1 See attached Letter to Appellate Court in Support of Futa Islamic Center s Claim to rd Avenue.

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DEPARTMENT OF AFRICAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES BRONX AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY PROJECT S (BAAHP) AFRICAN IMMIGRATION RESEARCH REPORT BY DR JANE KANI EDWARD FUNDED BY A GRANT FROM THE CARNEGIE CORPORATION OF NEW YORK FORWARD The White Paper on African Immigration to the Bronx that you are about to read, written by Dr Jane Kani Edward, Ph.D., is the product of a remarkable journey of discovery by the research team of Fordham University s Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP). When the BAAHP began in the Spring 2003, neither the scholars nor archivists who launched it were aware that the Bronx was the site of the largest concentration of African immigrants in New York City and possibly in the entire Western Hemisphere. Our goal was to gather oral histories to tell the as yet unwritten story of the hundreds of thousands of African- Americans and West Indians who moved to the Bronx from the 1940 s to the 1960 s and to collect written documents that would reinforce the narratives we were recording. But in conducting that research, which took us to neighborhood schools, churches and cultural organizations, we noticed a growing West African presence in the communities we were visiting. African restaurants, groceries, and convenience stores were opening almost daily in neighborhood business districts, women wearing hijab (Islamic scarves) and men wearing traditional African garments were increasingly visible on Bronx streets; children from a wide variety of African nations were a significant portion of the student population in almost every school we visited. When we discussed this growing African presence with our community partners, particularly leaders of The Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Women s Housing and Economic Development Corporation both of which are located in neighborhoods adjoining the Grand Concourse, and with the Principal of Public School 140, located in Morrisania, they told us that African immigrants were the fastest growing component of the communities they served. They urged us to expand our oral history project to include that population. Our experience recruiting student workers at Fordham also encouraged us to make African immigration to the Bronx an important subject of inquiry. As the BAAHP grew large enough to recruit Fordham undergraduates as archivists, transcribers, videographers, and film editors, we noticed that a growing percentage of the students who volunteered were children of African immigrant families living in the Bronx, whose families countries of origin ranged from Nigeria and Ghana, to Mali and Sierra Leone. That Fordham is a highly selective private college and the presence of these students made that fact all the more significant. Clearly, African families were making their mark on the local educational system by sending highly motivated children to the Bronx public schools. Their success there was rewarded by admission to some of the top colleges in the Northeast. 1 When we put everything together, we noticed that something extraordinary was happening in the Bronx. And virtually no one was discussing this in academia or print and broadcast media. African immigrants were revitalizing once decayed Bronx neighborhoods by opening business, churches and mosques, buying homes, and using local public schools as vehicles of individual and collective mobility. This was a story that needed telling and that we, in the BAAHP were uniquely equipped to tell. In summer 2006, we took a first step towards initiating this research by hiring, on a part time basis, Dr. Jane Edward, a Sudanese scholar who had just published a book on Sudanese women in exile, to conduct oral histories with Bronx African immigrants. Since Dr. Edward had just moved to New York and had few contacts in the Bronx, we started our interviews with African immigrant students at Fordham and their families, and African immigrants who were working at the University. We learned that this group composed a large portion of the security force on Fordham s Bronx campus. After the interviews, we had a better sense of their countries of origin, their time of arrival, and the neighborhoods they settled in. The next step was to start reaching out to community organizations to get them involved in recruiting participants for our oral history research. Not long after Dr. Edward began the interviews, an event took place which focused the attention of the entire city of New York on African immigrant communities in the Bronx. In early March 2007, a fire swept through a three-story frame house in the Highbridge Section of the Bronx, killing 10 Malian immigrants, most of which were children. As the city officials, and ordinary citizens grappled with this terrible tragedy, hundreds of African Muslims gathered outside a mosque on Sheridan Avenue where a memorial for the victims were held, making most residents of the city aware, for the first time, that there was a large African Muslim community that had settled in the Bronx. In subsequent days, as reporters swarmed through Bronx neighborhoods to gain background information on the people most affected by this tragedy, some key features of the Bronx s Muslim African immigrant population were revealed. First, that this population largely came from Francophone nations in West Africa-- Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Togo. Second, that while many male members of this community spoke French, many of the women in the community only spoke languages like Malinke, Bambara, Soninke and Wolof, languages that almost no one who worked for schools and health care providers understood. And third, that this community was enrolling large numbers of children in the public schools. They were in desperate need of government services, but were afraid to access them because of language and immigration issues. In the aftermath of the Malian tragedy, the BAAHP decided to seek major funding for its African immigration research. We realized that the subject was one that had important policy implications for those working in education, health care and community economic development as well as for scholars doing research or documenting urban social history. Our first objective was to secure a coordinator for this research. At our request, Fordham created a full time position for Dr. Edward. Following that, we applied for a grant to the Carnegie Corporation of New York to expand our African immigration studies. Funds were received in 2 summer 2008 and the next step we took was to identify African businesses and organizations in the Bronx by