The last two decades have seen remarkable demographic change in Tennessee and in communities across the South. Tennessee has one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country. Although immigrants still make up less than 5% of the state’s total population, the rate of growth alone presents significant challenges and opportunities in the state as residents process these changes. Many Tennesseans are not in touch with their own family’s story of migration and may lack context to interpret the demographic changes in their communities.

The tensions and anxieties that arise from rapidly shifting demographics have created fertile ground for acts of hate, like the desecration of mosques, and created a climate for extreme anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy. In 2006, we recognized the need to engage U.S. born Tennesseans, or the “receiving community” to shift the climate and build the capacity of Tennessee communities to embrace multiculturalism.

That year, we founded the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) as a proactive communications campaign to create spaces for constructive dialogue on immigration, to restore civility to the immigration debate, and highlight the contributions that immigrants and refugees make to our communities. WTI was the 2009 recipient of the E Pluribus Unum prize, a national awards program administered by the Migration Policy Institute to award exceptional immigrant integration initiatives.

If you would like to invite the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative to give a presentation in your community or are interested in receiving Welcoming updates, email Emily at