Since attending the 2009 International Achievement Summit, I have graduated with an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, where I was a Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. I am now Executive Director of Welcoming America, a national, grassroots-driven organization I founded, that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and native-born Americans. We are unlocking the full potential of communities by helping them understand how and why the U.S. can find pride in upholding its welcoming traditions, at the community and individual level.
Through our work we are engaging nontraditional allies and supporters including local governments, embassies, businesses, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and prominent civic leaders to address the fears of U.S. born residents regarding the country’s fastest immigration growth rates since the early 1900s.
Welcoming America was born out of my time as a Reynolds Foundation Fellow. With the help of other Reynolds Fellows, I wrote the Welcoming America business plan for the Harvard Business Plan Competition. As it turned out, we had too much money to win the HBS prize, but the work was not for naught — the plan landed Welcoming America its first major funder.
At Welcoming America we recognize that change is never easy — not for immigrants, and not for communities asked to welcome newcomers whose language and culture they may not understand. I established Welcoming America to build a robust “receiving communities” movement and create an enabling environment for more people and institutions to recognize the role everyone must play in furthering the integration of recent immigrants in the fabric of the United States. With affiliates in 21 states across the country, we are facilitating open dialogue — and counteracting the biased, negative messages that community members may hear about their new neighbors — by disseminating factual, positive messages through group gatherings and all forms of media, thus building mutual respect and understanding. These efforts have been proven to cause a positive shift in the perceptions of residents towards immigrants.
Together, we are sharing a simple message, “Immigrants make us stronger.”
From my new home in Atlanta, Georgia, where I live with my wife and two young sons, I can see more than ever that a global perspective is an empowering perspective. I am grateful to the Reynolds Foundation for giving me the leadership and entrepreneurial preparation to gain this insight, and to guide others into a welcoming way of enriching our communities. I’m all the better for the experience.