More than 60 people gathered in the Brooklyn Park City Council Chambers Nov. 15 to discuss African immigrants’ experiences in Minnesota.
The forum, organized by The Advocates for Human Rights and Brooklyn Park-based African Immigrant Services, was part of the “One Voice Minnesota Monitoring Project.”
“This monitoring project is trying to establish a baseline of how welcoming Minnesota is to immigrants,” said Madeline Lohman of the Advocates.
The Advocates defines “welcome” as “the ability to live with dignity and fully enjoy basic human rights.”
By the beginning of 2014 the Advocates plans to publish a report of its findings, which will draw on community forums, individual interviews, demographic data and more. It will compare the study’s results to international human right standards. The group hopes the report will prove useful in guiding policy decisions at the state and local levels.
By working with local partners, such as African Immigrant Services, the Advocates hopes not only to gather information but also to spark healthy dialogue.
Noble Fahnbulleh, with African Immigrant Services, believes these conversations have value both to immigrants and the communities where they live.
“There is a two-way benefit to it,” Fahnbulleh said. “… It’s very important for this conversation in the form of a dialogue to occur.”
Although the majority of guests at the forum were African immigrants, Fahnbulleh said the group also invited other community members and officials so the conversation wouldn’t be completely one-sided.
But the focus was on sharing stories and concerns from the immigrants’ perspectives.
After remarks from a few community leaders, there was a large-group discussion of the question, “What does a welcoming community mean to you?”
Then participants broke into smaller groups for discussion. They were asked to tell stories about times they felt unwelcome in Minnesota, as well as instances when someone made a special effort to welcome them. They were asked whether specific laws or policies ever made them feel unwelcome. And they discussed the biggest issues communities face in welcoming immigrants and how individuals, communities and the state could do it better.
Facilitators asked participants to be respectful but candid. Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, said honesty is crucial. He believes stories are powerful and will make a difference.
“This is the time that we tell our story,” he said.