In 2015, Catholic Charities of Buffalo, a member organization of VOICE-Buffalo, approached VOICE-Buffalo with a proposal to organize the diverse refugee and immigrant communities in Buffalo. With start-up funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development the Buffalo Immigrant & Refugee Leadership Team (BIRLT) was established as a task force within VOICE-Buffalo. VOICE-Buffalo organizers conducted over 50 one-to-one conversations with refugees, service providers and faith leaders to better understand the needs and interests in the refugee community, and to identify potential leaders. A concern about public education arose as the burning issue around which people came together. BIRLT changed its name to the Buffalo Immigrant Leadership Team (BILT) in December 2017. It was formally incorporated as a separate organization from VOICE-Buffalo in February 2018 and received its 501(c)3 status with the IRS in March 2019.
Since BIRLT/BILT began, its leaders and organizers have developed relationships with Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) officials, including the Superintendent, Buffalo School Board Members and the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation President. BILT has held four public meetings with over 1000 ethnically and racially diverse people present. Buffalo Public School Officials, Buffalo School Board Members, Congressman Brian Higgins and other elected officials have been in attendance to hear and respond to the public education concerns of immigrant and refugee students and their families.
Through these interactions and other activities, BILT received a commitment from the BPS Superintendent to partner on a campaign to increase state funding for bilingual teacher preparation. BILT worked with the BPS, local universities, refugee resettlement agencies and other advocates to secure this funding and to address policy barriers to having a sufficient number of bilingual teachers in the BPS system.
BILT leaders are refugees and immigrants from countries that include Burundi, Burma, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, and Somalia. Our members commit to participating in relationship building through one-to-one meetings and attend trainings to enhance their capacity to function effectively in the public arena, thereby creating greater equity of opportunity and building the power of the organization.