Last Thursday, the Niagara Foundation celebrated what Executive Director Ali Durhan called “international dialogue and peace heroes,” but it was more than a feel-good awards event. It was also a spirited affirmation of the positive role that immigrants play in the St. Louis region and a statement by regional leaders that St. Louis needs more immigrant vigor to succeed.
The St. Louis region has approximately 126,500 immigrants, and immigrants now comprise 4.5 percent of the region’s population, according to the Center for Regional Forecasting at Saint Louis University. Other metropolitan areas in the top 20 in population average four to five times more foreign-born residents than this region has.
The Niagara Foundation – which promotes “respect, peace, tolerance and mutual understanding among all cultures” – honored Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis; County Executive Charlie A. Dooley; and Donald M. Suggs, publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American.
Durhan, who is new to St. Louis, said Crosslin was suggested to the nominating committee by Bosnian immigrants who said she is “so helpful” in advancing the institute’s mission of helping local immigrants learn English, adapt to American culture and secure jobs.
Crosslin, who was presented the Community Service Award by former Congressman Russ Carnahan, told a diverse audience of 250 that St. Louis needs immigrants for cultural vitality and economic growth.
The data back her up.
“The region’s relative scarcity of immigrants largely explains our poor economic growth and the St. Louis area’s fall from the 10th largest metropolitan statistical area in 1970 in the U.S. to 18th in population and 20th in economic output in 2010,” Jack Strauss, director of SLU’s Center for Regional Forecasting, concluded in a 2012 report. “Other metro areas in the top 20 averaged 40 percent faster economic growth over the past decade.”
Durhan said Dooley was awarded for his activity in engaging with “any and every ethnicity and nationality” and his leadership in attempting to attract more immigrants to St. Louis.
Dooley, who was presented the Leadership Award by Bob Fox (founder of NewSpace Inc. and Casa de Salud), said accepting new immigrants is critical to reversing the population losses that St. Louis County and city suffered in the previous decade.
“Immigration is key to our growth in terms of population and prosperity,” Dooley told a national Bloomberg TV audience last month. “Immigrants create more jobs at a faster rate.”
Durhan said Suggs was awarded for his tireless efforts promoting the value of diversity and inclusion in The St. Louis American.
Suggs, who was presented the Media Award by Harris-Stowe State University President Emeritus Dr. Henry Givens Jr., also was lauded for his efforts promoting African art in St. Louis and his service on countless regional boards, commissions and task forces, always pushing inclusion of minorities and immigrants.
In a February editorial addressing critical issues in the city’s 2013 mayoral primary, Suggs quoted Joe Reagan, the president of the St. Louis Regional Chamber: “To the extent that we are able to welcome and include people from all over the world and every neighborhood in our region – if we do that, we will be a success.” Suggs added, “Exactly. What should the next mayor of St. Louis do to achieve greater inclusion of minorities and immigrants?”
This is the first year the Niagara Foundation, which was founded in Chicago in 1997, presented awards in St. Louis, which it started doing at other branches in 2006. The foundation has 22 branches in nine states. Though it was founded by Turkish Americans, there was not one mention of Turkey at the awards event.
“We are Turkish Americans, that is the reality, but our only idea is to bring people together from different backgrounds,” Durhan said. “We do not label even ourselves.”
SOURCE: The St. Louis American
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