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VOL. 41 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 23, 2017

Amplify Awards shine light on immigrant success

By Joe Morris

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Cano and Esen Ozgener

The news for, and about, immigrants and immigration today is laden with stories of borders, barriers and fear.

With its inaugural Amplify Nashville Awards, Siloam Health hopes to change that conversation.

“We are not an advocacy organization, but we do care for a clientele that’s caught in the crossfire of a lot of big, national issues and controversy around healthcare reform and immigration right now,” says Dr. Morgan Wills, president and CEO.

“We’re always attentive to how those politically charged issues are affecting our patients and the communities they come from.”

Siloam Health, a faith-based, volunteer-supported clinic for people with no health insurance and limited resources, usually produces spring and fall events to raise awareness and funds.

Earlier this year when internal conversations turned to the fund-raising agenda, the organization’s unique role right now was on everyone’s mind, Wills points out.

“We normally have a public-facing event that’s more about the intersection of faith, health and culture, but we wanted to speak into this moment and highlight the unique role that Siloam has as a bridge between an old and new Nashville,” he says.

“My family is deeply rooted here, and I want to see Siloam continue to leverage the skills and resources of old Nashville on behalf of the growing new face of the city, it’s the global side that a lot of people don’t see very often.

“CNN’s ‘Hero’ awards were talked about, and we wondered if we could shrink that national concept into something for the foreign-born members of our community who have made great contributions.”

Soon planning for the Amplify Awards was under way, and the inaugural class was chosen. It includes:

Culture Shaper:

Cano & Esen Ozgener

The Ozgeners, natives of Turkey, and came to Nashville in 1968. They are perhaps best known for owning and operating internationally known cigar business C.A.O. International. The Ozgeners also established the nonprofit arts and event center OZ Arts in 2013.

Bridge Builder:

Belmont University and President Dr. Bob Fisher

Bob Fisher

Belmont University, under Dr. Fisher’s leadership, consistently strives to align its vision with the ever-changing needs of its community and works to help new Americans in many ways.

The university makes intentional efforts to hire documented, sponsored refugees, encouraging them to take advantage of the University’s educational offerings and covering the cost of ESL courses.

Additionally, Belmont considers students living in the United States for admission without regard to immigration standing and offers support to assist foreign-born students with enrollment and the transition to college life.

Community Catalyst:

Kasar Abdulla

Abdulla, who was born in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, is the director of community outreach at Valor Collegiate Academies. She came to the United States in 1992 after fleeing her homeland and living in a refugee camp for more than four years. Her advocacy on behalf of immigrants and refugees led to the 2006 founding of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative.

Good Neighbor:

Fabian Bedne

Fabian Bedne

Bedne relocated to the United States after earning a degree in architecture from the University of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina. In 2011, he became Nashville’s first Latino Metro Council member.

He is associate director of the Hispanic Family Foundation, and is an ardent proponent of affordable housing, neighborhood development and increased access to education.

‘Great, humble people’

The honor, Bedne says, is both unexpected and an incentive to continue community integration in his various roles.

“We have such a toxic conversation right now, and almost all of it is based on faulty information,” he says. “People are describing immigrants in a way that I don’t recognize.

“I see people walk through the door of the Hispanic Family Foundation every day who are great, humble people. They are family oriented and hard-working, and a completely different reality than what you hear talked about in some media.

“I want to do what I can to keep showing regular people who are our neighbors, living here in Nashville, and keep telling their stories.

“I have two dogs and a family, like anybody else; I just speak with an accent.”

In addition to evolving the dialogue on immigrants and immigration, Bedne adds that Siloam continues to play a huge role in overall community health.

“When I moved to the United States 25 years ago I came through an international program, and for many years was a taxpayer but had no access to healthcare and things like that,” he explains.

“I couldn’t see a doctor or dentist for years, because I had no insurance. Immigrants don’t get the government benefits many people think they do, because it takes years to become a citizen and qualify for services.

“If you’re a non-citizen who’s employed and the employer doesn’t offer insurance, then there’s no safety net. An agency like Siloam is important because they help us make sure we don’t have people living in our community who are sick, or who are at risk.”

The awards, then, will hopefully get more people engaged in Siloam’s work, as well as plugged into the immigrant community and providing aid in other areas, Wills adds.

“We want to bring a human face to stories that can be abstracted and politicized,” he says. “We want to celebrate what these new Americans are giving to Nashville, and how we are a better community for it.”

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