walking and driving through the streets of Morrisania, Highbridge, Tremont, Morris Heights, and South Fordham-- the major Bronx districts where the African immigrant population had settled. When this was done, we recruited a research team who had contacts in key Bronx African immigrant communities and could win the confidence of local residents The second objective was more difficult and complicated than the first. Dr. Edward and I had to convince scholars with contacts in the community, as well as community representatives themselves, that our oral histories would not compromise the immigration status of participants. And that in fact, allowing representatives of the community to talk about their experiences would win respect for African immigrants and enhance their ability to obtain needed services and resources. It helped that the BAAHP already had five years of experience conducting oral histories and had an excellent reputation among educators, elected officials and leaders of cbo s. That said, certain changes in our research protocol had to be made to address the concerns of African immigrant communities. Not only did we have to allow participants to record their oral histories without revealing their actual names, we also had to acquire the capacity to conduct interviews conducted in French as well as English. To facilitate recruitment of new members of our research team as well as participants in oral history interviews. Dr. Edward developed an excellent brochure describing the objectives of our African immigration research. This was accompanied by a new release form that allowed participants to use pseudonyms. Armed with these, we literally hit the streets to win support for what we were doing from key individuals and community organizations. The big breakthrough for us came in September 2008 when we set up a table outside the Bronx Museum of the Arts, on 165 th Street and Grand Concourse, as part of a street fair the Museum was sponsoring. This table was at the epicenter of African settlement and sociability in the Bronx, with many African groceries, restaurants, video stores and religious institutions located nearby, and during the seven hours we sat there, many people came by to talk and look through our brochure. As a result of these interactions, we recruited two new members of our research team: Dr. Benjamin Hayford, a professor of education from Ghana,, who seemed to know every leading educator, business leader, minister and imam in the Bronx s huge and expanding Ghanaian community; and Karima Zerrou, a French speaking music promoter, festival organizer and media personality who seemed to know everyone involved in music performance and promotion in New York s Francophone African community. Hayford gave our research team unprecedented access to important leaders of the Ghanaian community, making it much easier to recruit interview participants; Zerrou gave us the capacity to conduct interviews in French as well as English and to recruit interview participants involved in music and media. When they joined us, we now had a research team, and a group of skilled interviewers, that was strong enough and diverse enough to begin winning the confidence of key leaders of the communities we were studying. Over the next year our African immigration research team won the confidence of people in Bronx African communities to a degree neither Dr. Edward nor I could have anticipated when we began this project a year and a half earlier. As soon as they joined our interview staff, Dr. Benjamin 3 Hayford and Karima Zerrou began scheduling interviews from within their networks at the rate of almost one interview per week. But as important as the number and power of the stories these interviews recorded, was their location. Unlike most BAAHP interviews, which took place in our Departmental seminar room at Fordham, the vast majority of interviews Hayford and Zerrou scheduled took place in Bronx neighborhoods-- in churches, Islamic centers, schools, places of business, people s apartments, and at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. One consequence of this neighborhood centered approach, coupled with the sensitivity of our interviewers to people s language, religion and immigration status, is that word began to spread that our researchers could be trusted, not only to help Bronx African immigrants tell their stories, but to serve as advocates for the communities they lived in. Soon we were getting calls from community organizations serving Bronx African communities asking for our help in communicating with elected officials, accessing health care, dealing with immigration issues, and helping get better education resources for their young people. One breakthrough occurred in the Bronx Ghanaian community, where Benjamin Hayford s contacts opened numerous doors, but we also developed good relations with the African Muslim community in the Bronx, who soon began to look to the BAAHP as a valuable ally and advocate. This was in large part due to Dr. Edward s skills in communicating with leaders of mosques and Islamic centers, which she learned growing up in Sudan, but it was also a tribute to the vision of two remarkable individuals who embraced our research and saw its relevance to their own work- Omar Jawo, a former political leader in Gambia who was the first social worker hired by the New York public schools to work with African immigrant children and families and Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, an Imam, business leader and community organizer who headed the Islamic Leadership School in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. Both of these individuals saw the research team of BAAHP as an ally in defusing stereotypes about Islam, making schools and health care agencies culturally sensitive to Islamic religious practices, and enhancing opportunities to build interfaith coalitions to fight for needed resources in Bronx communities. Omar Jawo invited us to participate in his campaign to make Bronx schools more hospitable to African children and families, and Sheikh Drammeh invited Dr. Edward to join the board of a new African charter school he was trying to organize. We in turn, invited Mr. Jawo and Sheikh Drammeh to serve as featured speakers for an African Immigration lecture series we had proposed and gotten funded by the New York Council for the Humanities. In summer 2009, these outreach efforts led to a visit to our offices by a delegation from the Futa Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the Bronx, whose building in Morrisania had been seized, in the midst of negotiations with the City, for alleged nonpayment of taxes. Having heard about our work from Sheikh Drammeh, they asked us to write letters to the Court of Appeals, which was hearing their case. They explained the important role that African immigrants were playing in rebuilding once decayed Bronx neighborhoods and asked our help in assuring that the building they bought with hundreds of small contributions be returned to the Futa Islamic Center. After hearing their story, Dr. Edward and I wrote a long letter to the Court, which we circulated widely, extolling the contributions of hardworking African immigrants to the revival of the Bronx and 4 highlighting the role of the Futa Islamic Center as a focal point of neighborhood stability. 