African Leadership Group Bridging the Gap Between Africans and African-Americans
Papa Dia moved to Colorado from Senegal, Africa in 1998 with a goal that most immigrants have – to find opportunities to support the families they left behind.
He didn’t expect to create a local organization that has become a pillar of support for one of the fastest growing immigrant populations inUnited States for more than 14 years through his organization African Leadership Group. Its mission is to help the African diaspora integrate and prosper by connecting cultures.
Dia earned money by working at the Tattered Cover Bookstore stocking books, often times for more than 10 hours a day. He moved on to a bank job, where he quickly became a visual hero and social support system for other immigrants.
“My fellow African people would be surprised to see me working in a bank,” Dia explains. “Usually, that was not the common thing, to see African immigrants in such a professional environment.”
Dia saw firsthand how African immigrants struggled with transferring their skills and knowledge into a new country, and quickly learned that TV portrayals of becoming an instant millionaire after arriving in America were far from reality.
“We have people that were doctors back home,” Dia says, “professionals back home, but when they come here, it is a nightmare. They end up being cab drivers or working at McDonald’s.”
The transitionof living in America has proven more difficult than overcoming language barriers.
Dia noticed that most of the established organizations provided temporary resources for refugees. As customers started showing up at the bank and asking him for help with building credit and with translation and immigration papers, the bank started to express concern. So Dia created a resolution that focuses on sustainability.
Dia foundedAfrican Leadership Group in 2006. The organization consists of several committees that focus on three specific impact goals: social impact, educational impact, and economic impact with the goal of supporting the professional integration of African immigrants.
There’s also a strong focus on young people with the Youth Empowerment Program. Throughpublic speaking class, visit to the state’s capital, and Friday spent at the African Leadership Group Community Center, youth become more equipped for success in America and less susceptible to the struggles faced by many immigrants.
Dia isn’t alone. ALG has several volunteers, leadersand facilitators invested in its work. But ALG’s focus isn’t solely on people from abroad.
Bridging the Gap
While ALG’s work has proven to be a successful way of blending communities, Dia acknowledges there is still work to be done – specifically in deepening the relationship between African immigrants and African-Americans.
“There is a gap between African and African-Americans,” Dia says. “We never talk about it. We each stay in our corner and remain very judgmental toward each other.”
Dia says there’s plenty of support from the Black community from organizations like the Denver Urban League and the NAACP. However, lack of education on both sides can lead to division and missed opportunities between immigrants and Black people.
“Overall, there is a need to educate one another, there is a need to work together and to get to know each other more,” Dia says. “Yes, I have had interactions with African-American brothers and sisters and it was not that great because they just did not understand and vice versa.”
That may be hard to digest, considering the fact that both African immigrants and African-Americans face discrimination. Although our experiences are different, our struggle is the same, Dia says.
“We face even more of a challenge now with the youth,” Dia says. “I think this is where parents need to be mindful becauseyouth, when they hear a conversation around them, they listen. And when they go out, they repeat the exact same thing they hear from their parents.”
Natalya Montague, 12, was born in Colorado. Her mother is from South Africa and her father is from Ohio. She’s been a part of the Youth Empowerment Program at ALG for a few months and said she feels at home.
“At school, there aren’t a lot of other African kids, and I feel like when you are African, some kids turn it into a bad thing,” Montague says. “I’ve learned that I’m not alone and there are other kids I can be myself with and connect with here.”
Juliet Sebold is the Youth Empowerment director and moved to the UnitedStated from Sierra Leone when she was 12. She holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Healthcare Management.
As someone who immigrated at an impressionable age, Sebold can relate to Montague’s feelings.
“Coming here at that age can be confusing,” Sebold explains. “For most kids, they were born here, but I have African parents, which is completely different when you’re growing up in that household, but you’re an American.”
Sebold says she needed to redefine who she was in certain ways. Kids weren’t the best at recognizing and accepting differences.
“When I went to school, I spoke with an accent, and kids let me know I spoke with an accent, like, ‘Oh, you said that differently!’ Sebold recalls.
Now, she focuses on helping young people like Montague understand that it’s okay to be African or have African parents. It’s okay to be diverse, and it’s okay to educate other people to break stereotypes.
ALG’s signature event, Afrik-Impact is a three-day festival this year, marking its third annual celebration. Dia and Sebold both emphasize that this is a community event. You don’t have to be African or African-American to attend.
The event’s purpose is to showcase Afrik-Impact’s influence in Colorado. This year’s topic is leadership and education. Its long-term objective is to have the month of August recognized as African Immigrant Month by the State of Colorado. Afrik-Impact starts on Thursday, August 9, at Denver Botanic Gardens with a concert that will feature performances by special guests from Africa.
On Friday, August 10, ALG will highlight its impact on African diaspora youth through the African Wax Museum. Similar to the height markings on a wall – the event celebrates the progress of youth. Their visual project will include props and symbolic wardrobe to educate the community about African history before slavery.
Dia says African pre-slavery history is very important. He asserts that it also bridges the divide between Africans and African Americans.
To support that effort, the festival will close with the Afrik-Impact Gala on Saturday, August 11, at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The keynote speaker will be the Honorable Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee who made history by becoming the first Black mayor of Helena, Montana.
Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at www.usalg.org.
Future of Afrik-Impact
When asked about obstacles of the African immigrant in comparison to African-Americans, Dia says, “Our struggles are not different, but our experiences are different.” Dia is continuously finding ways to promote positive integration. “We’ve got to stop allowing people to divide us to conquer,” he says. “We’re not different. Whether they call us African immigrant, African-American – we are all Black people. We’ve got to come together.”
ALG is looking to expand its language course offerings. Right now, ALG offers public speaking classes to help African immigrants feel more comfortable with their English. Dia would like to offer French language courses, as French is the primary language in many African countries.
Offering French language courses wouldaide in overcoming the barriers between Americans and African immigrants by eliminating the stress placed on African immigrants to adapt.
Dia’s goal is to continue to foster an environment where everyone feels welcome at the table.
“Everything we do is around people. I want to help African people prosper and immigrate by reaching out to every culture,” Dia says.
The commitment to helping people through service has led ALG’s success and preparationto reach new heights. The organization plans to expand on a national and international scale.
“What we do is so big,” Dia says, “that we are needed in other cities.”.