The “Task Force for Cultural Connections: Opening Hearts and Minds in Rural Northeast Arkansas” will offer a series of presentations for civic, governmental, social, and church groups across Randolph, Clay, and Lawrence counties this fall.
These presentations are designed to provide factual information that responds to such questions as “How many immigrants live in Arkansas?” Or “What is the net cost and the economic impact of immigrants in this state?” Or “What are the characteristics of these immigrants?” Or “How do immigrants contribute to Arkansas’s workforce?” The presentations will also focus on such topics as citizenship and language challenges, and the impact of the state’s immigrants on education, housing, and health care.
Several presentations have been tentatively scheduled, beginning in September.
The community-wide presentations were discussed at a Task Force meeting held July 21 on the BRTC campus. The Task Force includes a group of approximately 25 community leaders who are committed to a community that is open and welcoming to the anticipated non-native workers who may come to this region as a result of new jobs coming to the area.
A highlight of last week’s meeting was a presentation “What’s In A Word?” by BRTC President Dr. Eric Turner who, using the book of James as text, discussed the human tendency to use words in harmful and negative ways. Turner also expressed his early and ongoing support of the efforts of the “Opening Hearts and Minds” project. He emphasized the responsibility and the opportunity for the college to be a leading positive force in this aspect of community growth. His presentation about the difficulty in controlling what we say sparked thoughtful questions and further discussion among Task Force members.
The Task Force is a sub-committee of the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Facilities Authority. Its activities are supported by BRTC and are funded in part by the BRTC Foundation, the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its purpose is to encourage and support the community’s efforts to be an open and welcoming environment for all its citizens.
The Task Force represents individuals from local business and health care, from the agricultural community, from education, from area churches, and from other organizations, all of them committed to working for positive outcomes as the region grows in response to new job opportunities.
The community presentations will be based in part on a series of reports commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, titled A Profile of Immigrants in Arkansas. Volume I focuses on “Changing Workforce and Family Demographics.” Volume II focuses on “Economic and Fiscal Benefits and Costs.”
“None of us are experts,” noted Ziegler. “We don’t pretend to be. But we are trying to learn as much as we can about the changes that are coming, and that includes gaining a better understanding about the newcomers—the immigrants—who may come to our region as a part of our workforce.”
Task Force members also received their copies of a book, Enrique’s Journey, which will be the topic of readings and discussions in the spring. The “Opening Hearts and Minds” project will culminate with a visit and two public presentations by the book’s Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Sonia Nazario, April 7, 2016.
The Task Force is also accepting the names of prospective community reading groups from junior high age or older, with plans to hold “community reads” sessions prior to the author’s visit. Groups can choose to read all or part of the regular version of the non-fiction book, a “Young Adult” version, or a Spanish language version. These reading sessions will also be facilitated by members of the Task Force and its Team Leaders.
For more information about the project and the presentation options, contact BRTC’s Office of Corporate and Community Education (870-248-4180), or email Ziegler at email@example.com.