White House lifts up welcoming initiatives in Atlanta

Event in Atlanta showcases the city’s progress in integrating immigrants and furthering civil rights and economic development.

Two and a half years ago, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed approached me about taking point to facilitate the first conversation about creating a more welcoming and inclusive Atlanta for all residents. The 2010 census had shown that metro Atlanta was experiencing the second fastest growing foreign-born population in the country. One in five children in the City of Atlanta was growing up in a bilingual or non-English speaking household at a time when the State of Georgia, in 2011, had passed anti-immigrant legislation.

Mayor Reed was adamant that the unwelcoming policies coming out of the state legislature did not speak for Atlanta – a city that prides itself on being both the birthplace of the civil rights movement and the economic engine of the southeast – and that he was not going to allow his city’s greatest asset, its people, to feel unwelcomed in the place they had chosen to call home.

Having just moved to Atlanta, I didn’t yet understand that Fortune 500 companies here, like Coca-Cola and Georgia Power, have a history of rolling up their sleeves and being key partners in city-led initiatives that strengthen their hometown. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised – mayors and business leaders get it, they see it day in and day out – to compete globally you need diverse talent, and if diverse talent already exists in your backyard, you’d be remiss not to invest in people now to guarantee a prosperous path for your future.

In just two and a half years, an initial closed door conversation between civil society and municipal government has developed into Welcoming Atlanta, a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and civil society to ensure a coordinated strategy to welcome new Atlantans into the city’s social and economic fabric.

Earlier this month, the City of Atlanta was held up as an example by the White House, when they chose it for a Regional Convening on New Americans as part of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign. The White House campaign – Welcoming America is the lead partner –  supports communities to strengthen local immigrant and refugee integration efforts.

For the past few months, Welcoming America has had the privilege of working closely with the Administration to figure out how to best support, and celebrate, the welcoming efforts expanding across the country.

White House Regional Convenings on New Americans have shed light on the unique and innovative approaches cities are taking to create more cohesive communities and the deep commitment that exists on the ground to getting welcoming right. For example in Atlanta, there are now citizenship corners established in libraries and immigrant-owned grocery stores, and a new multicultural liaison unit within the public safety departments.

I left the City of Atlanta to join Welcoming America in 2015. For Atlanta to be selected for one of the White House Regional Convenings was a source of personal pride. Seeing a packed room of local leaders and White House officials committed to providing thoughtful next steps for Atlanta and learning about the programs my successors have scaled and their plans for the immediate future –  now that was exciting.

Mayor Reed said at the event: “The City of Atlanta has a long and proud legacy of inclusion and progress. I am proud to continue that tradition today by partnering with the Obama Administration to host the White House Regional Convening on New Americans. Atlanta’s immigrant and foreign-born population are leaders in our community, starting new businesses at high rates and investing right here in Atlanta. I established the Office of Immigrant Affairs to offer support and to ensure opportunities are open to everyone.”

The convening was among numerous regional gatherings scheduled to take place in cities across the nation, leading up to the commemoration of Immigrant Heritage Month in June, designed to highlight immigrant integration best practices and broaden and deepen local multi-sector partnerships to advance civic, economic and linguistic integration efforts. Atlanta is one of more than 50 local governments that have joined this campaign, which is designed to encourage communities to welcome all residents so that the greater community can thrive.

For more information about the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign and how your community can join, visit www.whitehouse.gov/newamericans.