African Women in the Diaspora revisit Pan-Africanism

Last month, women of African descent gathered at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center, in St. Paul, for the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Summit (PAWPS) to reignite a Pan-African women’s movement paying close attention to their role as philanthropists. The women represented different segments of the African Diaspora (which include recent immigrants, and African Americans), with Naomi Tutu, co-founder of the Tutu Foundation and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the guest speaker.

According to a study done by the McKnight Foundation, the population growth of the African American community (the census grouped African Americans and Africans as one) is as a result of a higher birth rate than death rate, migration from other states and Africa.

"Minnesota has a well-deserved national reputation for philanthropic giving and innovation," said Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, PAWPS organizer and a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute. "Minnesota’s new immigrants and U.S.-born people of African-descent have unique giving practices, and the field of philanthropy understands very little about their traditions. Women in these communities are at the forefront of community giving and caring. This summit aims to offer resources to new immigrants and to local nonprofit leaders serving this population."

Carson was eager to mobilize women of African descent in building the African Diaspora since she was confident that this would have a lasting impact on the community. She encouraged participants to continue the ongoing conversation in re-energizing the Pan-African dream. "What binds is not just our problems, such as high levels of HIV/AIDS individuals and violence. However, we need to use our collective energy in overcome these.”

Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, the interim President and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation acknowledged the need of women of African descent to work together. "There are very few funds in the state that reflect the need of the Pan-African woman. However, the mission of the [Minneapolis] foundation compels us to encompass the community as a whole.”

In a compassionate plea to women of African descent, Naomi Tutu called out to women to take charge as the world had began coming to terms with the power of women as leaders. Tutu argued that for several reasons, including forced migration, African women have been separated for centuries and that it was time that they took the challenge to look for a connectedness and work together on their dream of passing on a better world. Speaking on the perceived division between Africans and African Americans in the Diaspora, Tutu asked participants to examine the history of this division allowing an opportunity to educate and challenge each other. She challenged the Diaspora to, as is in African tradition, to tell each other’s story so that they could continue upholding their inter-connectedness. On philanthropy, Tutu was quick to remind philanthropists to maintain a connection to the individuals in need. She also recognized that the world would not be able to heal until it listened to the voice of women.

Tutu, speaking on Ubuntu, an age-old African term for humaneness; caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation, asked participants not to give up the sense of community since, "it takes a whole village to raise a child."

One of the participants, an African American mother of two, gave a heartbreaking story on how her son came home crying because he felt a desperate need to understand the African language being spoken by a group of African children on the bus. Her son questioned his identity, and for the first time in her life, she declared, "I am African."

Another participant, of Somali descent, spoke of the challenges of allowing her children to come into their own, and accepting their two cultures. She had to reinforce that being African was beautiful as they had a rich culture. She asserted the need for Africans and African Americans to unite on a contextual relationship based on culture.

Tsehai Wedajo, co-founder of REAL which is an organization based in Minneapolis that sponsors the education of teenage Ethiopian girls, in a panel discussing the role of women philanthropists, urged participants on the importance of education from the grassroots level in empowering them. "Educating the girl child through cultural navigation and empowerment allows effective development of women as leaders in their community," she said.

The summit, included whole-day sessions in which women discussed varied issues including: Enrichment of African self, Philanthropy in the African concept, and the history of the African Diaspora in the US. The summit was sponsored by the Humphrey Institute, the Minnesota African Women’s Association, the Powderhorn-Phillips Cultural Wellness Center, the International Leadership Institute, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Otto Bremer Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Family Housing Fund.

About Julia N. Opoti

A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine

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