African Immigrant attendees with $2.5 million aggregate income.
The Little Africa Fest at Hamline Park on August 23, 2014 was a huge success. Among the many successes were the following:
- It brought together a diverse mix of African immigrants as well as neighbors from the Hamline Park area and other parts of the metro area. “This is the first time in Saint Paul we have such an event celebrating African immigrants and bringing diverse groups together,” was a common theme of community leaders such as Dr. Leon Rodriguez (MNSCU), President Tom Ries (Concordia University), Babu Chimata (India Association of MN), Al Paulson (The Circle Newspaper), Edward McDonald (Council on Black Minnesotans) and Ezell Jones.
- It brought people from 15 cities and 32 zip codes to the area. Research of festival participants funded by the McKnight Foundation revealed that the Little Africa Fest drew people from 15 cities and 32 zip codes. African immigrants at the fest were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, Cameroon and the Oromo people.
- It introduced non-African customers to the African restaurants. “A lot of non -African customers visited my restaurant at the fest. They told me the enjoyed the cultural performances and now were enjoying sampling African food and wine,” said Snelling Café owner Afeworki Tekle Bein.
- It helped business owners develop new product offerings. “Based on popular demand at the Little Africa Fest I am going to serve traditional African coffee every Sunday,” said Adiam Ghebretensa co-owner of Sunshine Café. “One person wanted to buy a bottle of the African wine that was offered as part of the wine tasting experience. I am going to stock some of African wines for my customers, “ said Afeworki of Snelling Café .
- It helped illustrate the vision of Little Africa. The mission of Little Africa is to leverage the rich and diverse business, arts and cultural assets of Minnesota’s growing African immigrant populations to build sustainable wealth within these communities. Kathy Mouacheupao and Adrianne Abariotes of LISC celebrated the successes of Little Africa as an important part of the cultural attractions along the Green Line. LISC was one of the major sponsors of the fest. The community thanked Kathy for her work in developing a map of the cultural attractions along the Green Line. “Now the community can see what we have been talking about for many years,” said Gene Gelgelu.
- It inspired people to think about opening new businesses in the area. “I want to expand my furniture upholstery business,” said Samson or Samson Upholstery. “I am looking for a place to locate my law office,” said attorney Michael Fondungullah.
- For many it was the first time they met with legislative leaders – Minnesota Senate President Sandy Pappas and Representative Rena Moran were chief guests at the event. Senator Pappas welcomed the creation of Little Africa – a business and cultural district celebrating African immigrant assets. Representative Moran visited the owners of Snelling Café, Sunshine Café, Fasika Restaurant, and Freweini’s Sunshine Beauty Salon and offered her support.
- It launched a new activity – the Little Africa Book Club. Dr. Debra Beilke of Concordia University and poet and community leader Hassan Hussien launched the Little Africa Book club which will meet September 24 from 6:30 to 8 pm at Snelling Café to discuss the book, Americanah by Chimamanda Nzogi. Copies of the book will be available for borrowing at the Little Africa Free Library at Snelling Café.
- It launched the African Market Potential Study funded by the McKnight Foundation and conducted by Concordia University in partnership with African Economic Development Solutions and African immigrant groups. “For the first time we have hard data on the economy of a community festival. Our small sample of 55 African immigrants from diverse backgrounds revealed that they are an important engine of economic growth in their neighborhoods spending over $30,000 every month on household expenses. They represented a $2.5 million economic engine revitalizing 15 cities where they live and work,” said Dr. Bruce Corrie, economist at Concordia University.
- It brought pride to the community and the neighborhood. Festival attendees repeatedly expressed pride in the celebration of African cultural and business assets. Business owners of Fasika Restaurant and Sunshine building volunteered to work to take the next festival to new heights.
- Strong support for the concept of Little Africa – 92 percent of the African immigrants surveyed at the fest supported the concept of Little Africa. This corresponds to an earlier survey by AEDS on business owners who also strongly supported the concept.
“The vibrant energy of the artists and the warmth of our neighbors in the Hamline park area who came out to celebrate with the community, was very special,” said Gene Gelgelu of African Economic Development Solutions, which organized the festival in partnership with the Little Africa Development Group. Members of the Little Africa Development Group are: Gene Gelgelu, Dr. Kehinde Odusote, Michael Fondungullah, Mesfin Negia, Hassan Hussein, Nafisa Farah, Karifa Jalloh, and Dr. Bruce Corrie.
After enjoying the vibrant community drumming by artist Jesse Buckner and Solomon Bedane and the energy of the African dances by Tujare (Indy) Mohamad, and poetry by Hassan Hussein, the participants sampled African food and wine at Snelling Café, traditional Ethiopian coffee at Sunshine Café and more African wine tasting at Fasika restaurant. Other popular attractions at Little Africa Fest were beautiful art work by African artist Sara Endlaw and Yiran African Arts and Design and Streetcorner Letterpress by Jon Reynolds and Witt Siasoco.
Little Africa is a branding and marketing campaign focusing on African immigrant economic assets in three nodal points around primary transit corridors – the Blue Line, Green Line and Bottineau Corridor. Little Africa is an initiative of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) in partnership with the Little Africa Development Group. The mission of Little Africa is to leverage the rich and diverse business, arts and cultural assets of Minnesota’s growing African immigrant populations to build sustainable wealth within these communities.
Major sponsors of the Little Africa Fest were LISC, Central Corridor Funder’s Collaborative, AEDS and Concordia University. Supporters included the City of Saint Paul, Park and Recs, Hamline Midway Coalition, Mosaic, Friends of Hamline Park, Nexus Community Partners, and Neighborhood Development Center.
For more information contact Gene Gelgelu at 651.646.9411 or visit AEDS website at www.aeds-mn.org.