Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome Dayton Plan - How it started

We have been getting some national attention as well as some international attention lately as a result of the commission unanimously approving the "Welcome Dayton" plan which is geared towards making Dayton attractive towards foreign born citizens. If you were to Google "Dayton immigrant friendly" then you would find many of the articles about the plan and how some people praise us for the initiative and others condemn us on the grounds that we will attract illegal immigrants to our city. I have found that the best way to explain why we did this is to tell the true story about how it came about. When people hear it they say that it really makes sense and realize that our decision had nothing to do with dealing with illegal immigrants at all.

Truth. We had some issues in 2009 regarding unfair housing practices with regards to the Hispanic community that were being investigated by our Human Relations Council. However, on May 6, 2010 I was invited to the Northeast Priority Board meeting which is a district type neighborhood meeting involving several neighborhoods in the northeast section of the Corporation limits of the City of Dayton. I don't think I was expected to actually show up but I did and sat near the back of the room. I was introduced to the attendees towards the end of the meeting and asked to say a few words. When done, a man with a Russian accent asked me some questions. He tried to explain how he and about 4000 other families arrived in the U.S.A. from Russia. He described his people as Ahiska Turks.

I handed this gentleman a business card and invited him to call my office to make an appointment to meet with me. He did. I was smart enough to invite the City Manager to sit in on this meeting. The Ahiska Turkish community had two asks of us. To help them acquire a community center and to help them establish a cemetery. They invited us to integrate into their community which consisted of some 300 families in Dayton. They were buying up property in the Old North Dayton neighborhood and renovating houses. They had priorities. Number one seemed to be owning a home that no on could take from them. The City Manager and I discussed the fact that the very worst thing that could happen if we helped this group was that 4000 families of Ahiska Turks would relocate to Dayton and fix up one third of our vacant housing stock. The best thing that would happen is that they would start businesses to support their own community and then grow to support the greater Dayton community. Helping them made absolute sense since they were here anyway and doing good things.

What happened next was phenomenal. The City Manager asked our Human Relations Council to investigate what it would take to make Dayton "immigrant friendly" and attract opportunists and entrepreneurs. We discovered that immigrants are at least 2X more likely to succeed at small business than a national born resident and we had groups of people here in Dayton from all over the world who were here legally and striving towards the American dream. Thus began a series of meetings and the formation of several committees to formulate a strategy to facilitate the success of foreign born nationals in Dayton. That is it. The concept came out of a desire to facilitate the success of groups of people who are already here and now, primarily because of timing, we have been labeled by the media as being somewhat progressive because we are going against the grain of what other states in the U.S. are doing. Some other states are passing laws that are restrictive to illegal immigrants which makes those areas unattractive to legal immigrants as well because legal immigrants can be profiled and suffer the hardships of prejudice.

I continue to point out that historically, cities that embraced diversity of culture tended to thrive for hundreds of years until the leaders of the cities adopted elitist attitudes towards race and culture that destroyed the stability of those cities. Two cities that come to mind are Byzantium which became Constantinople and ultimately Istanbul and Cordoba in Spain. Constantinople was the Capitol city of the Eastern Roman Empire and out lasted Rome by 500 years. Cordoba thrived under the Moors as long as religious differences were ignored. Dayton is truly a world class city. We have world class facilities here and we certainly have world class people. Now is the time to recognize that trait and to develop it to it's full potential. Open minds open doors to opportunists. Here in Dayton opportunity knocks!

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