Monday, January 28, 2013

GIRRC Immigration Conference - Macon 2013

GIRRC Immigration Conference - Macon 2013

So this past Saturday was the first GIRRC Immigration Conference in Macon. I was not planning to blog directly on this, but given the big success it was I thought it deserved some space J. GIRRC stands for Georgia Immigrants and Refugees Rights Coalition, it is the main umbrella organization through we channel our advocacy effort in and outside the Georgia capitol, and at one point last year we decided it was a good idea to have a conference. From that far day, we have gone far. What originally was a conference planned for around 60 people grew all the way to almost 200, to the point of challenging the capacity of our generous hosts, High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon. This is the link to the program of the conference, which includes additionallinks to the presenters, and the organizations that work for.

After the openings of rigor and the breakfast donated by the Refugee Women's Network (thank you very much Duoa!) and the Young Democrats of Georgia, we got our first keynote speaker (yep, we opening with a boom), Anton Flores from Alterna. It was the first time I heard Anton speaking, so I was curious. Took Anton 10 minutes to have us in his pocket, and for the next 50 he had the audience following the cadence of his soulful speech, that went from nurturing to intense to real to hopeful. It ended with a fun and heartwarming story that will I let you listen directly from him next time you have the chance to hear him presenting.

After the stand-up ovation Anton got at the end of his speech, we had a split session on Immigration 101 in charge of attorney Amna Shirazi from the Shirazi Law Group and Communication and Language Beyond the Base in charge of Rachel Steinhardt. Great information given in both.

Then the next event was plenary panel with local politicians and academics, and it was formed by Rep. Scott Holcomb, Dr. Salvador Peralta, Rep. Virgil Fludd, Dr. Ying Zhen, and Rep. Pedro Marin. The panel was facilitated by Dr. Debra Sabia from Georgia Southern University. It was great to hear academic and political perspectives related to immigration, and look for ways both can intertwine and work together to approach it.

 After the panel and a yummy lunch of rigor, we have our several break up sessions that covered Children and Families (presented by Suttiwan Cox and Dr. April Schueths), Working with the Faith Community (presented by Dr. Aquiles Martinez and Frank Mulcahy, Esq), Dreamers, DACA and Higher Education (presented by attorney David Kennedy and author Gou Hang Wand), Health Care (presented by Dr. Juan Luque, Nolan Kline and Maria Azuri, MSW) to Legislative Updates (presented by Larry Pelegrini).

The day was coming to its end, and we have our last key speaker of the conference, State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. I was interested to see her speech after the high bar Anton has set few hours before. Stacey was not there to hear Anton speaking, nonetheless, her speech was brought the house (church) down as well, and set up a great call of action with her “Speak up, Show up, Stand up”.

After such an inspirational day, we have an action planning session to brainstorm different actions that we could work individually as an organization, facilitated by Maria Azuri and Major Paul Bridges. If you like to be more involved, just ask to join GIRRC to this email girrc@yahoogroups.comwith a small blurb about you and/or your organization, and why you want to join. Also, don’t forget to join our Facebook group, which is separated from our email, and is a great source of information and outlet for future events.

We closed the day with a small reception of cheese and wine, which was a fun and relaxing way to know more of the people we spend the whole day together.

Big thanks and kudos to Ric Stewart, June McDowall and Pat Burns, for their tireless groundwork putting this conference together, Rev. Cynthia Prescott and High Street Unitarian Universalist Church for hosting us (you guys have a beautiful church!), Debra Greenwood for being such a gracious EmCee, Estela Martinez for the yummy food, fellow members of the Steering Committee, to all those organizations and persons that openhandedly sponsored our conference, to our presenters and speakers that donated their time and knowledge to us, and all members and volunteers that worked so hard and consistently to make this event a big success. Be sure this conference will not have worked as it did without you.

It was close to midnight when I arrived home, quite tired after have woke up at 5am to make it to Macon on time, but although tired I have the serene satisfaction of a successful event, and the hope that we can accomplish great things when we work together. We had activists, scholars, professionals, students, and politicians, talking together about immigration in the national and local level, discussing its challenges and calls of action. All on this in the community of Macon, which rarely see events of this nature, but that nonetheless, took full advantage of the opportunity. Now the next step is walk the talk and follow up with actions. I am confident we together can make this happen.

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