We have so much to be proud of in Georgia, where our capital, Atlanta, is now officially designated as a “Welcoming City,” and where hard-working refugees are positive contributors to our state’s economy, driving the creation of small businesses and increases in home ownership.
“Welcoming refugees is not only good humanitarian practice but makes sound economic sense.”–Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry
As cities around the country celebrated Welcoming Week last week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed brought the celebration home. At a September 17 press conference at the inspiring new National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Mayor Reed reaffirmed his intent and outlined his plan to make Atlanta a leader in welcoming newcomers.
Framed by a towering glass fountain engraved with wisdom from Nelson Mandela, Reed spoke passionately about the importance of immigrants and refugees to the future of Atlanta as a great global city. It was a beautiful sunny day that seemed to reflect a new optimism and attitude — a stark contrast to the city’s mood only a few short years ago, when the debate over immigration reform raged and so many newcomers suddenly felt unwelcome.
The mayor’s plan, which includes 20 recommendations made by the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group he appointed last April, is an important next step in our city’s growth. I had the privilege — and fun — of serving on this working group on behalf of New American Pathways and the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies. The committee included an incredible mix of leaders from business, education, government and nonprofits – all with powerful ideas and strong views. I’m grateful to the Mayor for the opportunity to have been part of it and also for his leadership and vision in recognizing that refugee organizations belong at this table.
Some of the exciting new initiatives the city will be rolling out soon include:
- Establishing an Office of Multicultural Affairs within the Mayor’s office to ensure that newcomers are a priority
- Creating an ongoing advisory structure to ensure that the Mayor hears from newcomers and their community leaders
- Creating employment and training opportunities to capitalize on immigrant and refugee talent and strengthen Georgia’s workforce
- Expanding citizenship, English language, and other services to help newcomers become part of the community
- Evaluating key city departments to ensure that services are accessible and that staff are trained in cultural norms
In an election year, when high-blown rhetoric often prevails, the Mayor’s plan underscores that he is genuinely motivated to welcoming newcomers, including treating those with humanitarian needs with compassion. It’s clear that Mayor Reed recognizes and embraces the important economic, social, and intellectual contributions that refugees and immigrants make in big cities like ours. And, in the tradition of so many Atlanta leaders who have committed themselves to the cause of civil rights for all, he is unapologetic about fighting discrimination against new Americans. September 17 was a great day for refugees and immigrants, for our city– and for the future Atlanta I can now happily envision.