Erie seeks designation as welcoming city
Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

Mayor Joe Schember’s administration is working with Welcoming America, a nonprofit that helps cities become more inclusive regarding all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

Erie could soon be designated by a national nonprofit organization as a city that welcomes immigrants and new Americans.

Mayor Joe Schember’s administration hopes to obtain that certification from Welcoming America, a Decatur, Georgia-based group that helps cities become more inclusive regarding all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

City officials, representatives of local immigrant resettlement groups and members of the city’s New American Council are among those participating in Welcome America training, said Renee Lamis, Schember’s chief of staff.

A training session, led by Welcoming America representatives, was scheduled for Wednesday evening at the City Mission, 1017 French St.

“The way we look at it, immigrants and refugees are important to the Erie economy. We know that when they resettle here they get jobs, they buy houses and they pay taxes, and they start businesses,” Lamis said. “We want everybody to feel welcome here, and that’s why we want to be certified as a welcoming city.”

Welcoming America defines a welcoming city or county as a place that “works across multiple sectors, such as government, business, and non-profit, to create inclusive policies and practices such as making it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business or having government documents available in multiple languages. Welcoming Cities are guided by the principles of inclusion and creating communities that prosper because everyone feels welcome, including immigrants and refugees.”

The group has a certification process for cities and counties that includes formally evaluating and assessing a community’s ability to provide an inclusive environment. Interested cities or counties submit an application, complete a self-assessment and are visited by Welcoming America representatives before a final report is compiled and a certification decision is made.

Schember has repeatedly said that he wants to make Erie as inclusive and tolerant as possible when it comes to the city’s different cultures. Lamis said that seeking Welcoming America’s designation is an extension of that.

The city earlier this year also began participating in The People’s Supper, a nationwide initiative that brings diverse groups of Erie-area residents together for a shared meal to share personal stories about prejudice and racism, including their interactions with law enforcement; what it’s like to move to a new country; the desire for improved racial/gender/ethnic representation in government; employment barriers; poverty; economic development, and a host of other topics.

The People’s Supper process has led to a number of proposed inclusion-based projects for the Erie community to consider pursuing.

Those projects include a yearly film festival celebrating diversity-based works by local children; the establishment of a new multicultural community development fund; community benefit agreements; recognizing local businesses with an annual equity, inclusion and diversity award; more aggressive promotion of Erie-area workforce development programs among local minorities and new Americans; establishing a cultural diversity awareness training program for human resources professionals, and creating opportunities for Erie-area youth to get a free college education.

Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNflowers.