There are plenty of things that don’t bother us as much as they should, but we just need to have them drawn to our lives so that we can understand them.”
— Ross Collier
Going on his ninth year living in Nashville, Ross Collier still feels he has more to learn about his community. The audio engineer, musician, and owner of Nashville Omnichord Supply Co. sat down at Portland Brew East recently, where he’s been known to sling a local musician an Omnichord or two. But today he’s discussing his other work, as a volunteer with the Nashville Welcoming Committee — a community organization which greets and provides support for people passing through from border detention facilities on their way through the country.
“Regardless of where you’re coming from or what language you’re speaking, the way the immigration system treats people is mucked up, big time,” Collier says. “So [NWC is] a very small work but it’s welcoming people because they’re in America, and we believe that says something about how they ought to be received and what they’re due as human beings.”
Collier’s experiences with these families and travelers are inherent to his sense of civic duty. People from Latin America leave border detention facilities with no food, no warm clothing, and no way of contacting their families they’re going to meet. Even though they’re often just passing through on their way to another city, he believes the opportunity to provide translation or a meal is a way to affirm our shared humanity, and it connects to realities in Nashville.
“We share a state and a community with CoreCivic, one of the biggest private prisons that makes millions of dollars [through] contracts with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” Collier says. “If you have something that’s important to you, I can guarantee you that there’s a way to connect it with people in your community in one way or another.”
Upon graduating from Belmont University in 2015, Collier began teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) through local nonprofit Conexión Américas. He saw it as a way to put down roots in Nashville as well as practice his Spanish. Around the same time, he was drawn to Edgehill United Methodist Church and began attending regularly, inspired by the congregation’s historic commitment to social justice as a profession of faith. The two experiences opened a window to local organizations like Worker’s Dignity and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, and he began to engage politically in a way that he hadn’t before. “I voted in 2012, but I don’t even remember who for,” he says. Seven years later, Collier can’t help but be passionate about issues that connect his neighborhood to the national.
“It can feel too big to be real,” Collier says. “The more small-scale stuff you get into, there are more ways where it’s not just like, ‘Oh, immigration!’ It’s not this abstract painting of some person coming to take your job. It’s like, ‘no, this person was in my ESL class and they have a kid my age and we live in the same neighborhood.’ These aren’t things that are so far away. There are people that are waiting in our community for family members to come over, there are ICE raids happening here — there’s a lot of fear.”
He clearly articulates a common feeling within the millennial generation: When you feel isolated from the mechanisms behind the intersection of issues in the broader landscape of society, it’s easy to become jaded; but when you or someone you care about is impacted by a policy, you are more likely to show up to the polls. Through this lens, Collier offers advice to those who contact their elected officials about a large issue: Show how it hits close to home.
“Instead of writing that we saw something that happened at the border on CNN and we’re upset, we can organize and say, ‘We’re a group of voters, and we will vote for a different candidate if you don’t do something, because there’s someone in our community whose family member was detained illegally at the border, and you came out publicly and said that was okay.’”
For Collier, playing Omnichord in local band Styrofoam Winos on a week night in East Nashville is just as important as audio engineering for a network television show. Similarly, voting for mayor is as essential as voting for president. It’s the commitment to community that provides the antidote for apathy and proves the adage “All politics is local.”
To inquire about being a volunteer, send an email to NWCVOLUNTEERS@gmail.com
For more information about the Nashville Welcoming Committee visit welcomingtn.squarespace.com