On Friday, May 31, politicians, activist, lawyers, social justice agitators, educators, students and professionals from all backgrounds converged at the 9th Baltimore Immigration Summit.
This year’s Summit, took place at Coppin State University, and was recorded as the biggest yet in the history of the summit, attracting almost 200 attendees. Thanks to Towson University, in close collaboration and support of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, this well-attended event provided a unique space where community organizations can raise their voices in support of immigrants and refugees. This one-day event actually weaved together many of the most significant voices and community organizations who are relentless in their efforts in amplifying voices and taking actions to bring hope to refugees and immigrants. The event was also made possible by the generous support from BTU—Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore, along with our other co-sponsors, which allowed the event to gain success.
The event is contemporaneous, especially at the time when political actors in the current government vilify voices in support of immigrants and refugees. This event provided a unique possibility for partnership with other community organizations to create this unusual space to focus on immigration in the Baltimore area. This year’s event theme focuses on the need to “Restoring Hope through Solidarity.” In the face of the overwhelming difficulties that refugees, immigrants or New Americans face in our communities, the event helps to assuage this feeling of a brutal attack and embrace immigrants and refugees who are in need of help from communities. It is a call to step up in support and solidarity of the refugees whilst at the same time, allows participants to celebrate the gains made through actions to give hope to immigrants. The event provided a breath of fresh air to those who work on these issues to understand that they have the support of the community and find like-minded individuals and organizations who are equally committed to supporting immigrants and refugees. By far, the event re-energized the attendees and extols the resilience of immigrants and refugees, whilst weaving together organizations and individuals to find new ways to partner and collaborate in the quest to defend and support immigrants and refugees.
In her opening remarks, Beth Clifford of Towson University gave a brief history of the summit. ” Thank you all for joining us today, in the spring of 2004, a gathering of 200 folks who were deemed to be passionate about immigration issues
in Baltimore, proposed the idea of this summit today. They quickly jumped on board, and we started planning for it, and as we planned in the next few months we honestly did not know what to expect. Our biggest fear was that no one will show up. Our second biggest fear was that we had so many people who showed up. She said it is very gratifying to be standing here for the 9th time welcoming a full room of people to this now viable event. She says in each summit, they try to come up with the theme that set the tone for the summit something that gives them direction without being so specific that it restrains what we talking about. As we discuss this years theme we wrestle with the fact that in many ways this is the more difficult time for Baltimore’s, to Americans and immigrants than we wanted to refer that struggle but not be overwhelmed by it. So the theme we decided on is restoring hope through solidarity, and we hope that you do indeed find today’s event to be a time to re-energized to be restored by the talks you hear today the people you meet, the connections you renew or forged, the ideas you hear and even the food you eat. So restoring hope through solidarity, this is, in this time of rhetoric of ‘walls’, of ‘caravans’ , embattled race, and when deportations and family separations have increased, let us use today to indeed restore hope through solidarity”. She introduced Zeke Cohin who is also staunch advocate of immigrants, refugees and the District of Baltimore as a whole. Zeke Cohen grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts, the son of a social worker and a psychiatrist. Zeke’s belief that “community comes first,” was inspired by his grand mum’s story during the Holocaust and his mother’s stories of marching for Civil Rights, and registering voters during the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
Cohin began his remarks by stating that he wanted to start by lifting up the work of MIMA and must say that especially at a time of significant instability within city government, Catalina and her team had been just rocksters and incredibly solid and to see them, continue to show up, continue to innovate, continue to stand up on behalf of some of our most vulnerable folks in Baltimore was most inspiring and must start by giving them applause. He says that during his relatively brief time at the City Council, Our community in South East Baltimore has come under assault. First it was a Barber, then a small business owner, and finally a father was handcuffed and detained, after dropping off his 9 year old son at school. What these men have in common is that they have no criminal record, they are not gang members of drug dealers, they did not hurt anyone, their only perceived sin is their status. like my grandmother who fled from Austria she left behind violence and prosecution, they came in search for the American dream and they found it here in Baltimore. the ICE raids has destabilized families, they have eviscerated the thin trust between our immigrant community and local law enforcement, they have caused a sizable decline in school attendance, they have terrorized children left without parents, they have contributed to high level of toxic stress among teenagers and suddenly we have seen a spate of suicide attempts in our community. to put it in public health terms, they have traumatized an already vulnerable population of people. our