Office of New Americans generates objectives for engaging new Americans

A panel discussion  for the newly created Mayor’s Office of New Americans at the Sonny West Conference Center October 2, 2014 in Nashville, Tenn.

Mayor Karl Dean addresses the audience at a community panel discussion hosted by the Mayor’s Office of New Americans on Oct. 2. Panelists included Francis Guess, Former Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights; Ralph Schulz, President and CEO, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; Renata Soto, Co-founder and Executive Director, Conexion Americas; Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, member of the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council; Stephanie Teatro, Interim Co-Director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition; and Shanna Hughey, Director, Mayor’s Office of New Americans.

Mayor Karl Dean’s newly created Mayor’s Office of New Americans received a groundswell of support from over 100 Nashvillians at a community panel discussion held recently at the Howard Office Building in downtown Nashville.

“I’m proud that this office is one of the first of its kind in the South. Once again, Nashville is leading the way when it comes to being welcoming” Mayor Dean said. “Ideas generated from this community panel will be instrumental in ensuring that our efforts in the Office of New Americans over the next year are focused where they’re needed most.”

Frank Daniels of The Tennessean moderated a panel of Nashville leaders through a discussion on the best ways to make the new office successful in engaging and supporting Nashville’s growing immigrant population.

Panelists included Francis Guess, former Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights; Ralph Schulz, president/CEO, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; Renata Soto, co-founder and executive director, Conexion Americas; Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, member of the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council; Stephanie Teatro, interim co-director, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition; and Shanna Hughey, director, Mayor’s Office of New Americans.

The number of foreign-born residents in Nashville has more than doubled over the past decade, and, in 2012, Nashville had the fastest-growing immigrant population of any American city. Today, 12% of Nashville’s population was born outside of the United States, and nearly half of those people are recent immigrants who entered the country since 2000.

“The makeup of our city is drastically different than it was 10 years ago,” said Shanna Hughey, senior advisor to Mayor Dean who also serves as Director of the Office of New Americans. “The community reaffirmed today that this Office will provide a much-needed link between Metro government and the public to help make sure all members of our community have access to the resources they need to be successful living in Nashville.”

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Julie Kramer with the Nashville Adult Literacy Council and Hoda Muhieddine of Nashville attended a community panel discussion on Oct. 2 hosted by the Mayor’s Office of New Americans.

“From 2006 to 2010, there were 15,369 new immigrant business owners (job makers and job creator) in Tennessee, and that’s the kind of value and prosperity the immigrant community brings to this area,” Schulz said during the panel discussion. “We look forward to working with the Office, and applaud the Mayor for having established it.”

“The announcement of this Office falls squarely into our experience of seeing the power of the public sector and the private sector come together to enhance in ways that each of them could not have done by themselves,” Soto said.

“The non-profits and private groups that are already here now have an organized structure within our Metro Government to help expand existing projects and opportunities we have to make Metro services and departments more responsive and welcoming to all Nashvillians.”

“Immigrants in our community are whole people. They are parents, may have kids in school, may deal with disabilities, etc., and they are looking for culturally competent programming,” Teatro said. “This Office will help keep these considerations at the forefront for Metro departments as a lens for analysis of our City because immigrants can be impacted differently.”

The Office of New Americans launched with four primary objectives: engaging and empowering immigrants to participate in their local government and in their communities; fostering a knowledgeable, safe, and connected community; expanding economic and educational opportunities for New Americans to the benefit of all Nashvillians; and working with community organizations and other Metro departments to empower and support New Americans.

The Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council, created by Mayor Dean in 2009 and comprised of leaders from Nashville’s refugee and immigrant communities, will advise the Office on an ongoing basis, helping set and meet goals and objectives by providing an established two-way line of communication and collaboration between Metro government and its newest citizens.

Nashville is one of the first cities in the South to join 14 other major cities around the country in establishing a city-level office to engage and empower New Americans to participate in local government and their communities.

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