While Welcoming Week was officially celebrated for 10 days this month, Sept. 9-18, we celebrate it all year long in Oakland County. Welcoming Oakland is an official county member of the Welcoming America network that brings together communities to reaffirm the importance of promoting inclusivity and celebrating the vast array of cultures that make our neighborhoods and towns so vibrant and exciting.
The theme of this year’s Welcoming Week celebration was #WhereWeBelong. All individuals throughout the county should understand that there is a place for them here.
In the last year or so, that’s been especially true for people fleeing the wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine. Through the Uniting for Ukraine initiative, more than 630 Oakland County residents have stepped up to sponsor and financially support families who have left Ukraine because of the war.
But Welcoming Week is about more than just helping resettle refugees. There are services, people, and organizations across Oakland County that are helping newcomers when they arrive in the state.
Refugee and Immigrant Navigator program
Oakland County Michigan Works! aims to create an inclusive environment where anyone and everyone can succeed. The Refugee and Immigrant Navigator program helps legal refugees or work-authorized immigrants overcome barriers to employment and find a job that matches their qualifications.
The Oakland County Michigan Works! staff can help interested participants with resources and services such as job search assistance, career advising, training and education programs, and workforce and labor market employment information. Staff can also help navigate additional resources like housing, health care, child care, transportation, and more.
To get started and speak with a navigator, contact Oakland County Michigan Works! Program Coordinator Danielle Bachman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 248-858-1906.
Wisam Brikho, newcomer student coordinator for the Oakland Intermediate School District, is helping new students acclimate to an often confusing and unfamiliar environment where the smallest thing can trigger an anxiety-filled response. He’s also the coach of the Pontiac High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, helping lead a diverse group of teenagers to a place where they may not always win, but where they can find a place to belong and feel welcome.
“When we stereotype or when we don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t understand that the people that are moving here to Oakland County and to the United States have a rich experience, skill set and strengthen our county.”-Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter
Ricky Dong is the owner of the 168 Asian Mart in Madison Heights. Through the market and a host of other nearby businesses, he’s bringing Asian culture and cuisine to both the burgeoning Asian population in southeast Michigan and so many others who travel from all corners of the state to discover the delicacies they can’t find in their hometowns.
He’s one of more than 1,000 foreign-born business owners in Oakland County. These residents are our neighbors and friends. They’re employers and ambassadors for the diversity that makes our county a welcoming destination for all.
“From an economic development perspective, it’s really important that everyone feels welcome, because over the last 10 years, Oakland County would have actually lost our population if it hadn’t been for our foreign-born residents.”-Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter
Jerry W. Cleland
Jerry W. Cleland, a foreman for the Road Commission for Oakland County and member of the state-recognized Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes of Michigan—an Indigenous group with deep roots in Oakland County— is a men’s traditional dancer.
In the video below, he performs a “sneak up” dance during a pow wow, which Indigenous Peoples typically host during the spring and summer months to honor their culture, traditions, and ancestors.
“The pow wow is our celebration of life and our culture, and it’s shared by most Indigenous nations. It’s open and everyone is welcome. It’s never closed. There are a couple different stories about the “sneak up” dance. One says it tells the story of retrieving one of your sisters or brothers in battle. Other nations say it’s telling the story of hunting. For us, it instills pride in young people.”-Jerry W. Cleland, member of Swan Creek Black River Confederated Ojibwa Tribes of Michigan
History of Welcoming Week in Oakland County
In April 2019, Commissioner William Miller delivered the very first Welcoming Resolution to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. This was a pivotal moment because it kicked off what was to become Welcoming Oakland, a consortium of agencies and organizations that operate in the immigrant and refugee space within the county. In early 2020, County Executive David Coulter directed the county to become a member of Welcoming America.
During Welcoming Week 2022, County Executive Coulter celebrated the Welcoming Oakland Committee with a luncheon for their tireless work to help residents feel welcome in the community #WhereWeBelong.
Diversity and inclusion should always be celebrated, but Welcoming Week provides an opportunity to unite U.S.-born and foreign-born residents, and promote belonging, no matter a person’s origins. It is a time to recognize and respect the cultures that make up the vibrant fabric of our neighborhoods and cities.
Follow along with the Welcoming Oakland initiative year round on the Oakland County Executive Office on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about the county’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: OakGov.com/Equity and contact Oakland County Community Liaison, Melanie Grund at email@example.com for more information.