a sign that said, “Bienvenidos todos somos inmigrantes”
(“Welcome, we are all immigrants”), Rich Pellegrino began
his pilgrimage in 2007 to welcome immigrants to this country and also
began his journey of understanding the immigration dilemma and serving
as a mediator between the Latino community and those who are not
familiar with it.
of Love campaign at Centennial Olympic Park.
at the State Capitol during the Labor of Love campaign.
Rich Pellegrino: Person of the Year 2007
He is a white male of European descent, doesn’t speak Spanish,
isn’t married to a Latina, but to an Afro-Caribbean woman. He
wasn’t born in Latin America, but in the capital of the world,
New York City, he is Rich Pellegrino, Atlanta Latino’s Person of
the Year for 2007.
But despite his lack of direct connection with the Latino community,
exactly one year ago, Pellegrino, his wife of 25 years and their eight
children (ages 24, 22, 21, 19, 17, 15, 9, and 6) began what he calls a
“family movement” to help immigrants.
“We are all immigrants,” Pellegrino frequently says,
despite the fact that his parents were also born in the United States
and three of his grandparents were Italian.
Pellegrino’s “family movement” started last Christmas
when he read the news in local newspapers about the various regulations
that Georgia’s counties were trying to push through to supposedly
counteract the problems being caused by undocumented immigrants.
The final straw was the proposal to prohibit the lease of apartments to
people who were not legal residents or citizens of Cherokee County.
“That woke me up. We wanted to fight illegal immigration with
illegal unconstitutional laws, when hate and fear have to be healed
with love and welcome,” says Pellegrino, who was out on a street
corner in southern Cobb County with his family the very next day,
carrying bilingual signs that said, “Welcome immigrants.
A few days later, the Pellegrinos did the same in Cherokee County. The
response was favorable in both cases.
“White and black people honked and waved,” says Pellegrino.
“We did get a few fingers, but the response was mostly
That was only the beginning of what was to be an entire year dedicated
to working with people and organizations that defend the interests of
2007 was a year of intense work that awakened the interest of media
outlets like Fox News, LA Times, the AJC, and more, who found
Pellegrino’s story to be far from conventional: an American
defending the rights of immigrants.
Specifically, Pellegrino provided the spark for the “Labor of
Love” campaign, the peaceful event that brought together hundreds
of people in Centennial Olympic Park, where community leaders
distributed pamphlets on their work and invited participants to place
red, white, and blue carnations in a gigantic heart of 7,000 flowers as
a show of goodwill and encourage authorities and the local population
toward dialogue, integration, and working together.
“Rich was the one who pulled the event together,” says
Teodoro Maus, one of the activists who participated in the event and
one of those who nominated Pellegrino for this award. “He started
out by convincing skeptics, and later coordinated all of the logistical
details such as permits, dates, etc.”
A LIFE OF SERVICE
It’s no coincidence that Pellegrino has taken such an active role
in defending undocumented individuals, given his lengthy and consistent
track record in serving others.
He has been the founder, director, member, and collaborator of several
non-profit humanitarian organizations, including crisis and referral
centers, community food pantries, homeless and women’s shelters
and resource centers, addiction prevention and treatment clinics,
faith-based initiatives, United Way committees, and more – and
immigrant aid organizations as well, starting this year.
His vast experience in community service and his countless travels, as
well as the six years he spent in the Caribbean (his wife is originally
from St. Vincent) and a life dedicated to the study of spiritual
practices have led him to write and publish professional and
faith-based articles, newspaper columns, training materials, courses,
He has also produced and hosted faith-based self-help radio and
television programs and series.
A SPIRITUAL MISSION
Pellegrino emphasizes that his intervention in defense of the immigrant
is a spiritual mission.
“There are many misconceptions about Latinos and prejudice, but
especially all kinds of fears,” says Pellegrino.
“Information helps, but it doesn’t heal the heart.”
According to Pellegrino, to combat their own pain, people attack those
who are different when they are perceived as a threat to their dominant
position. The same situation has repeated itself over and over again
through history – first with European immigrants, then with
blacks, then with Muslims, and now with Latinos.
However, Pellegrino has not lost hope that the final outcome will be
positive, even though the journey is a difficult one.
“I believe this will be the quickest time that as a group we hate
somebody and then we forget about it,” says Pellegrino.
“The sad thing is that (in Georgia) it will get worse before it
While the situation is still changing, Pellegrino is preparing to
finalize in 2008 two projects he began this past year, and is
continuing his work as a mediator and coordinator of activities aimed
at reducing tensions between Americans and Latinos.
The first project is the establishment of the Atlanta chapter of
Healing Our Nation, a nationwide organization dedicated to promoting
the resolution of disputes through peaceful dialogue.
The second project is the publication of The Survival Manual for Latino
Immigrants (Manual de Supervivencia para Inmigrantes Latinos), a
booklet that will include an historical timeline of immigration in the
United States and practical information for Hispanic immigrants.
As a man of faith, Pellegrino feels that his work and the work of all
those who support the cause of immigrants will help people resolve
issues in ways that bring benefits to all.
“I believe the arrival of Latinos is part of a greater plan of
the Higher Power for this country,” says Pellegrino.
He also says that he is available to provide an ear or assistance to
anyone who needs a hand.
“Please include my phone number – it’s 404-573-1199
– and my email, which is email@example.com because my last
name means ‘pilgrim,’” says Pellegrino. “I
think it’s a cute coincidence.”, he concludes.