A fascinating documentary dealing with Somali immigrants in the US and hence racism, popular misconceptions and the fear of the "other", is screening on February 7th at the Museum for African Art in New York. Following the screening of the film, producer and director Kim A. Snyder will join with longtime Shebyville resident Beverly Hewitt (featured in the film) and New York-based community leaders to discuss the intersection of immigration and civil rights, and what these issues mean for US communities.
Welcome to Shelbyville is a glimpse of America at a crossroads. In this one small town in the heart of America's Bible Belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Just a stone's throw away from Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), longtime African American and white residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a growing Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Muslim Somali refugees.
Set on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election, the film captures the interaction between these residents as they navigate new waters against the backdrop of a tumultuous year. The economy is in crisis, factories are closing, and jobs are hard to find. The local Tyson chicken plant is hiring hundreds of new Somali refugees, and when a local reporter initiates a series of articles about the newcomers, a flurry of controversy and debate erupts within the town.
Just as the Latino population grapples with their own immigrant identity, African American residents look back at their segregated past and balance perceived threats to their livelihood and security against the values that they learned through their own long struggle for civil rights. As the newcomers — mostly of Muslim faith — attempt to make new lives for themselves and their children, leaders in this deeply religious community attempt to guide their congregations through this period of unprecedented change. Through the vibrant and colorful characters of Shelbyville, the film explores immigrant integration and the interplay between race, religion, and identity in this dynamic dialogue. The story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.