Welcoming Week NWA designed to bring cultures together

Welcoming Week NWA designed to bring cultures together

Sometimes it’s as complex as creating “global belonging, diversity, equity and inclusion” through policies instituted by the world’s largest retailer.

Sometimes it’s as simple as trying on an outfit from India, tasting Indian food or learning to dye fabric with traditional indigo and marigold dyes.

Both a lecture by Victor Calise, director of global belonging, diversity, equity and inclusion at Walmart, and a class in dyeing fabric hosted by the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation have been part of this year’s Welcoming Week NWA, happening now. In its ninth iteration, the annual initiative is organized by EngageNWA at the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Calise, also a Paralympian and advocate for adapting spaces for those with disabilities, kicked off events, speaking Sept. 8 at the Jones Center in Springdale. His goal, he said, was to “empower community leaders by showcasing the immense value that disability talent brings to the table, driving the creation of vibrant and inclusive communities that celebrate what we all have to offer.”

So far, Welcoming Week has also included the Ocean Wave dancers performing traditional dances from the Pacific Islands; a preview by the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese of their upcoming cultural training; a talk by Casey Parks, an Oregon-based author and Washington Post reporter covering gender and family issues; and the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation workshop, which was filled to capacity.

“Events and activities during Welcoming Week NWA are an actionable way to build belonging and create a community we all want to live in,” says Monica Kumar, belonging and inclusion specialist with the Northwest Arkansas Council. “It’s an opportunity to counteract mistaken or fearful opinions about others that are different [and to do so] in a way that builds bridges and creates a foundation for inclusion throughout the year. Welcoming Week NWA is a doorway.”

Welcoming Week was started over a decade ago by Welcoming America, a nonprofit founded in 2009 “with a mission to support grassroots efforts to promote mutual respect and cooperation between neighbors of immigrant and non-immigrant backgrounds,” says Rachel Perić, its executive director. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Perić says she “grew up with their stories of losing their home and loved ones” and learned “where hate for the ‘other’ can take a society.”

“It made me hyper aware of how fear can drive us to dehumanize people,” she says, “and also how important everyday people can be in humanizing and standing up for our neighbors.”

Perić says Welcoming Week was intended “as a moment when we could come together in our communities to take pride in being welcoming places and to invite more people into being part of ongoing work in our own back yards to live out these values.”

“At a time when so many Americans are being vilified on the basis of their identity, or encountering unnecessary barriers that hold us back from our potential, the hope is that it will be a reminder of the power we all have to make our communities truly be a place to call home for everyone, whether they’ve just arrived or been here for generations,” she says. “Northwest Arkansas has a fantastic lineup of events, and I hope the community can really celebrate and build from this incredible energy.”

Srividya Venkatasubramanya, founder of the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation, says her organization was born “out of a need to provide the Indian community an opportunity to nurture their cultural roots.”

“In 2010, we started small with an annual Indian traditional music and dance event that brought together local and regional talent of all ages,” she remembers. “Every year we grew, and people asked us for more. So, I started Ra-Ve.

“We primarily do music and dance events, classes and so on. But we also collaborate on Indian visual arts through our ‘Art for the Ages’ event in the summer every year,” Venkatasubramanya explains. “We bring Indian clothes and food to as many events as we can with local Indian vendors; we also host something called NWA Chai Time, which brings everyone together on a different topic every month. Our ultimate goal is to help people understand that anyone can engage with Indian culture. A lot of people have asked us whether they can attend our events or wear Indian clothes and the answer is YES!

“We are all more similar than different.”

Wednesday’s Bandhani dyeing workshop was held at Hillfolk, a studio and retail space founded in 2018 in Bentonville’s 8th Street Market by Bea Apple and Trisha Logan.

Its success was “a wonderful example of how Welcoming Week NWA offers opportunities for diverse organizations like Hillfolk, a local craft and textile studio, and Ra-Ve, which uplifts culturally Indian experiences and arts in the region, to come together and collaborate on a unique bandhani project,” Kumar says. “The unique combination of a local small business connecting and creating with a South Asian cultural arts foundation showcases the intentional community building and diverse learning that Welcoming Week NWA supports in our region.”

“Over time, our mission grew to focus on all of the elements of building truly welcoming communities,” Perić says of the Welcoming America initiative. “Not only neighbor to neighbor, but through all of our community institutions, and through policies that make it easier for folks to participate civically, socially, culturally and economically.

“From local governments to schools, workplaces, community spaces, the arts or public parks, everyone has a role to play in creating an environment and policies that reinforce everyone’s ability to belong and thrive. Today our mission is to support communities building a welcoming society where every person, including immigrants, can fully contribute and shape our shared prosperity.”

And those efforts, she adds, don’t need to be limited to one week a year.

“The mission of Welcoming America is to help people take action in our own communities, so the best way to get involved is to support some of the phenomenal organizations who are focused on creating a more welcoming Northwest Arkansas — and to use your voice to encourage local leaders and policymakers to stand up for these values.”


Welcoming Week NWA

Also on this year’s schedule are:

— An Arkansas Immigrant Defense Convening is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Mount Sequoyah in Fayetteville. Karen Tumlin, founder of The Justice Action Center, and Rachel Perić will keynote. Register at WelcomingWeekNWA.org.

— An entrepreneur panel hosted by EforAll Northwest Arkansas happens at 5:30 p.m. today at Fairlane Station in Springdale. The Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses, Canopy NWA, Conexión de Negocios Latinos, and Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese have partnered to support entrepreneurship in diverse communities.

— Marshallese Cultural Training by Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese is set for 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 21 at The Medium in Springdale. This event is an opportunity to learn about Marshallese culture, history and the experience of Marshallese people in Northwest Arkansas. Register at WelcomingWeekNWA.org.

— Canopy NWA will accept donations for household and school supplies at various locations Friday. Call (479) 717-7358 or visit canopynwa.org.

— Rogers Public Library and Operation Reboot are gathering blessing bags for homeless veterans through Sept. 30. Find out what items to donate and other information on the library’s website at rogerspubliclibrary.org or call (479) 621-1152.

— The Squire Jehegan Outreach Center is collecting hygiene kits and winter wear for the unhoused and those in need. Email info@squirecenter.com.

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