Somos Tuskaloosa (Photo/Gwendolyn Ferreti)

Immigrant group in Alabama wins national prize for creating positive change

Two years ago, a devastating tornado destroyed 7,200 homes and businesses across a six-mile stretch in Tuscaloosa, Ala.  At the same time, a strict immigration law, Alabama HB56, left Latino immigrants in the community fearful of seeking aid. Although her home was one of the ones destroyed by the tornado, Mexican-American Gwendolyn Ferreti came out of the woodwork with an idea and a clear mission.

With the help of the Reverend Fred Hammond, the 29-year-old founded a volunteer-run group called Somos Tuskaloosa. The group informs the community on the latest laws and policies that affect immigrants. The group also conducts leadership development training workshops and legal clinics, as well as providing other resources. This week, Somos Tuskaloosa was one of four community groups in the nation to be awarded the $10,000 Torchlight Prize for their success in working together to create positive change in their community.

“We recognize and congratulate this year’s Torchlight Prize winners not only for their innovative approaches to building their communities but also for their unwavering passion and commitment to address some of the most pressing issues facing our nation,” said Mauricio Lim Miller, founder and chief executive officer of the Family Independence Initiative. “The spirit of community collaboration to drive impactful change is as alive today as ever, and these groups are perfect examples.”

Ferreti is proud of her small grassroots organization, whose base consists of 10 to 15 people and is the first in Alabama to be run by Latinos. Ferreti says when they host events, they tend to rally from 50 to 300 people at a time.

“We’re really, really excited about having won this award,” Ferreti says. “We’ve been working in Alabama to advance social and immigrant justice. To receive recognition from a national organization is just an honor. We are really awed.”

Ferreti says she and Somos Tuskaloosa primarily want to make their predominantly black and white city a better place for everyone.

“We are really proud and honored to inherit the civil rights struggle in the state of Alabama, and to continue to expand social justice to everyone, including new Latino immigrants,” says Ferreti. “We believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect, [and] anti-immigrant laws are violations to our civil human rights…Even our name ‘Somos Tuskaloosa’ — ‘We are Tuskaloosa’ — is a testament to how we want to stay in the city, and how immigrants are working towards making the city a better place, regardless of immigration status.”

Ferreti says Somos Tuskaloosa meets every two weeks, and most recently has started to hold monthly community meetings to talk about immigration reform.

Luisa Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, says Ferreti invited her to join Somos Tuskaloosa in 2011, and most importantly, she taught her not to be scared.

“We were lost and didn’t know what to do,” says Hernandez in her native Spanish. She has been a resident of Tuskaloosa for the past 10 years.

Hernandez says she is proud that through Somos Tuskaloosa she is now aware of what rights she has as an immigrant and she’s also able to help others in her community.

“We all win,” says Hernandez. “Gwendolyn has motivated us to keep going. Her parents were immigrants, and I hope that my children follow her example one day and learn to give back to others.”

%d bloggers like this: