Welcoming Immigrants on MLK Day

In his famous essay “Letter from The Birmingham Jail” Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

While Dr. King did not directly address questions of immigration and refugees directly, as they were not leading issues in his day as they are today, the sentiment he expressed is an excellent moral guidepost for our own treatment of immigrants and refugees.

This past Monday, I joined with nearly 100 community and political leaders and volunteers in Lynn for the “Learn More Earn More” campaign day of service in honor of Dr. King. Braving freezing temperatures, snow, and wind, volunteers fanned out across the city, to shopping centers, parking lots, and neighborhoods to let immigrant residents of Lynn know that JVS, in partnership with leading social service agencies Lynn Housing and Neighborhood Development (LHAND) and Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO) are offering English For Advancement classes at no cost to help residents improve their English and jobs skills and find a good job.

These classes, now running in Boston, East Boston (serving Chelsea and Revere as well), Lowell, Lawrence, as well as Lynn, are part of the Pay For Success project that JVS is undertaking with partners Social Finance and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Last year, JVS commissioned Professor Paul Osterman of MIT Sloan to undertake a study of the role of immigrants in the Boston-area economy. What we learned is that immigrants, now nearly one-third of the Boston labor force, play an increasingly important role in our economic success, particularly as labor force growth has not kept pace with job and economic growth. Businesses, communities, neighborhoods, and our region rely on immigrants for their entrepreneurship, talent, and the cultural diversity they add.

In short, supporting immigrants and refugees coming to our shores, making this their home, and pursuing the American dream, is both the right thing, and smart thing to do.

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