History

Between 1990 and 2000, Tennessee had the sixth fastest rate of immigrant growth (169%) according to the Migration Policy Institute. This rapid demographic shift has made many within the state uneasy. This unease has been exploited by many groups and individuals. Fears about immigrants and immigration law came to the forefront in public dialogue about the “immigrant driver’s license law” in May of 2001. The later terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 further stoked those fears and provided an opportunity for political and commercial exploitation. Over the course of 2005, the political winds in Tennessee shifted even further against immigrants and refugees, with the dialogue growing even more vitriolic and the negative campaigns more organized. 

The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) was introduced at TIRRC's annual convention in November 2005, as a means of countering the overwhelming growth in anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric circulating the state. On July 28, 2006, WTI was officially launched at a press conference where the first of 50 billboards with positive messages were unveiled. Since that time, WTI has introduced thousands of Tennesseans to immigrants’ many contributions to our state and has dispelled many myths about immigrants and immigration.

Accomplishments

Since 2005, the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) has introduced thousands of Tennesseans to immigrants’ many contributions to our state and has dispelled many myths about immigrants and immigration. WTI has accomplished its goals thanks to the constant support of volunteers, trained by TIRRC/WTI staff, who have given presentations and hosted forums attended by everyday Tennesseans across the state. They have also raised money, and recruited many additional volunteers for the effort. The positive messaging campaign has been lead by WTI’s diverse, statewide steering committee, which is comprised of community leaders from numerous sectors such as academic, legal, non-profit and business. This committee has helped develop effective messages, and has then helped to distribute those messages by way of billboards – the committee raised the money for the boards and helped in their design  development of a statewide infrastructure of trained volunteers including a statewide steering committee and local “welcoming committees” across the state. These volunteers are taking the message to Tennesseans in all corners and sectors of the state. 

  • WTI has trained more than 50 Ambassadors. 
  • Welcoming committees are active in Nashville, Knoxville and Shelbyville, with 80 active committee members.
  • In 2009, WTI played a coordinating role in the production of two additional documentaries produced by Nashville Public Television as part of its Next Door Neighbor series. Now all three films educate audiences about the Kurdish, Somali and Latino communities as part of WTI presentations.
  • WTI Worked closely with members of the Shelbyville welcoming committee to coordinate production of "Welcome to Shelbyville,” which documents WTI’s positive impact on the Shelbyville community. The film will be available in spring 2010. 
  • The Coalition for Education on Immigration (CEI) formed as part of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative here in Nashville, hosting events on policy, education and communications.
  • More than 75 presentations and other educational events were given in 2009, reaching an estimated 1200 people. 
  • In 2009 WTI held five large-scale public events and documentary screenings attended by more than 100 people.