Latino Community Building in NC Bringing groups together to create understanding

Social Justice and Equity | by James Gore

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation supports all people of North Carolina, whether they were born in North Carolina, migrated from another part of the country, or emigrated from a different country. Much of the Foundation's strategy in investing in immigrant communities is centered on building the nonprofit capacity of Latino serving organizations throughout North Carolina and supporting their efforts in the areas of advocacy and leadership development. As the population of Latinos has increased by more than 110 percent over the last ten years, demographic implications have been felt in communities across the state. For example, this year in 11 North Carolina school districts, there were more Latino students entering kindergarten than there were White students. In addition, nearly half of all school districts had more Latino kindergartners than they had Black kindergartners. 

As these demographic changes occur, the nonprofit community is also changing. More and more Latino service agencies have been established throughout the state, with organizations reaching as far east as Nags Head in the Outer Banks to Hendersonville in the mountains. Furthermore, these organizations are not just serving first generation immigrants, but also their children, many of whom are citizens. Unfortunately as both the nonprofit sector has matured and the population has expanded, individuals and organizations are becoming less connected to one another. 

Through a partnership with the Public Interest Project's Four Freedoms Fund, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation sponsored a two-day convening to gather groups together to build better relationships upon a shared commitment to the Latino community, foster unity and trust, and begin developing a broader understanding of what groups and individuals could accomplish together versus separately. The convening was also an intentional opportunity to promote open dialogue across lines of difference, build upon existing work that is being done across the state, and develop the necessary skills to work together more effectively to create leadership opportunities that reflect the diversity of Latino serving organizations.

More than 60 Latino immigrant leaders and allies participated, including youth, directors of several NC Latino centers, and grassroots and faith-based leaders. Some of the observations that came out of the convening included: 1) NC's Latino Immigrant justice movement is deeply rooted, diverse, and powerful; 2) beneath the challenging differences in approach and strategy, there is a collective and personal investment in immigrant justice; 3) for the work to be inclusive and equitable, communities need resources and support; and 4) additional leadership development within the immigrant justice movement is needed.

Few opportunities exist among immigrant advocates across the state to share their stories and develop collective strategies to have greater impact at both a local and state level. As a result, many individuals and groups have operated in silos. The convening was an opportunity for the Foundation to open up a space for immigrant rights organizations to think about more than the day-to-day activities of their organizations' work and instead think of broader infrastructure needs that can help all groups. Over the next several months, the Foundation will conduct a series of follow-up conversations with participants to begin to address some of the needs that were identified. 

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