Welcoming Massachusetts is a community-wide initiative seeking to affirm Massachusetts as a welcoming place for all. We encourage conversations in an effort to promote understanding among diverse people and celebrate the positive contributions that individuals from various walks of life make to our community. With the support of the Welcoming America movement and MIRA Coalition, we will work together to engage with frank and friendly conversation the multicultural and local groups in the state, through coffee hours, lectures, media messages, multicultural fairs, block parties, interfaith talks, town endorsement, game nights, movie screenings, school presentations and/or by partnering with current events that promote tolerance and understanding towards diverse communities.
In October of 2007, a number of Boston area community leaders formed broad-based committees in communities where immigrant integration and education was most needed. They were individuals and organizations from all walks of life – community/civic, government, business, labor, and faith to support principles of human rights, human dignity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. Successful implementation of an intense campaign to gather pledges from each legislative district in the commonwealth will build new partnerships and lay the ground for a range of legislative victories. Welcoming Massachusetts successfully got 6,600 signatures on to its Welcoming Massachusetts pledge, over 80 endorsements from local organizations and the endorsement of over 50 elected officials. In 2009, it started a new phase of the project within MIRA Coalition and its members, focusing on communities outside of Boston that are economically depressed, and have large immigrant populations: Pittsfield, Fitchburg and Framingham. 2011 will continue strongly with activities in this towns as well as the greater Boston area.
Welcoming Massachusetts aims to open hearts and minds towards a positive integration of immigrants and refugees into the social fabric of their receiving communities. We recognize there are challenges, and will overcome them through conversation and gatherings between diverse groups in our community about our shared values and cultural contributions. Through education, social and cultural activities engaging immigrants and non-immigrant audiences, we want to build a sensible understanding of the immigrant community that would ensure that both residents and newcomers can feel at home here in Massachusetts.
One of the keys to Welcoming America’s success is its local nature. Individuals in any given community are more likely to listen to people living in their community than to outsiders. The way a Welcoming affiliate is able to create locally driven Welcoming campaigns is by helping to organize Welcoming Committees, which become the nerve centers for local Welcoming campaigns. Welcoming committees become the place where community members who decide they want to improve the climate for immigrants in their town learn to go. They are also the driving force behind the two other, complementary Welcoming strategies – communications and public engagement. The local messages and fundraising needed for the communications strategy is provided by the committee. The committee also recruits and trains individuals to do public engagement, and maintains contact with the growing number of supporters it has identified in its community.
In many U.S. communities, particularly new immigrant destinations, the messages native-born communities members hear about immigrants are in large part negative. One need only watch the local news, or turn on talk radio, to verify this. Welcoming America attempts to change the messages people hear about immigrants in local communities by utilizing a number of key communications tools such as billboards, interactive websites, press conferences/press releases, and letters to the editor. The communications campaign also acts as a mass-marketing campaign, alerting thousands of individuals – who are either “untapped” or “unsure” – that there is a place they can go to either become active in resolving immigrant/native tensions or at least learn more about the changes taking place in their community.
This strategy centers on engaging members of the U.S.-born community in venues that are convenient and comfortable for them. Some examples of venues include places of worship, community centers, civic clubs, and local schools and universities. Ideally, presentations/dialogues are facilitated by at least one native-born resident and one recent immigrant from the community. Individuals who facilitate such conversations are called “welcoming ambassadors,” and are trained by local Welcoming affiliates or Welcoming committees. Welcoming participants overwhelmingly agree that direct contact is the most effective way to transform the way community residents think about immigrants and immigration. Direct engagement presents an opportunity for immigrants to demonstrate the values they share with their new neighbors, and is also a forum to openly discuss apprehensions and misunderstandings about the current U.S. immigration system.