This article was written by Arao Ameny for the website Sahara Reporters.
Harlem, NYC—Like many other recent immigrant groups, Africans come to New York City to work, live or settle-down for good, some learning by trial and error about, how to maneuver in the system to access services and resources.
With the growing, large African, immigrant community in Harlem, mostly West African-born and a smaller number from other regions of the continent, Africans in Harlem are the second largest group after Latinos, making up 23 percent of the immigrant population in Central Harlem.
With such rising numbers, African community leaders recognize that families and individuals—especially vulnerable groups that include women and children—face unique obstacles when it comes to accessing resources on account of cultural or language barriers. As a result, community leaders have become more proactive, partnering with City officials and agencies to bring information to their members.
One such event took place on February 28 when the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office joined with the Association of Senegalese of America (ASA) and the New York City Council of African Imams at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem. The forum, in English and French, brought together over 40 city agencies and organizations for an audience of over 200 people.
Papa Setté Drame, the president of Association of Senegalese (ASA), and Imam Souleimane Konaté, head of the NYC Council of African Imams, urged diverse African communities from Senegal; Gambia; Guinea; Mauritania; Ivory Coast; Mali; Uganda; Nigeria; Liberia; Ghana; Burundi; Niger; Togo; Congo; and many other countries; to ask questions in order to obtain the information necessary for empowering their communities.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said that his office is hosting a series of programs to specifically target the growing African immigrant population. “The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, along with your partners in the city and law enforcement agencies, community organizations, and the African community, is committed to empowering immigrant communities and families with tools and information to [prevent] fraud,” Vance said.
As faith is at the center of African life, Father Evariste Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso, who heads the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus; and Imam Konate, an Ivorien from Masjid Aqsa (Aqsa mosque), offered prayers for the interfaith audience. Both of them urged the crowd to not only use the information but also share it with those in their respective communities who were not able to attend.
The topics covered included: issues that affect victims of crime; education; and resources and services available to the African community; including translation and language services. Speakers talked about the roles of different government agencies; what to do when one is a victim of a crime, especially immigration crimes; how to use 311, as opposed to 911 to access City services, or when and how to access the police department, if necessary.
Konaté, addressing the crowd, said, “We Africans, we are here to stay. We are not going anywhere. Let’s integrate and be civically engaged.”
He said he recognized the belief of solving problems in-house as a commonality that cuts across many African cultures, instead of going outside the community to seek help. “That’s our culture, we want to solve things inside first.” He pointed out that while that may be helpful in some cases, it is sometimes necessary to reach outside in order to strengthen and empower their communities from the inside.
Mr. Vance observed that new immigrants are often victims of fraud, especially immigration fraud, because they do not understand how the system works, explaining, “Which is why it is important for law enforcement and city agencies to reach out to our growing immigrant communities and make them aware of available services, programs and resources.”