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Bronx founds African advisory council

Bronx Africans made history on Wednesday, January 13, when Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. joined immigrant leaders to launch the Bronx African Advisory Council. No parallel institution exists in the United States, let alone in New York City, Islamic Cultural School principal and Gambia-born Senegalese immigrant Sheikh Moussa Drammeh said.

African immigrants, some dressed in traditional African clothes, some in Western clothes, flanked Diaz Jr. outside the Bronx County Courthouse on E. 161st Street. Already, 17 nations are represented on the council, intended to help Diaz Jr. and the Bronx address African immigrants’ issues.

“Africans have come to our borough and contributed [in the realms of] culture and spirituality,” Diaz Jr. said.

The borough president asked Bronx residents of all backgrounds to take note: the borough’s African immigrants are “here to stay.”

The new body will attempt to “bridge the gap” between African immigrants and elected officials, Bronx African Advisory Council chair and Nigerian immigrant Ololade Toba LaCrown said. It will also tackle the linguistic and cultural barriers that exclude some African immigrants from wider civic participation.

Most Bronx Africans hail from rural villages, Drammeh explained. They often struggle to access social services and respond to government needs, he said.

The new body, which will huddle with Diaz Jr. monthly, was born out of unease. African immigrants have suffered several assaults; a Gambian immigrant on his way to a Claremont mosque was beaten and hospitalized in June.

That’s when members of what would become the Bronx African Advisory Council began to meet at Drammeh’s Parkchester school, he said. Mali-born Highbridge resident Bourema Niambele partnered with community groups, police and clergy to defuse ethnic tensions. Diaz Jr. has named Niambele the new body’s coordinator.

“Rather than wonder who to ask when an issue concerns Bronx Africans, the borough president will pick up the telephone and call Naby,” Drammeh said. “Any issue, economic, social, cultural or religious.”

Members of the Bronx African Advisory Council plan to promote the 2010 United States Census. Although many went uncounted, the Bronx was home to 36,361 African immigrants in 2000 and 55,000 in 2007, an increase of 66 percent. Some Africans still fear a link between Census participation and immigration enforcement but the 2010 Census in April should offer a better assessment, Niambele said.

Niambele joined African Muslims in Harlem on Friday, January 8 to condemn Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas terror attempt.

“As a group, we’re totally alien to that,” LaCrown said.

African immigrants sit on several Bronx community boards, Diaz Jr. mentioned on January 13. Niambele discussed the new body’s potential.

“We have it in our hands,” he said. “Now the challenge is to use it.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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