Leaders from about 20 organizations convened at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to engage in a conversation on the needs of the African community in Minnesota and lay the foundation for their collaboration. The conference was facilitated by the African Federation, Inc (AFI) and the Immigrant Development Center (IDC) to promote AFI’s National African Diaspora Mobilization Project (NAMPD), which aims to establish a strong network of African serving organizations in the United States. The project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Four Freedoms Fund (FFF).
Founded in 2005, AFI’s mission has been to provide technical assistance to African-serving organizations and mobilize African immigrants into a collective for social change in the US and Africa. Benjamin Afrifa who is the chair of AFI’s board of directors has already held similar conferences in 12 cities and the organization now has over 100 organization-members. There are over one million African immigrants in the US and Minnesota has one of the largest populations.
“What are we doing with these numbers? What are we doing to bring our issues to the forefront?” Afrifa posed to his audience.
Afrifra explained to Mshale the importance of organizations banding together to lobby their issues as a community, “Other immigrant communities have at least one organization that speaks on behalf of the community at the national level. Take the Liberian issue for example, 14,000 people are going to be deported at the end of March.”
AFI was instrumental in the advocacy for an Office on African Affairs in DC and Philadelphia, which set up offices in city governments. “We hope this will be replicated and we are also seeking to establish an African Resource Centers in every city,” Afrifa explained.
As the various leaders began to explore common goals, which will ultimately be the basis for their collaboration, they analyzed the successes and challenges facing the communities they represented. Topping the list of noted successes were the academic achievements and business establishments of their communities, who mostly come from countries where these opportunities are close to non-existent due to civil strife. It was also agreed that the African community in general has been successful in permeating various professional fields such as healthcare, media, academia, law and information technology.
Others were pleased with the increased opportunities for women. “More power to women is making our communities more successful,” said African Community Services director, Abdillahi Nur.
Attendees felt that in many ways their communities still faced extraordinary challenges. Many are still struggling to become economically self-sufficient. Many concerns were aired about the African youth; some said the youth were losing their African culture and identity and others worried about the increase in violent activities. Because of a lack of collaboration between their communities and the government agencies, representatives complained about the difficulty accessing social services. Others felt that policies affecting their communities were being implemented without their consultation. Racism and discrimination were found to problematic especially in the workforce.
Without a united front for national and local advocacy on issues pertinent to the African community it was acknowledges that addressing these challenges would be difficult.
A distinct difference between the African communities present was that those from rural communities felt more united while the larger communities in the metro area complained about divisions amongst themselves. To combat these divisions and promote unity among the various African groups there were calls for collaboration by community leaders to organize events where African immigrants can share their diverse cultures and increase capacity building.
Afrifa urged “Organizing has to take place at a local level; while AFI cannot do the work for you, we will support your efforts.”.