One World Concert to celebrate diversity, raise money for immigrant services

Brook Mead, left, executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, said the national conversation surrounding immigration shines a new spotlight on what staff at the center have known for years: "how very broken it is."

PITTSFIELD — The effects of rapidly-changing immigration policies are nothing short of dizzying, local advocates say.

Leaders of the Berkshire Immigrant Center are struggling to meet the demand for guidance in legal channels, they said, and those channels seem to change at every turn.

"There's a sense, I think, among activists that we're constantly battling a new head of a beast," said Brook Mead, executive director of the center.

For the first time, the nonprofit is organizing a fundraiser that Mead hopes will help the agency meet rising demand. The event, One World Concert, kicks off at 3 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox.

Rahima Hohlstein, pianist and co-chair of the One World Concert, said the event features music inspired by points around the world. From klezmer to African storytelling and Latin jazz, the event will highlight a diverse mix of music meant to reflect the diversity of our country.

A new wave of xenophobia has swept the nation after the election of President Donald Trump, organizers said. Said Hohlstein: "I just felt I needed to do something. I just wanted to take action to make the world a little bit better."

The event also features an auction during intermission. Kim and James Taylor have donated two tickets and backstage passes to his annual July 4 performance at Tanglewood, and a personalized copy of his book, "Sweet Baby James." State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli is slated to be the event's auctioneer.

Because the event relied on volunteers and in-kind donations, organizers said, all proceeds go squarely to the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

Kate Barton, co-chair of the One World Concert and a BIC board member, said the concert furthers the agency's mission and celebrates "what we get from other cultures — the music, the art, the talent, the brainpower."

"For some of us doing this, it's one of the most important agencies around right now," she said. "For fairly obvious reasons."

The Pittsfield-based nonprofit helps immigrants do everything from reuniting with family members, to finding health care for sick children, applying for green cards and navigating immigration court. With a budget of about $250,000 a year, Barton said, "it's a small budget with a very big job."

"It's doing an amazing job with very little," she said of the organization.

Mead said the national conversation surrounding immigration shines a new spotlight on what staff at the center have known for years: "how very broken it is."

She said the organization provides guidance for about 700 people per year, and reaches hundreds more with workshops and presentations for the community. There are three full-time staff members, she said, and three part-time ones.

Each year, she said, the nonprofit sees clients from 70 countries.

One of the biggest increases in demand she has seen surrounds changing policies regarding child immigrants, she said. "Keeping up with them, responding to them, educating immigrants and their allies," Mead said, has become a bigger job.

"We have a horribly broken immigration system," she said. "It keeps families apart. It doesn't meet the needs of our moral character as a country. It doesn't meet the needs of our workforce."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.