Tom Wahlrab is being honored as a Champion of Change for working tirelessly to effectively integrate immigrants civically, linguistically, and socially into the fabric of their neighborhoods.
Welcome Dayton is a community effort to establish our city as a place friendly for immigrants. In recognizing our rich history as a city and country built in part on the contributions of people arriving from every continent, we choose to recognize and appreciate the wealth of perspective and experience offered by our diverse population. After years of practice in transformative mediation with individuals in conflict, I realized the great possibility of orchestrating a similar practice on a community and policy level. As such, the process to create Welcome Dayton was informed by the principals of transformative mediation and continues to be a collaborative practice to surface the vast resources abundant in Dayton’s residents and recent immigrants.
Dayton received national attention when we enacted this immigrant friendly initiative. Welcome Dayton consists of two parts – the initial plan, and the many initiatives that continue to emerge as part of the “welcoming” vision. The initial plan was created and formalized through community conversations that explored the question, “What is possible if Dayton became a city that intentionally welcomed immigrants?” The participants self-organized and wrote, in 90 days, a plan that was unanimously endorsed by the City Commission.
This process was rooted in years of experience at the Dayton Mediation Center where it was apparent that community dialogue and local actions can create long-lasting change. Recognizing the power of community dialogue, the Dayton Human Relations Council (HRC), of which I was director at the time, initiated this bold and innovative dialogue engaging the community and enacting public policy that formed Welcome Dayton. On a local level, Welcome Dayton challenged the popular sentiment for and public policy on immigration, demonstrating our capacity to engage in a deliberative dialogue on issues of immigration.
Tom Wahlrab, chair of Dayton’s Immigrant Friendly Core Team, is the former Executive Director of the City of Dayton (Ohio) Human Relations Council and the Dayton Mediation Center.