The Outsider’s View is a monthly column written by Brittany Bennett on community economic development in North Carolina.
Breaking Barriers with the Building Integrated Communities Project
In continuation of January’s theme of breaking barriers and building community, I wanted to learn more about the Building Integrated Communities Project, an initiative of the Latino Migration Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that helps local government leaders create more inclusive communities for immigrants and refugees. Supported by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, program staff provide technical assistance to North Carolina local governments to “successfully engage with immigrants and refugee populations in order to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication, and improve relationships.” (The Latino Migration Project)
The BIC initiative was started in 2010 to help local government leaders who want to create a welcoming, inclusive community become more aware of the needs of immigrant and refugee populations, and work together with partners to develop solutions that uniquely fit their cities, towns, and counties. According to Dr. Mai Nguyen from the BIC team, the purpose of the project was to assist municipalities that sincerely wanted to embrace their changing demographics at a time when many were developing anti-immigration policies. Three North Carolina communities have worked with the initiative since its founding including, the City of Greenville, City of High Point, and Orange County. These local governments receive technical assistance from BIC staff in the form of community meetings, focus groups and resident interviews that guided the creation of a unique action plan to fully integrate their diverse new residents.
The City of High Point has found great success with its work with BIC, which you can read about here. City leaders were led through the BIC program of focus groups, census data analysis, and community meetings to develop an action plan. This plan is driving current efforts, including the creation of two new committees under the Human Relations Commission umbrella: the International Affairs Committee and the Interfaith Affairs Committee. These groups are respectively charged with representing immigrant perspectives in recommendations to local government leaders and promoting greater religious and cultural understanding. An indication of how well High Point is implementing its plan is that the High Point Human Relations Director was named a White House Champion of Change for the work being done through the Building Integrated Communities initiative.
Last fall, leaders from the City of High Point and fellow BIC community, the City of Greenville, shared their experiences and learned lessons as participants in the Building Integrated Communities initiative with 75 people from across the state and public and private sectors, for the Immigration Integration Summit. These two cities were joined by the cities of Charlotte and Greensboro which have created their own programs to embrace growing foreign-born residents. Each community has made immigrant inclusion a priority by partnering with local nonprofits to provide necessary services such as providing community information in multiple languages, and to make community engagement more inclusive. Two important takeaways from the summit workshop are the three core values and the three challenges to action that participants developed during workshop sessions. You can read this report on the summit to learn about the four municipalities’ efforts and lessons learned, as well as the 75 participants’ shared values, challenges, and recommendations.
What can you do?
True integration is difficult and not something that we really see in most of our neighborhoods. Like we learned last month, building community is often about creating shared values and being open to honest dialogue and feedback. Some next steps to starting a similar integration initiative could include following:
• Consider what the needs are in your community and how you can best engage and bring together the various groups for discussion.
• Partner with local nonprofits, churches, etc. that are doing this work well.
• Educate staff on the different groups’ cultures through trainings, brown bags with community members, or other activities that bring people together.
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