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Little Africa Launched with Community Leaders and Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright

“Lift up as you Climb” – says Justice Wilhelmina Wright to community leaders….

Little Africa – a marketing and branding campaign, that grew out of the World Cultural Heritage District in St. Paul was launched in St. Paul on November 14, 2013.

“There is tremendous economic and cultural energy in the African immigrant community reflected in its $1.4 billion buying power in Minnesota”, said Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of African Economic Development Solutions and founding chair of the Little Africa Development Group. “This evening you will experience that vibrant energy,” he added.

“The core area of Little Africa St. Paul is the area by the intersection of Snelling and University Avenue in St. Paul. Little Africa-St. Paul will connect this core to African immigrant assets in other areas of St. Paul and in a way that will connect mainstream consumers and people to the business and cultural assets of the African immigrant community,” said Gelgelu. “We are working with partners to establish Little Africa-Minneapolis and Little Africa-Brooklyn Boulevard.”

The program began with a lively cultural dance by India Jamal – an African immigrant dancer who shared three different traditional dances from Africa throughout the program. The program also featured photographs of the African immigrant community taken by Roseville Area High School student, Cristina Corrie.

The Little Africa Development Group leaders shared insights into their communities and supported the vision of Little Africa. Hassan Hussein, Executive Director of the Oromo Community of Minnesota shared insights about the large Oromo community of Minnesota. “We estimate that there are over 30,000 Oromo people living in Minnesota,” Hussein said. “It is a very diverse community and has much to offer Minnesota. We support the vision of Little Africa” he added.

Lemlem Kebede, President of the Ethiopian Community in Minnesota also supported the vision of Little Africa in her remarks. “The Ethiopian community celebrates many festivals including its annual picnic at Fort Snelling State Park. We welcome you all to join us in those celebrations,” said Kebede.

Michael Fondungullah, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce and founding member of the Cameroonian Community of Minnesota has a long history of involvement in working to create a pan-African economic presence in Minnesota. “My vision is to see this area bustling with businesses owned by African immigrant communities. We could even host – ‘Africa Day’- on this section of Snelling Avenue,” he added.

Ghas Mends, board member from the Sierra Leone Community of Minnesota said, “We are an umbrella group of the diverse Sierra Leone community of Minnesota. We love Minnesota and our community members have many talents that could help build the state.”

Dr. Kehinde Odusote, President of the West African Collaborative and Social Secretary of the Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development (MIND) shared information on the Nigerian community in Minnesota. “MIND is the umbrella body for all diverse Nigerian ethnic groups in Minnesota. As an organization, we promote our cultural and economic capacity as we foster unity though social, educational and economic development. Our vision is to provide a platform that allows Nigerians to become productive citizens through cultural sensitive values. We are excited about the possibilities of Little Africa initiative,” she said.

Dr. Bruce Corrie, co-founder of the World Cultural Heritage District and professor of economics at Concordia University, introduced Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright.

Justice Wright gave a powerful and eloquent presentation to the packed Snelling Café as she celebrated both the African immigrant communities as well as core American values. She articulated what community members agreed was a core value of Little Africa, “Lift up as we Climb” Justice Wright told the community. She said she was particularly happy to be at the launch of the Little Africa Free Library as literacy is so important for community vitality. She presented information on the courts in multiple languages, to be placed in the Little Africa Free Library.

In the question and answer session moderated by Dr. Odusote, community members both supported the vision of Little Africa as well as inquired about plans to engage with African immigrant groups in different parts of the city. Business owners inquired about resources to help them develop their business plans and new business initiatives.

Lisa Tabor, owner of Culture Brokers and co-founder of the World Cultural Heritage District, presented the vision of the Little Africa Free Library that adds to the many little free libraries across Minnesota’s neighborhoods. “Community members can borrow books free and lend some of their own for others to read. In the Little Africa Free Library at Snelling Café you will find books by famous African authors. Come and share these books and enjoy this beautiful Snelling Café,” she added.

Paige Joostens, a business major at Concordia University, reported results of the research on the college student market for ethnic food that was released to the public at the event. ”Our research indicates that there is an opportunity for both college students and ethnic restaurants to gain,” said Joostens. Business owners and supporters will be invited to a meeting in January to discuss these findings. The research was funded through a grant from Minnesota Campus Compact. The students will also engage in a marketing effort to bring college customers to ethnic restaurants and delivery vendors, including those restaurants in Little Africa.

Two entrepreneurs shared their story at the event. Afeworki Bein, owner of Snelling Café shared his support for Little Africa and his story of how he started from a small coffee shop to a full service restaurant in an expanded space. Participants at the launch feasted on an African buffet cooked by Afeworki and his staff.

Teshome Belayeneh, owner of Rebecca’s Bakery, celebrated the support he received in America as a new immigrant. He shared with the audience two cakes that were the signature products of his wife. The cakes were thoroughly enjoyed by the people present.

Leaders also celebrated similar concepts in the area – Little Mekong and the Rondo Cultural and Historic District on University Avenue.

“I was impressed with the positive energy in the room,” said President Tom Ries of Concordia University. “It is so special to be part of this dynamic community,” he added.

The event concluded with a call to action by Hassan Hussein who invited all present to work together to build the vision of Little Africa. Next steps include articulating strategies to bring the community together around this vision.

The event was taped for cable by the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) and will be shared on area cable channels in Minnesota.

Little Africa contact persons: Gene Gelgelu 651-646-9411 and Dr. Bruce Corrie 612-321-8263

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