Six years after independence, South Sudan's flag has been raised in Dallas, Texas, at the municipal government's administration building, known as City Hall.
The South Sudan flag went up this week at the culmination of South Sudan Unite, an annual diaspora event organized by the Luol Deng Foundation.
The flag was raised by two-time National Basketball Association All-Star Luol Deng, a South Sudan native.
Deng, who lives in Los Angeles, California, was also made an honorary citizen of Dallas.
South Sudanese residents of the Dallas area said the flag-raising was more than a symbolic gesture. It was a chance for them to formally add their voices and ideas to the city while contributing to its social and economic development.
Jacob Alieth Gai was just a young man when he arrived in the United States in September 2001. He was one of hundreds of Lost Boys from southern Sudan with a keen eye for a better future and hopes of creating a new home in Dallas. But even with a bright future in front of him, Alieth knew he could not forget his past. This week, he was again overwhelmed with hope and pride when he saw his country's flag raised in his new hometown.
Sense of recognition
"For me, I can feel like the community of Dallas recognized the Sudanese community living in Dallas and for our flag to be one of them," said Alieth. "This is an achievement for Sudanese. It takes a lot of hard work for this one to happen. Sudanese really put their hands together."
The flag ceremony was especially meaningful to Alieth because the flag was raised in a city that is close to former U.S. President George W. Bush, whom Alieth considers a friend of South Sudan.
Laura Bush, the former first lady, graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where the 43rd U.S. commander in chief's presidential library was built.
President Bush's administration played an influential role in crafting the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that paved the way for southern Sudan's independence referendum in early 2011.
Speaking at the ceremony, Dallas-area resident Michael Majok said the presence of his home country's flag would send a message to other communities.
"It's something that is going to showcase to Dallas that the South Sudanese community are here and we are staying and we are officially now going to be partaking in whatever it is that is taking part in the city of Dallas and the neighboring cities," said Majok.
14th African flag
Regina Onyeibe, the Africa liaison for Dallas, said South Sudan's flag was the 14th African flag to be raised at City Hall. She said each flag was unique, representing the history and geography of the respective country, but tha tthe pride felt among participants was universal.
"Everybody can feel more a part of this city, and that is always my intent" for all Africans who live in Dallas, Onyeibe said.
For others like Chol Amol Piok, who has lived in the Dallas metropolitan area since 2011, the flag raising offered a sense of legitimacy that could open doors for members of his community.
"At this moment, [South Sudanese] are now reaching a larger forum, which is a platform of Dallas where they can participate," said Amol. "They can be recognized should there be any concern of mutual interest, be it business or anything cultural."
Alieth said the flag-raising would give his community "motivation for things that we need to do as one community."
"We need to unite and come together — one flag, one community — and then we move forward. And the new country of South Sudan needs to wake up and think about unity," said Alieth.