Lipscomb, Chamber and Conexión Américas urge local leaders to build on diversity

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In its third annual Hispanic Forum, held on Thursday, Dec. 8, Lipscomb University, along with Conexión Américas and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, has expanded the idea of “Abriendo Puertas: Opening Doors” to the broader immigrant and refugee communities living and working in the Nashville area.

The Hispanic Forum was launched in 2009 to bring together business, nonprofit and government leaders in Middle Tennessee to address the challenges and opportunities for our growing Hispanic population.

Keynote speaker Naki Osutei, vice president of strategy for the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, shared the innovative ways Toronto’s leaders are embracing the strength of diversity.

“In order to build a great global city diversity and inclusiveness must be embraced,” said Osutei. “We need to examine whether or not we are creating opportunities for people to be productive citizens, to have the liberty and equity to be who they want to be and to pursue happiness.”

In addition, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz moderated a panel of local and business leaders on best practices in business, nonprofit and government agencies to promote embracing diversity.

“The Hispanic Forum has already resulted in some innovative outreach to the Hispanic community through local collaborations,” said Lipscomb University President L. Randolph Lowry, co-founder of the forum. “This year we want that same spirit to be applied to issues that all immigrant populations face in our diverse community. The discussion will focus on the strengths diversity brings to our city – from artistic to economic—and how we can build on that strength as business, nonprofit and government leaders.”

Keynote Speaker Naki Osutei
Panelists Greg Garrett, Tamara Losel and Tony Majors.

The Hispanic Forum was created by Lipscomb and Conexión Américas in the wake of Nashville’s January 2009 “English-only” referendum. The proposal to declare English the only language to be used for city government operations was rejected, but the public controversy surrounding the measure sparked Lipscomb to hold a forum to explore common ground to face the challenges of Nashville’s growing Hispanic community.

The 2010 census showed that Tennessee’s Latino population grew by almost 35 percent since 2000, giving the state the sixth-fastest-growing Hispanic population nationwide. Nashville’s demographic changes have also continued, with 10 percent of Nashville’s total population identifying themselves as Hispanic.

More than 80 local leaders accepted the invitation to attend the third annual forum, hosted by Lowry, Conexión Américas Executive Director Renata Soto and Schulz. The event is co-sponsored by Lipscomb’s Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership and the College of Education.

“Davidson County's population is now 10 percent Hispanic, and that is just one of the many diverse groups living and impacting the city of Nashville,” said Soto. “In order to continue to grow and advance as one of the top cities in the nation, Nashville must build on the strengths that diversity brings to a community. This forum is an excellent vehicle to help local leaders understand that and practice it.”

Earlier this year, a delegation of business leaders assembled by the Nashville Area Chamber, were impressed with Osutei’s message of collaborative activism to embrace diversity in Toronto, said Schulz. Her career experience, working with a unique coalition of senior business, nonprofit, government and community leaders to address challenges to the Toronto region’s social and economic future, gives her unique insight into ways Nashville’s leaders can address diversity issues, he said.

“Nashville has the fastest-growing immigrant population in the country, and our city and business community are enriched by that diversity. Earlier this year, Forbes ranked Nashville the third-best U.S. city for minority entrepreneurs. That fact opens doors to new markets and new opportunities that other cities can’t boast. I’m proud to see so many local leaders excited to take advantage of that,” Schulz said.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was the speaker at the first Hispanic Forum in 2009, which focused on collaborative solutions to individual and community needs. The forum resulted in at least one major collaboration still in operation today – a partnership between Southern Hills Medical Center and the United Neighborhood Health Service to provide additional health services to the Hispanic and immigrant community. 

Dr. Stella Flores, assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University and a nationally known expert on the impact of state and federal policies on college access and completion, spoke at the second forum in 2010, which focused on ways to increase the number of Hispanic youth entering college.