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T-G reporter tells Noon Rotarians about Somalia series

Friday, February 1, 2008

Brian Mosely speaks to Noon Rotarians
(T-G Photo by Sadie Fowler)
Shelbyville Rotary Club (noon) invited Times-Gazette reporter Brian Mosely to speak at Thursday's meeting about his recent series on the influx of Somali refugees to Bedford County.

Mosely wrote the series, which was suggested to him by local officials, to educate the community about the Somali population.

"This proved to be extremely difficult, due to the fact the refugees had ignored our repeated inquiries," said Mosely. "Despite this handicap, I was able to learn a great deal about the Somalis -- what they had escaped from, how they came here, the various cultural and religious differences and the challenges they faced in our community."

The series also addressed the challenges and potential problems that the Somalis pose to the community.

After speaking with various members of the community who had interacted with the Somalis, Mosely wrote his series, which was published in late December.

"To say it provoked a reaction would be an extreme understatement," said Mosely, who told the Rotarians his series attracted hundreds of comments unfavorable to the Somali community.

On the other hand, Mosely said, "I was also called a bigot by Muslims from outside the community. One local critic even accused me of fiendishly manipulating my readers, hoping that my articles would inspire someone to commit a hate crime against the refugees," he said.

Mosely's series about the Somalis touched on a variety of topics related to the Somali, some of which included articles on the Tyson jobs that brought them here, adapting and adjusting to the Somali culture (and their adjusting to the American culture), drug and gang problems associated with them, and their religious beliefs.

Mosely's series can be read online at www.t-g.com/topic/somalia .

On Thursday, Mosely said the utopian image Somalis have of America is a far cry from the reality they experience once they're here.

"Most of the refugees' work experience has been that of a sheep herder or a similar profession. Very few of them have what we would consider modern job skills," he said. "And while refugees truly desire to become self sufficient, the reality is that a great number of them have trouble adjusting to life in 21st Century America."

Mosely updated Rotarians on information he's discovered since writing the series, such as his recent learning of 400 Somalis losing their jobs after a Tyson workforce reduction in Emporia, Kan.

In addition to offering the 400 Somalis pay and benefits for the next 60 days, the Emporia plant has offered them a chance to transfer to other Tyson locations and also cash relocation incentives for those qualified.

"Will that relocation include the facility here in Shelbyville? Who knows?" he asked. "But due to the restructuring, the Somali refugees have once again become nomads."

Regardless of the passions his series evoked, it did accomplish one thing, Mosely told Rotarians.

"It started a discussion about our new neighbors and what can be done to help them become a part of the community."

Mosely told the group that the T-G has already been visited by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which is now interested in becoming more actively involved in helping the Somalis make a transition into the American culture.

Mosely stressed that regardless of his opinion or the opinions of others in this community, the fact of the matter is that the Somalis are here and it is imperative that both Somalis and Americans put forth an effort to communicate with one another.

"Whatever our feelings and opinions may be about the Somalis, they are here," he said. "They are a part of our community now and we cannot pretend they are invisible any longer. Efforts must be made at the local level to make contact with the refugees and begin to talk about how to solve the many difficulties they face in becoming more a part of the Bedford County community."

Following his speech, Mosely answered questions from Rotarians.

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