An abridged version of the following article appeared in the winter 2016-17 issue of the Nobles magazine.
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
—From “Let America Be America Again,” Langston Hughes
“The greatest lesson I learned at Nobles was how to recognize, cultivate and share my voice,” says Ambrose Faturoti ’99. “I learned how to enter conversations respectfully without compromising my truth or assuming I had all the answers.” Now, as program director for the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), he is using his voice to advocate for underrepresented communities in a political maelstrom that jeopardizes their path to citizenship.
Faturoti’s own parents migrated to Boston from Nigeria when his father was pursuing his doctorate in economics at Boston University. Faturoti recalls his father working diligently with him on his letters, and always his family’s firm belief in the value of education. Those lessons took hold, and Faturoti excelled in advanced programs at various Boston public schools. Mentors at the Steppingstone Foundation, and later at Nobles, continued to support his achievements.
Faturoti is thankful for his Nobles education, but is also honest about the adjustment he faced coming from an urban public school and a community of more modest means. “It was the first time I realized how much some families had, and how much I didn’t.” Grateful for parents who provided all that he needed, he nevertheless awoke to “socioeconomic difference and the blind spots these respective experiences engendered.” He found fellowship and understanding in affinity groups Brother 2 Brother and the Multicultural Students Association. He also developed as a leader through experiences with Nobles faculty, staff and coaches, deeming those relationships the school’s “special sauce.”
In 2005, Faturoti came back to Nobles as an English teacher and diversity coordinator after earning his B.A. in English and African and African American Studies, and a master’s in English and American Studies from the University of Virginia. “Returning to serve as a resource for students and families who may have been feeling what I felt as I came through Nobles was gratifying. I appreciated the opportunity to share the strategies that helped me succeed, and hope I was able to pay forward what I received,” he says. He also pursued outside service opportunities to help teach young people “how to operate as stakeholders in their local communities.” Those experiences have proven invaluable to the youth and outreach work he still does at his church in Mattapan and with MIRA.
In 2009, Governor Deval Patrick recognized Faturoti’s contributions to his community, selecting him as his special assistant and director of the Governor’s Urban Agenda. He says the role opened his eyes to “the ways talented, well-intentioned leadership can impact lives for good.” Two task areas he found the most powerful and personally meaningful were criminal records reform and immigration. “Unfortunately, efforts to appear ‘tough on crime’ incentivized a lot of bad policy.” Determined to change that cycle, the governor’s team sought “to promote voices demanding a second shot at reentering society through accessing gainful employment.” The 2010 CORI Reform bill “banned the box” on employment applications that proved prohibitive to candidates with records, restricted who could view records during the employment process, and reduced the time after which state criminal records would be sealed for felonies. “This fight was really a victory for advocates for fair and rehabilitative sentencing policies, and for scores of people who deserve a second chance at building a life, even if they have made a mistake along the way,” says Faturoti.
The team at the governor’s office also blocked a federal immigration program called “Secure Communities.” The program, which sought to merge the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly INS) database with that of the FBI meant that individuals whose records were pulled for even minor infractions, like driving without a license, could be targeted for deportation. The governor’s office and a strong network of advocates coordinated statewide town hall forums; polling Massachusetts residents showed that 75 percent opposed the program. A subsequent letter from the secretary of public safety to the Department of Homeland Security “changed the trajectory to target violent, undocumented people for removal: a win for families. As a child of immigrants, this win was really personal to me and shaped my interest to continue advocating for these communities after leaving the office,” says Faturoti.
Faturoti continued his advocacy as program director at the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (ORI), an organization seeking to promote integration by helping clients learn English, gain financial independence and find community. “Refugees and asylees remain some of our most vulnerable neighbors and have often seen terrible things before ever reaching us. After undergoing rigorous vetting that lasts around 26 months, they are looking for a welcoming place to start their lives again—lives that they didn’t ask to be interrupted. The least we can do is attempt to provide them the welcoming environment any of us would want for ourselves. I believe this work is in line with some of our most deeply held social, religious and humanitarian ideals,” Faturoti says.
On a typical day at MIRA, Faturoti communicates regulations to his members, answers public inquiries about resources available to refugee and immigrant communities, plans or leads technical assistance trainings to support organizations in Massachusetts serving those communities, or gives interviews to media outlets about refugee- and immigrant-related policy. His work promotes citizenship, job readiness and adult basic education services. “There is no greater reward than a recently naturalized citizen reporting that they registered to vote for the first time,” Faturoti says.
On Nov. 9, 2016, many hoping to one day cast those votes as new Americans woke to a tenuous climate regarding immigration. Whether they came seeking asylum or educational opportunities for their children, or to reunite with their families or support those back home, they are questioning their future. “Our greatest fears amid the changing administration are the plight of the 11 million undocumented individuals here in the United States. Due to the inaction of Congress, this is a really uncertain time for them. Right now, we are focused on protecting the rights of our most vulnerable neighbors as the new administration begins and are willing to partner with anyone interested in championing their concerns,” Faturoti says.
Faturoti, a scholar of American history with a comprehensive understanding of the current backlash against immigrants, is disturbed by what he sees. “The most troubling aspect of the global refugee crisis is undoubtedly the vast information gap that exists in our country. In order for a refugee to ever land on our shores, they go through extensive, exhaustive vetting. Despite the facts involved, sensationalism prevails, and it shocks and saddens those of us who spend time assisting families in their efforts to rebuild their lives. The most vulnerable among us are victimized and revictimized, scapegoating their struggle to score political points,” Faturoti says. He cites the troubling example of the hotline established by Attorney General Maura Healey to report bias-related threats on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016; the hotline received 300 reports of harassment in Massachusetts by week’s end.
While Faturoti acknowledges challenging times ahead for immigration reform and the communities he serves, he is fiercely optimistic about the change that concerned, involved citizens can bring. He has a charge for Nobles students: “The world-class education you are receiving from brilliant, compassionate educators has already prepared you to lead in civic engagement. The leadership Nobles works to cultivate in you is sorely needed at times like these. For those interested in supporting the practical and compassionate integration of refugees and immigrants, I would encourage you to learn where your elected leadership stands on issues you care about, and if you don’t like it, pick up the phone and call their office. If they are holding a town hall, attend. Volunteer for causes and candidates for public office that move you. Most important of all, recognize that you have a voice and take the courage to use it to serve others. Leadership for the public good hinges on courage.”