The nonprofit Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center named Reza Jalali, a University of Southern Maine professor, as its new executive director.
Jalali, a former refugee, previously coordinated the USM Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and oversaw the Multicultural Center at the school. He recently served as the special adviser on equity and inclusion to USM President Glenn Cummings.
Jalali also founded Portland’s first immigrant advocacy center at the former Chestnut Street Methodist Church, which served as a home for a coalition of immigrant groups. He is also a member of Amnesty International USA’s board of directors and has led delegations to refugee camps in Turkey and Bosnia.
“As a former refugee, I feel honored to be given the chance to serve the immigrant communities,” Jalali said in a prepared statement. “I see it as repaying my debts to a state that has offered me the opportunity to start a new life. Guided by our mission and supported by my team and the board, we will focus on elevating the integration of new Mainers, to ensure greater Portland’s thriving immigrant community reaches its civic, economic, cultural, and social potential.”
The position became vacant after center co-founder and former Executive Director Alain Jean Claude Nahimana died in May. Co-founder Shima Kabirigi filled the role on an interim basis.
Board Chair Mary Allen Lindemann praised the work of a search committee in selecting Jalali while coping with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure the center continued to operate.
“We could not be more fortunate to have someone with Mr. Jalali’s experience, both personal and professional, take on leadership of the center as we move forward,” Lindemann said in the statement.
In addition to his work at USM, Jalali has been a storyteller on NPR’s “The Moth Radio Hour,” and has written several books. His next book, which he co-wrote with Morgan Rielly, is about Maine immigrants and will be published next June.