federal immigration laws are broken but that harm arrest, detention, and deportation of innocent people is not the way to fix them. a few weeks after my elections i receive a call from a group of immigrant teenagers. they told me of the impact the raids have had on their lives and on their families. Their priority is to rather stand and fight for their community. i told them i will gladly stand with and behind them,. these young people had everything to lose if they stand forward, yet they were fearless, and there courage was infectious, and so we introduce a resolution in council, reaffirming Baltimore status as a welcoming city. we told ICE to only enforce actual crime and leave innocent people alone, and I am proud to say that that resolution passed with unanimous support from my colleagues in the council. and former then City council president, now our Mayor Jack Young you will hear from later on today. we held education community hearing in support of immigrant youth, we were able to convince the same students to team up with young leaders to create a culturally responsible professional development focusing on schools with a large population on non-native students. And then finally i was proud to stand with Callina, Cassa, open society, and many other groups in launching safe city, and immigrant legal defense fund in Baltimore. the status of the fund sends the message that we are in it together. it is not only the right thing to do it is the quintessential american thing to do because people deserve the right to legal representation regardless to where they came from. one of my most priced possessions is a letter from my great grand mother. she wrote me when i was one year old. in her letter she included a gold coin and in the middle of the coin is a tiny hole. my great grand mother pushed the needle through that coin and sowed it into her clothing, she did it before she fled Austria the Nazi confiscated all Jewish people’s money. and so she had to sow her life’s possessions into her dresses, and my great grand mother left behind most of her family and we later found out that all of them have been exterminated in concentration camps. my great grand mother came to the united states to seek refuge from the Holocaust she came with nothing but few coins sowed into her clothing, she came without English, she came without family, she came without community, yet three short generations, her grand son stands before you.
Zeke Cohen, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen noted in his opening remarks, “Baltimore is stronger not despite, but because of the contributions of New Americans to our area.”
Bernard “Jack” Young Baltimore City’s Mayor issued greetings from the City, and thanked the organizers of the summit including the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and The Towson University. Councilman Zeke Cohen also of immigrants roots gave a speech in support of immigrants and their families. Presentations from the One Region Initiative of Welcoming America and from the Vera Institute of Justice helped place issues of immigration in Baltimore in a national framework, and give those present ideas about how to move forward with organizing in this region.
In speaking at the Baltimore Summit, Mayor Young Mayor Young reaffirms his office commitment in supporting refugees and ask all to support refugees by coming together. He call for a strong unity and sends a clear message that ‘We all belong”.
‘Now more than ever, we need to unite as a region to make sure that our communities send a strong and clear message that we all belong. he reiterated, amidst laughter and a standing ovation that he will say that again that “we must send a strong and clear message that we all belong”.
He shares Baltimore’s long history as a ‘welcoming city for all of us, no matter where you original came from, or the language you speak or the faith you practice’. He says that as a mayor, he will ensure that Baltimore city will ‘be a place of opportunity and hope that works for everyone including new Americans can contribute to their greatest potentials’. Mayor Young acknowledges the role played by many immigrants and says he wants to make the city ‘stronger, safer, cleaner and more liberal for everyone of our neighbors and i know that new Americans play a critical role in creating the city we all deserve’. He calls for participants to remember their history and origin. “Let us remember our own heritage and be mindful of protecting the future generations opportunities that they must also enjoy the opportunities of living in the US”. In an emotional speech he reflects on his own ancestral story tracing his roots from Jamaica. “You may not know that I have immigrants ancestors that take part in the American heritage as well. Our grandfather came from Jamaica seeking opportunities and I respect all those who make similar choice and journey”. He believes in the rights, freedom and liberties of all in America. He says “when we talk about principles on which this nation was founded, I think it is important that we stand up loudly acknowledging that diversity makes us stronger and makes our city stronger.”
He is aware of the huge challenges that lay heavy on the shoulders of all those who aspire to fight for immigrants and refugees but felt reassured not only by the lessons of history but also by the importance of the work and the notion of the strength of diversity which propels the nation to move forward.
“I think it is critical that it falls on our shoulder to reject the notions that a multicultural society cannot thrive and survive. that is not the truth that our history has taught us, that is not the truth that my personal history has taught me. so we must choose to invest in the most important capital that any city can have that is the capital of its people, the talents of its people, the beauty of its people caring for themselves and their families and their ability to make a better way and a better world for the next generation.”