Tuscaloosa’s Many Voices Unites City’s International Community with Local Groups

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The inaugural Tuscaloosa’s Many Voices Summit strengthened relationships between Tuscaloosa’s international community and local organizations through a day of networking on Jan. 23 at the Bryant Conference Center.

The summit’s purpose was to bring together stakeholders and organizations that interact with international residents.

Dr. Fran Oneal, director of Global and Community Engagement, saw the need for a “hub” or network to serve as a central source of information, ideas and solutions for challenges facing members of Tuscaloosa’s international community.

“We want to capitalize on the assets that international residents bring to the community and make sure that international residents are utilizing every asset that is available to them,” Oneal said.

Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, delivered the opening remarks and thanked Oneal and the Office of Global and Community Engagement for its efforts in organizing the event.

Many international residents call Tuscaloosa home and have helped the community flourish, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox noted.

“We are a community that has embraced internationalism,” Maddox said. “And I think it’s very important, especially at this time and place in our country’s history, that we embrace the diversity of opinions and backgrounds and experience.”

Attendees completed an icebreaker activity at the start of the meeting designed to pinpoint cross-cultural similarities and shared life experiences.

“We have much in common in different aspects of our lives,” Oneal said. “All of these commonalities show us that the more we come to know each other, the more we can find joy in our similarities and be intrigued by our differences.”

A video presentation, produced by the Division of Community Affairs, provided data about Tuscaloosa’s international residents.

Following the video presentation, participants joined in round-table discussions to talk about the issues international residents face and discuss potential solutions. International residents Anna Mariya Basauri Ziuzina, Alex Duah and Nancy De La Torre shared their stories and backgrounds during lunch, inviting further dialogue about ways to create a more inclusive community.

Fifty-six individuals registered for the event. Invited stakeholders represented the following government offices, organizations and educational institutions: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Armstrong Law LLC, Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, Christy Hayes Counseling, City of Northport, City of Tuscaloosa, Fuerza Multicultural, Good Samaritan Clinic, Keller Williams Real Estate, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Shelton State Community College, Stillman College, Tuscaloosa City Schools, Tuscaloosa City Sisters International, Tuscaloosa County Schools, Tuscaloosa International Friends, Tuscaloosa Latino Coalition, Tuscaloosa’s One Place, Tuscaloosa Public Libraries, The University of Alabama and United Way of West Alabama.