Some kinds of conferences are fairly common. Ones at which academics discuss their latest research, for example. Or where service providers present best practices to inform their work. Or where activists work on strategies to better fight for social justice. But it’s far rarer to have an event where all of these entities get together with community leaders, students, politicians, and others.

This is exactly what happened on Friday, May 31, at the 9th Baltimore Immigration Summit. Towson University, together with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, partnered with other community organizations to create this unusual space to focus on immigration in the Baltimore area. The theme this year was “Restoring Hope through Solidarity.” This theme acknowledges that these are indeed difficult times for New Americans in our community, but at the same time allowed us to celebrate and be re-energized by the resilience of immigrants and refugees, and look for new avenues for collaboration. As 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.”

Generous support from BTU—Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore, along with our other sponsors, allowed this event to take place.

This year’s Summit, which took place at Coppin State University, was our biggest yet, with almost 200 attendees. Baltimore City’s Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young issued greetings from the City, as did Councilman Zeke Cohen. 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.

Related story: Mayor Young speaks at TU’s Baltimore Immigration Summit

A keynote presentation from Mera Kitchen Co-Founders Iman Alshehad and Aishah Alfadallah demonstrated just one of the ways Baltimore is richer for its New American residents. This cooperative, formed by Alshehad (a refugee from Syria) and Alfadallah (an immigrant from Kuwait), taps into New American women’s culinary skills and passions, to create community among them, and encourage sharing of their gifts with the broader community.

In addition to these components, there were fifteen different panels on topics central to Baltimore’s New Americans’ lives such as health care, faith, education, employment, the Census, and others. For example, a panel on interfaith relationships discussed collaborations between immigrants and others at St. Matthew Catholic Church and Cardinal Sheehan Catholic School with members of Ahmadiyya Mosque and students at Al-Rahman School. One panel featured Towson University students and faculty, along with a student from BCCC, to discuss New Americans’ experiences in higher education. Jennifer Ballengee, Miho Iwata, and myself, all TU faculty, led a discussion with Boaz Alemseged (a Towson University undergraduate student), Shishira Sreenivas (a Towson University graduate student), and Chrisaly De Los Santos (a recent graduate of BCCC), on how their status as immigrants has shaped their experiences in the American education system. (See featured image at top of post.)

Impact on TU students

One particular presenter exemplified the impact this event can have, and why having students involved is so very crucial. Years ago, Trieuvan Nguyen was a student in my Sociology of Immigration class. At the end of the semester, she expressed interest in working with immigrant and refugee youth. I put her in contact with the IOSC, an immigration center in Baltimore that features tutoring for New American students, and she eagerly began volunteering. She later volunteered at the next Baltimore Immigration Summit, as well. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw that she not only was working in this field now, as a caseworker at the International Rescue Center, but that she was part of their panel on Refugee Resettlement in Baltimore.

This event has similarly touched many lives over its nine iterations, and we eagerly anticipate seeing such connections as we move towards our tenth Summit. As I noted in my remarks at the Summit, part of TU’s mission includes enhancing and supporting “partnerships and collaborations with government, business and educational sectors throughout the region to promote economic development and address social issues.” I would argue that the Baltimore Immigration Summit is a great example of how TU accomplishes this, and BTU’s support helped make this possible. We look forward to continued collaboration with BTU.