1 Several months later, when the Appeals Court ruled in the Futa Islamic Center s favor, Dr. Edward and I were invited to participate in a ceremony at the mosque in which Dr. Edward was given the special honor of sitting at the front of the podium in a section normally reserved for men. Since that time, we have worked closely with many other representatives of the African Islamic community including Djounedau Titikpina, head of a new organization called the African People s Alliance, who has solicited our help in organizing a health fair at Fordham for African immigrants, trying to secure grants, and persuading the city to approve its proposal for an Africa Day Parade in the Bronx. While this breakthrough was occurring with representatives of the African Islamic communities most of whom were born in Francophone countries like Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, and Togo, we were experiencing an equal breakthrough with representatives of the largely Christian Bronx Ghanaian community. In the fall of 2009, the BAAHP s research team was approached by Kojo Ampah; a Ghanaian student enrolled in Fordham College of Liberal Studies, to secure our help in winning representation for the first African student organization at Fordham, the African Cultural Exchange. As we began working with Mr. Ampah, who had been a major radio personality and festival organizer in Ghana, we immediately recognized the value he might have as an interview coordinator, and made him an official member of our research team. Since that time, he has been responsible for putting Fordham on the map as a place where influential Ghanaians come to tell their stories, among them the Asantahene (the Ashanti king of New York), several powerful Ghanaian ministers, and the most popular hip life artist in Ghana, Kontihene, who maintains his year round residence in the Bronx. He also organized the first African Cultural Festival at Fordham, co-sponsored by BAAHP, and helped us organize a summer course at Fordham on the Ghanaian language Twi, the first such course ever held at a University in New York City. Because of the publicity granted to the Twi course, which was covered by news services in Ghana as well as in Ghanaian American publications, a steady stream of Ghanaians in academia, business and the arts has approached our research team for help in publicizing their activities or telling their stories. Having once had trouble finding people in the Bronx s African communities willing to participate in oral history interviews, we now have trouble finding time to interview all the people who are asking to participate. In summation, we in the BAAHP were lucky enough to make connections with a large, dynamic, diverse African immigration population in the Bronx that has a remarkable story to tell. Thanks to the Carnegie Corporation of New York we were given the resources to record those stories and share them with the world. The White Paper that follows is the first published product of our efforts, but it will not be the last. For years to come, our research team, as individuals and as a group, will be presenting what we have learned about this remarkable population in conference papers, books, articles, documentary films, school curricula, and policy recommendations for government agencies and elected officials. We hope this White Paper will open the eyes of those 1 See attached Letter to Appellate Court in Support of Futa Islamic Center s Claim to rd Avenue. 5 who read it to an immigrant population which is reshaping the social, cultural, economic and religious landscape of the Bronx and is helping to make New York a more diverse and democratic city. By analyzing the activities carried out under the Carnegie Corporation Grant the interviews conducted, the meetings with community organizations held, the visits to schools, religious organizations and cultural organizations developed, we concluded that the project team made a major breakthrough in winning the trust of key individuals in Bronx African immigrant communities and served as strong advocates to secure badly needed services for this vital population. We also accumulated valuable information about that community s characteristics, accomplishments and needs. In the short time since this project has been initiated, our research team has been able to effectively document and publicize the histories and experiences of the African immigrant population in the Bronx, making scholars, educators, health care providers, social work professionals and elected officials far aware of the contributions and achievements of Africans who live in Bronx communities as well as the special needs of that population. It is our sincere hope that as our research project moves forward, more people in positions of leadership will recognize the importance of African immigrants to the political, economic, educational, and cultural life of the Bronx and New York City, and that they will develop policy initiatives that will support this viral and dynamic immigrant groups by offering badly need services that will nurture their families and communities. Leaders of all types need to make this group feel truly welcome as key contributors to the Bronx s ongoing political and economic growth and development. By Dr Mark Naison, Founder and Principal Investigator, Bronx African American History Project 6 BRONX AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY PROJET S (BAAHP) AFRICAN IMMIGRATION RESEARCH REPORT BY DR. JANE EDWARD INTRODUCTION The African Immigration Research project of Fordham University was initially launched in the summer of The project is part of the larger Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) which is a partnership of Fordham University s Department of African and African American Studies, the Bronx County Historical Society and local Bronx residents and community organizations. The project is partially funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This final progress report is intended to highlight the project s activities and accomplishments since it received the Carnegie Corporation grant from the period July 2008 to June The report cover
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