Activists Call for African Affairs Office

Yolanda Woodlee, Washington Post, Dec. 29, 2005

Mohamed Bangura knows firsthand what it’s like to move to the District from Africa with a biology degree and experience as a school principal and still have to settle for a job washing dishes.

Bangura, now a teacher in Fairfax County, said he does not want to see other Africans experience the same frustration, depression and isolation that he felt because of cultural differences.

“I needed something neither money nor time could buy,” said Bangura, of his experiences 16 years ago. “I needed the support of dedicated minds to guide me as I transitioned into a new and different society.”

He was one of 45 residents, community activists and advocates who testified recently at a hearing before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations in support of legislation to establish an Office of African Affairs.

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The office would be likely to have a three-member staff, including a director, and an annual budget of $200,000 to $300,000, similar to that allocated for the city’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, Orange said.

Ronald R. Collins, director of the city’s Office of Boards and Commissions, said the bill closely resembles the legislation that established the Office on Latino Affairs and the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. The mayor supports the “intent and thrust” of the proposed legislation, Collins said.

The Office on Latino Affairs has 11 staff members and a $4.5 million budget, while the Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, which serves a smaller population, has seven staffers and a $500,000 budget, according to city officials.

Volunteers who help African immigrants resettle in this area say the fast-growing population, which was more than 9,000 at the time of the 2000 Census, faces challenges such as unemployment, cultural isolation, inadequate education and a lack of information about services.

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