What Can I Do? Suggestions from the Allies and Advocates Panel Discussion

Being a strong ally and advocate for and with refugee and immigrant communities is on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds right now. Many current ABE volunteers and supporters have been reaching out to ABE organizations and asking for concrete ideas to welcome and support the refugee and immigrant communities in MN. In response to these requests, MN Literacy Council hosted the Allies and Advocates: Supporting Our Neighbors panel discussion on January 24.

There was a packed room on hand to listen as panelists from a variety of backgrounds came together to discuss current concerns within refugee and immigrant communities as well as within ABE programs, suggestions for addressing those concerns, and ideas for how people can become more involved in active advocacy for these communities and programs. Panelists included: Volunteers Gabrielle Cazeau and Christian Knox from the English Learning Center, Teresa Ortiz from CLUES, Saida Mohamed and Abdillahi Kahin from WellShare, Jodi Versaw from the Department of Education, and Eric Nesheim from Minnesota Literacy Council.

Some of the suggestions shared by the panelists were:

  • Sign up for the new Legislative Advocacy Alerts to receive information on legislative actions that you can take to support ABE programming and ABE learners
  • Call your local and state representatives to share your opinion on issues that impact refugee and immigrant communities
  • Call your local representatives to share your support of ABE programming in Minnesota
  • Support good journalism; subscribe or donate to local and/or national news outlets; beltmag.com/support-good-journalism has some concrete suggestions and links for additional ways to support journalism
  • Seek out multiple news sources and encourage friends and family to do the same
  • Get to know your neighbors, learners, people from the community, and talk to them and find out what their concerns are
  • Go to spaces where you will meet and interact with people from other cultures and backgrounds
  • Post a sign in multiple languages in front of your house welcoming people from other cultures
  • Volunteer with a program that works with new refugees
  • Recruit new volunteers to work with ABE learners in ESL and GED classes
  • Choose one or two main issues to focus your time, energy, and money on so that you don’t get spread too thin
  • Learn some words and phrases in another language so that you can greet people in your community in their first language
  • Educate yourself on the history and context behind current issues; read articles with concrete facts and figures to be able to participate in conversations about the issues
  • Start an advocacy friend group: when there is an advocacy issue requires phone calls or letters to be written, pass the word on the people in your advocacy friend group

At the panel session came to a close, there were calls from both panelists and audience members for the advocacy discussion to continue to move forward and grow to include more members of the ABE educator and volunteer community. The Minnesota professional development community is currently taking action to integrate discussions regarding issues that impact learner communities and ABE programming into future events.

Andrea Echelberger, ESL Training Coordinator Minnesota Literacy Council