Supporting Immigrants and Equitable Communities: Arkansas United Community Coalltion

AUCC Change Agents in front of MLK statue. Image from Arkansas United Community Coalition.

The Arkansas Times recently hosted its first annual Festival of Ideas at the Clinton School of Public Service. Featuring over fifty of Arkansas’s most innovative leaders, artists, and activists, these lectures and question and answer sessions provided a forum for Arkansans to discuss both the present and the future of the state, embracing strengths and addressing areas of weakness.

One of the speakers was Mireya Reith of the Arkansas United Community Coalition. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Reith has spent her life working to help immigrant communities organize toward collective, grassroots-driven change. She grew up in Fayetteville, but spent many years working in other states in both human rights and political organizations. In 2010 she returned to the state to help to found the Arkansas United Community Coalition, which recently received a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to continue and further their work.

The mission of the foundation to “bring together Arkansas-based organizations and individuals, across sectors, with the mission to promote meaningful immigrant integration at the local and state levels, supporting immigrants and other multicultural communities to be agents of positive change in Arkansas.”  They envision a state that is “elevated to its full civic, economic and social potential through the development of inclusive and equitable communities where all multi-ethnic groups, newcomers and native-born Arkansans work together to enhance their collective quality of life.”

Reith discussed their recent work, including intergenerational partnerships with high school students to help them gain tools and confidence in organizing for change.  Also in attendance was Zahira Rey, a high school student at Central High who had recently succeeded in getting their principle to send home newsletters in English and Spanish. She spoke about the ways in which the organization has help her recognize her power in organizing in the community.

A key focuses of the organization is bringing multiple voices to the table, Reith said. There are lots of people and services out there addressing certain aspects of immigration issues, she continued, “but they’re not always talking to one another.” The goal  of the AUCC is to bring all these people to the same table. “Coalition building takes time,” she said, noting that such a process depends on long-term relationship building.

The AUCC is very active in organizing around issues of the Dream Act at the state level. Many students, says Reith, may not even realize they are undocumented until it’s time to apply for college. In many situations they came to the states as young children and may not even speak their parents native language.  They have gone through the entire school system and been raised as Americans, yet as the prepare for their academic future they  realize they don’t the same kind of access to higher learning as their peers. The Dream Act will allow these students to attend universities or enter the military and not risk deportation.

Reith noted that the key organizing strategy of the AUCC is support to communities so they can outline and work toward change as they define it. To that end they also offer a few key programs, including the Change Agents training program “which aims to activate Arkansas immigrants to lead community-building efforts in their respective communities.”  They are especially interested in working with people who have previously not served in leadership positions, but are seen in their community as having “strong leadership propensity.” Those that enter the program are “tasked with the development of local grassroots cadres and the implementation of immigrant-driven community projects.” Their Community Development Initiatives utilize, a “guided practice, an approach that emphasizes learning-by-doing, enabling immigrants to develop and put newly acquired ideas, tools and techniques into practice on specific initiatives of their choosing.” According to their web page, the result of this approach is that the learning stays within the immigrant communities, incorporation “empowerment strategies” and “creating a multiplier effect.”

To learn more about the work of the AUCC visit them online here.