Deep drumbeats reverberating from floor to ceiling filled the Portland Company Complex during the limited admission preview hour for this year’s CeleSoiree party. Held April 13, the popular annual event attracted 450 guests and raised more than $40,000 for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers and others trying to relocate to Maine from abroad.

The heart-thumping music came from Batimbo Beats, a dynamic drumming group made up of men from Burundi, most of whom are seeking asylum here in the U.S. Dressed in red, white and green tunics, the musicians not only created thrilling music, they also put on a captivating performance filled with dancing, singing and wild leaps.

The crowd was so enthralled by the performance, the group was asked to do an encore prior to the event’s live auction. But Batimbo Beats wasn’t the only high-energy group that graced the stage. African drummer Jordan Benissan, with an ever-changing assortment of friends, and the Maine Marimba Ensemble also kept the crowd dancing and swaying.

In addition to top-notch world music, the party served up an abundance of international eats and a silent art auction, which featured works by DeWitt Hardy, Jack Montgomery, Judy Ellis Glickman, Nathaniel Larrabee, Daniel Minter, Michael Shaughnessy and many others.

“I remember the first year we did this event,” founding board member Ted Kelleher told me. “We held it in a small room and we were terrified no one would show up.”

Now in its eighth year, the party takes up the large and charmingly rustic event room at the Portland Company, a former steel foundry on the Portland waterfront.

When she took to the stage, ILAP board member and attorney Jennifer Archer noted that asylum seekers’ “stories are extremely tragic and very sad.” She pointed out that the U.S. government holds all asylum seekers to the same standard, whether or not they are represented by counsel.

She then cited statistics that show that 95 percent of asylum seekers who have legal representation have their petitions approved, while in contrast, only 15 percent to 20 percent of asylum seekers without legal counsel are granted asylum.

When board president Lori Dwyer took the microphone to thank supporters, she also noted that the board had finished its search for a new executive director and that Ron Kreisman will fill the post starting May 7.

ILAP maintains a network of attorneys willing to work pro bono on asylum cases. It also runs a legal clinic, offering assistance on a wide range of immigration issues.

Last year the organization provided full legal representation to 529 asylum seekers and helped more than 2,500 people through its clinic. To make this possible, volunteers donated more than 2,200 hours of their time.

Auctioneer Howard Reben summed up the organization’s importance, when he told the crowd: “ILAP is one of the few organizations that can say truthfully that they save lives. If someone with an asylum claim went back to their country, they could lose their lives.”

ILAP translator and former asylum seeker Alain Jean Claude Nahimana echoed this sentiment when he told the crowd, “All of you who help ILAP … you change lives for people.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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