Thursday, November 21, 2013
By: Senah Yeboah-Sampong
Only two weeks ago Abdi Warsame was elected to the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the highest-ranked elected official of Somali decent in the country. The overwhelming support he received reflects the power in numbers held by African immigrant communities on the brink of a new realm of civic engagement.
The official launch of Little Africa St. Paul, a budding business and cultural district, marks a push towards higher visibility and greater recognition of the economic powerвЂ”$1.4 billionвЂ” within those communities.
State Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright attended the celebration, held at the Snelling CafГ© at 638 Snelling Avenue North. Owner Afeworki Bein served a tantalizing buffet with two cakes provided by Rebecca Bakery. The night included interludes from dancer India Jamal. Community leaders from four African nations offered remarks, followed by a Q & A session and comments from Wright.
Wright said she sees Little Africa and itвЂ™s Free Library as an example of the pride the community has, вЂњnot only in America but in our countries of origin and our ancestral roots.вЂќ
The вЂњpolitical tectonic platesвЂќ that shifted with the election of Warsame, Alondra Cano and Blong Yang were helped by the redistricting panel Wright chaired, said Bruce Corrie, Vice President at Concordia University and a panelist at the launch.
вЂњWe lift as we climb. We share our resources for the good of the whole,вЂќ said Wright. вЂњThis is our legacy.вЂќ Little Africa also embodies community by merging values and traditions while opening a path for new customs and practices to guide the community forward, she said.
The African Economic Development services cultivated Little Africa over the past two years, in step with their mission to build wealth within African communities through entrepreneurism. The district, between St. PaulвЂ™s La Fond and University Avenues will become a foundation to build business and culture and strengthen ties between African communities, said Gene Gelgelu, AEDS executive director.
вЂњThe idea is for all of us to be part of this organization,вЂќ said Ghas Mends of the Sierra Leone Community. вЂњThe name of the game is the economy.вЂќ
Kenny Odusote, president of MinnesotaвЂ™s West African Collaborative also sees this as a chance to foster intercultural understanding.
вЂњLittle Africa brings together all the ethnic groups within individual countries,вЂќ said Odusote. вЂњWe hope we will be able to have Minnesotans understand more of the continent of Africa.вЂќ
AEDS has also partnered with the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, Nexus Community Partners and Concordia for the launch. Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the Oromo communities were represented but more work needs to be done in order to bring all potential stakeholders to the table, Gelgelu said.
вЂњWe are a small community in Skyline Tower,вЂќ said Hadi Khalif, during the Q & A. вЂњHow does [Little Africa leadership] engage the community? We have never had a time to discuss our plans or issues.вЂќ
вЂњWe appreciate your presence,вЂќ Gelgelu told Khalif. вЂњWeвЂ™ve had some time to share our plans to have an international marketplace. We from Little Africa would welcome a representative of Skyline Tower to be a part of our leadership team.вЂќ
Michael Fondungallah, representing Cameroon, called the push for Little Africa strategic. His wish is to see some of the Cameroonian businesses in Brooklyn Park relocate to Little Africa St. Paul and add to the sight of more reminders from home.
вЂњHopefully, this is something we will cherish and leave for our children,вЂќ he said.