If you’re driving into downtown Raleigh on Wade Avenue, you can’t miss a large sign that says “Welcome to Raleigh, Y’all” in 17 languages.
Come Out and Show Them, a nonprofit that advocates for social justice, launched the sign campaign in January in hopes of sparking a conversation about immigration, deportation and sanctuary in the City of Oaks.
Murals that feature the phrase were painted on the exterior of a building at East Street and New Bern Avenue, outside the Pour House Music Hall on Blount Street and at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Harrington Street.
“We have not had a citywide discussion about this in a very open way,” said Grayson Haver Currin, one of the founders of Come Out and Show Them, which began last year. “We also want to make activism more accessible for people.”
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In March, the group expanded the campaign to Durham with signs that read “Welcome To Durham, Y’all.”
The group has distributed about 3,000 yard signs and stickers to residents in Raleigh and Durham. People can get a sign for a suggested donation of $10 and stickers for $2 through the nonprofit’s website, www.comeoutandshowthem.com. Proceeds benefit the Raleigh chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, Durham-based nonprofit Uniting NC and Come Out and Show Them.
Haver Currin said some people have told him the signs make them feel more at ease and welcome in Raleigh and Durham. He has delivered signs and stickers to homes “with rainbow flags and homes with tea party flags.”
“I like to think that I can predict where these signs are going, but I can’t,” he said.
The nonprofit has launched campaigns about women’s rights and LGBTQ issues in the past, including a gender-neutral bathroom sign campaign after the N.C. General Assembly passed House Bill 2 last year. The law, which was repealed and replaced last month, required everyone to use the restroom in government facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate. Some said the requirement discriminated against the transgender community.
Come Out and Show Them decided to focus on immigration this year because it emerged as a key issue during the presidential election, Haver Currin said.
In 2015, the state initiated a ban on sanctuary cities. If passed, a bill filed by Republican House lawmakers in February would cut off state funding for sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration policies in North Carolina.
“Politics has become something that applies to everything right now, and there’s this total fear of what’s going to happen with immigration,” Haver Currin said.
To decide which languages to feature on the signs and murals, members of the nonprofit learned about languages spoken in North Carolina. They whittled the number to be featured on the signs from 40 to 17 with the help of Baldwin&, an advertising agency in Raleigh that developed the campaign design for free.
The languages include Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, French and German.
The group also partnered with local artists, including Scott Nurkin of The Mural Shop, and other organizations for the murals.
“Raleigh welcomes you, no matter who you are,” the mural on New Bern Avenue reads.
To raise money for the signs and materials, Come Out and Show Them has held several events in Raleigh. The campaign is sponsored by Raleigh Immigration Law Firm, which provides legal assistance for immigrants.
The group also partnered with Visit Raleigh, the city’s visitors bureau, to use its website as a landing place for newcomers interested in learning more about the signs.
“It fits into our broader messaging and how opening and welcoming we want Raleigh to be,” said Scott Peacock, a spokesman for Visit Raleigh.
The campaign is separate from Visit Raleigh’s “All Are Welcome Here” campaign, which the visitors bureau is considering expanding, Peacock said.
Come Out and Show Them had planned to continue the campaign for several months before moving on to another issue, but the community response has been so positive that it will continue indefinitely, Haver Currin said.
“We shouldn’t get in the way of people who want to have this conversation,” he said.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; firstname.lastname@example.org