by Dr. Quintin Bullock, DDS, For New Pittsburgh Courier
For all the strongly held views on immigration being publicly articulated at the present time, there are certain realities we must acknowledge about the world in which we live. It is becoming more and more interconnected, nations’ economies more dependent on each other, workforces more diverse. Over time, the continuation of this trend is inevitable and unstoppable.
America has a unique role in this story because of who we are, how we were born and how our country grew and evolved. All of us have an obligation to look at our past, present and future honestly—to address inequities and embrace opportunities with empathy, civility and a constructive mindset.
After all, immigrants bring energy and ambition and new ways of doing things. The world would be a much different place today if not for the drive and imagination of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant of modest beginnings who landed right here in Pittsburgh. It would be a much different place if the Brin family, including 6-year-old Sergey Brin, hadn’t taken what was at the time the great risk of applying for an exit visa from the old Soviet Union, so they could come to America. Brin, of course, grew up to become the founder of Google.
And of course, our history would be very different if a Kenyan immigrant named Barack Obama Sr. hadn’t come to America to go to college—later to have a son who would achieve the ultimate American dream of becoming the first Black president of the United States.
While not everyone grows up to be Andrew Carnegie or Sergey Brin or Barack Obama, most immigrants are here because they want to work hard, get an education, have a good life and contribute to their communities. And while the conversation about immigration often is based on emotion rather than facts, there are many reasons to have hope for the future.
At the institution I lead (CCAC), as with many academic institutions, we see ethnic communities helping their own and working with other groups across ethnic lines. We see people learning new languages, taking advantage of the many support services we offer, and sorting through the possible career options that are in front of them. For some, their path leads directly toward a career in any number of good paying fields. For others, we are an important step on the educational ladder, enabling them to fill in gaps as they work toward transferring to a four-year college.
But the big difference between CCAC and some other academic institutions, particularly in this region, is that our students don’t leave town immediately after graduation—94 percent of them continue to live and work in the Pittsburgh region.
While our student body is diverse, cutting across ethic, racial and economic lines, we are constantly working to develop programs that reach out to underserved communities—to give more of our neighbors the opportunity to access the great equalizer of education and get onto the path toward a successful career.
I like to think of our academic community, the City of Pittsburgh, and our country at-large as a great tossed salad. It’s not very interesting if you have the lettuce in one bowl and the tomatoes in another and the carrots and peppers and other ingredients all in their own separate bowls. But you mix it all together and it’s great—the perfect example of something that is far better than the sum of its individual parts.
Our politics and public discourse today is often marked by anger and hostility. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can all play a role, in our own lives and in our own communities, in improving the dialogue and changing the culture. In trying to address the big issues of the country and world on a larger scale, let’s not overlook what’s happening close to home.
Walk around your own neighborhood. Are there people living right nearby—perhaps new immigrants—who need some help? Talk to your friends and family and neighbors. What can you do to improve the lives of people in your own backyard?
One of the great injustices of modern times was the system of apartheid that existed for many years in South Africa. It seemed intractable. Large parts of the population were oppressed. Opponents were imprisoned. What could anyone do to change it? Well, in 1966, Robert F. Kennedy went there and said:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
It took a while, but he was right. Slowly but surely, people around the world started speaking out and taking action. And eventually apartheid fell.
Even if we sometimes feel powerless in times of political and social division, always remember that we have the potential of being the stone on the water that Bobby Kennedy spoke about, sending out ripples of hope that can build into powerful currents that change the world. If we want to change the tone of the conversation, if we want to welcome new immigrants to our country, if we want to make our communities better places to live, it begins with each of us and the actions we take every day.
(Dr. Quintin Bullock, DDS, is president of Community College of Allegheny County.)
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