(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely)
The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) kicked off its Welcoming Tennessee Initiative in Shelbyville by placing the billboards and is planning other events in the next few months to help bridge the wide gap that exists between the community and newcomers of different nationalities.
TIRRC was formed in 2001 around a campaign to support a bill that would increase immigrant access to driver's licenses. The group is made up of immigrants, refugees and U.S.-born supporters.
Catalina Nieto, public awareness coordinator for TIRRC, said the public relations campaign is being done "to educate the Shelbyville community about their new neighbors. There are many things that they contribute, to the economy and the culture and the city in general."
"They're really happy to be here and to make those contributions."
The purpose of the ad campaign is to let the community know that there are many things that immigrants and the local population have in common, Nieto said.
"We want to highlight and remember that."
Also on TIRRC's agenda is the planning of a "cultural celebration" later in the spring with the Somali community to share their music and culture, as well as participation from the Hispanic community.
The TIRRC has already been working in conjunction with the Somali Community Center of Nashville and members of Bedford County Sheriff's Department about what is expected of immigrants when dealing with law enforcement and Nieto said there are more endeavors planned for the future.
"There are many, many things going on."
The Coalition is also offering the opportunity to groups, churches to contact them for a presentation, a chance for dialog "and a chance for other education about immigration."
"I've seen it with my own eyes, that with dialog, just talking through some of these things, the tensions ... it really helps," Nieto said.
While the current billboards feature members of Shelbyville's Hispanic community, TIRRC is also trying to get photos of local Somalis for a similar public relations campaign, including other billboards and newspaper ads.
"I think with the Welcoming Tennessee initiative, our focus in here is going to be a great way to really put Shelbyville in the national spotlight and hopefully Shelbyville could become a model for other cities how our communities really work together to learn about each other and move forward."