"For me, being a welcoming city means that everyone in it can belong, which means that all of us can contribute to and benefit from the decisions made around us," shared Rachel Perić, Executive Director of Welcoming America.
Last month, Charlotte was honored to host the Welcoming Interactive conference, led by Welcoming America. Attendees represented organizations and governments across the globe who are dedicated to making their communities more welcoming towards all, especially refugees and immigrants.
Mbye Njie, CEO of Legal Equalizer, attended from Atlanta. He shared, "What make a city welcoming would be hospitality, to see effort to integrate me into the community, helping with language, housing, education, improve the quality of life for me and my family."
To make progress on anything, recognize where you stand and understand where you are going. Charlotte readily acknowledges that they have made mistakes in the past. At the conference, the city acknowledged those errors and made apologies. Charlotte also committed to do better through word and action.
At the conference, Charlotte was also recognized as the first Welcoming Certified city in the southeast.
Certified Welcoming cities are held to a national Welcoming Standard, which Charlotte has been working to achieve for several years. This standard includes indicators from seven categories critical to building a welcoming community: Government Leadership, Equitable Access, Civic Engagement, Connected Communities, Education, Economic Development, and Safe Communities. Each category includes essential benchmarks and additional benchmarks.
Charlotte received this certification as a result of improved language access policies, workforce development opportunities for immigrants, and strengthening connections with community-based organizations. Highlights from the certification process also include the launch of Naturalize Charlotte, a citywide effort to boost naturalization among residents, and new training for the city's code enforcement division. Since the formal designation was achieved, the city's housing rehabilitation team has also been engaged in an eight-week community Spanish class to better connect with residents and contractors.
Becoming a Certified Welcoming city is not a checked box that will be ignored now that requirements have been met, but a standard to continue to maintain to help the city move forward more equitably. To keep Charlotte's status as a Certified Welcoming City, Charlotte will need to undergo at least one additional audit, continue to meet core requirements, and improve their score on additional requirements. Cities are reviewed every three years.
In the certification process, Charlotte rated highly on Government Leadership, Civic Engagement, Connected Communities, Education, and Economic Development. The city has room to grow in Equitable Access and Safe Communities categories. In these areas for improvement, additional programs and initiatives are rolling out this year.
To help with equitable access, the city has developed and approved a comprehensive language access that will ensure that outreach is provided English as well as the most common languages spoken in Charlotte. To help with public safety, training programs are in place to train public workers in cultural competency.
The Welcoming America declaration is Charlotte's standard for continuing to be a welcoming community. "Being welcoming is much more than being friendly, tolerant, or peaceful. We believe that truly welcoming places have intentional, inclusive policies, practices, and norms that enable all residents to live, thrive, and contribute fully — including immigrants."