are invisible despite working and going to school in the metro.
Ater Mayen, 26, and his family moved to the U.S. when he was six years old. They moved several times around the country before arriving to Omaha, shocked to see the state of their people’s community.
The Sudanese population in this town hasn’t given themselves the best representation, Mayen says.
Amal Hamdan, 26, attributes the negative perception to run-ins with the law and high crimes.
“We had a gang problem at one time, but it’s kind of lessening out overtime,” Hamdan says.
Both college students say they have been lumped into that same category, when Mayen is studying computer science and Hamdan is in her third year of medical school.
They – along with their peers – say other positive examples of South Sudanese in America exists.
Like Miami Heat's Loul Deng.
“For me, this is a guy that I've looked up to personally,” says Koang Dulony, a local activist.
“It gives us a chance to really see what's possible and what success could mean.”
As the group of young adults wait for Deng to arrive, they say they hope the workshop will give them guidance where there is none since they are considered the first generation in their new homeland.
“A lot of times, we see our youth here struggling and we don't know where to go or how to kind of progress through this culture,” Hamdan says. “I think it's kind of critical when all of us can come together.”