Wynfred “Billy Dee” Russell, a Liberian-born educator and longtime resident of Minnesota, announced Thursday that he will contest for the presidency of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, adding excitement to what is already braced to be a contentious election year.
Russell, 34, an adjunct faculty member at North Hennepin Community College and a former lecturer at the University of Minnesota, told a crowd of Liberians that OLM had been dormant for many years and needed to be rejuvenated.
“Previous leaderships have missed opportunities for grassroots participation and good will,” Russell said. “They have lost the impetus for partnership and collaboration with many essential community members.”
Russell was speaking at a press conference in the African Food Market store in Crystal. He said some Liberians had ceased to associate themselves with OLM because the 30-year-old organization had failed to reach out to the entire community. The reason was because OLM did not have clearly-defined goals, and was focused on too many issues, some of which could not be attained without involving the entire community, he said.
“OLM is not an elephant that’s going to do everything alone,” Russell said. “We are not going to do everything.”
Instead, Russell promised to achieve OLM’s mission of serving Liberian immigrants by involving already-established organizations and creating networks to empower the community.
Russell outlined what he called “the five pillars” that he would implement if elected. They include: creating children and youth programs to reduce teen pregnancies, violence, drug use, and school dropout rates; writing grants for a $200,000 emergency fund; and setting up education and professional development program for adults. He also promised to create a health and social welfare awareness program to educate Liberian immigrants on HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer, and also to advocate for Liberians on Temporary Protective Status to get permanent residency before the 18-month extension given by President George W. Bush on Wednesday expires.
Russell also said that his team was already soliciting money for a $250,000 scholarship fund to benefit Liberians who can’t afford college.
OLM elections will be held on Nov. 20. So far only Russell and OLM board member, Georgette Gray, have declared candidacy for the top post. Martha Sinoe, OLM’s current president declined to say if she would be running for re-election, but said she would make an announcement sometime next week.
Russell said he would run a “tight, clean and professional campaign” free of personal attacks and promised to reconcile with the other candidates and their camps, regardless of the poll outcome. That is something Abdullah Kiatamba, OLM’s current chairman of the board of directors, said lacks in OLM.
“Candidates played the politics of character assassination and personal attacks,” Kiatamba said. “The organization sometimes gets too political and that has driven people away.”