Reza Jalali, a former refugee who is an author, educator and human rights activist, has been named executive director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

Reza Jalali

Reza Jalali Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center

The nonprofit organization, which works to strengthen the immigrant community through language acquisition, economic integration and civic engagement, chose Jalali to fill a position that was held by center co-founder Alain Jean Claude Nahimana until his death in May.

Jalali was selected from 40 applications from across the county and a diverse swath of candidates, Search Committee Chairperson Kossi Gamedah said Monday.

“Ultimately, we know that Reza’s leadership and deep ties to Maine and the communities we serve will be tremendous assets,” Gamedah said in a written statement.

An Iranian Kurd who has lived in Maine since 1985, Jalali has taught at the University of Southern Maine and Bangor Theological Seminary. From 2006 to 2017, Jalali coordinated the USM Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and oversaw its Multicultural Center. More recently, he served as the special adviser on equity and inclusion to the president at USM.

Jalali, who lives in Falmouth, is a widely recognized community organizer and advocate for immigrants. He founded Portland’s first immigrant advocacy center, which had an office at the former Chestnut Street Methodist Church and served as a home for a coalition of immigrant-run groups.


“As a former refugee, I feel honored to be given the chance to serve the immigrant communities,” Jalali said of his appointment. “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.”

As a member of Amnesty International USA’s board of directors, Jalali has led delegations to refugee camps in Turkey and Bosnia. He has participated in many United Nations-sponsored international conferences and was invited to the White House as part of a national delegation to discuss the plight of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq.

A Muslim scholar, Jalali’s work includes “Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracles,” a children’s book that received a Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multicultural Book. Jalali has been featured as a storyteller on NPR’s “The Moth Radio Hour.”

He has two master’s degrees, in human services administration from Antioch New England Graduate School, and in creative writing from USM. He has served on numerous boards and currently is a member of the Maine Arts Commission and the advisory board of the New England Arab American Organization (NEAAO) Asian American Association of Maine.

“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,” said Mary Allen Lindemann, chairperson of the center’s board.

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