In 2017, I worked in banking full time, and led the African Leadership Group as a volunteer in my spare time. In terms of time commitment, it amounted to a second full-time job. That was alright, because I had a passion for the work.
That year, though, everything changed, thanks to the vision and generosity of several philanthropic funders, first and foremost the Walton Family Foundation. These funders recognized what ALG was trying to accomplish, and took a risk by providing our fledgling organization with operating grants. Up to that point, ALG had been an organization run entirely by volunteers.
Once ALG received financial support, I was able to leave my job in banking and dedicate myself entirely to my calling: Building ALG into the influential and impactful organization it has become, serving the African immigrant community.
Over the past few years, we’ve been able not only to sustain but to increase our programming and outreach. We now reach thousands of people through our initiatives focused on career and economic advancement, education and youth, health and wellness, leadership, legal & policy, and women empowerment.
We also have the nimbleness to respond to sudden and urgent community needs. During the Covid-19 crisis, for example, we have been distributing meals to families throughout Metro Denver.
In recent years, one of the top concerns I’ve heard is from parents who struggle to find and access good schools for their children. We Africans are a very education-focused community. In fact, according to recent census data, African immigrants are the highest educated subgroup in the United States, with 43% of African immigrants holding bachelor’s degrees.
This concern has motivated me and other ALG members to become increasingly involved in the great debate around public education in Colorado. Members of our group have testified at the Capitol, spoken out at school board meetings and engaged political candidates who put reforming education at the top of their agendas. In fact, one of our members is seriously considering a run for a seat on the Aurora school board in 2021.
As the expression goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Increasingly, ALG members and the broader African immigrant community are demanding a seat at the table.
Again, this would not have been possible without the vision, foresight, and generosity of our funders: the Beacon Fund, the Colorado Health Foundation, The Daniels Fund, the Denver Foundation, the Donnell-Kay Foundation, the Gates Family Foundation, the Margulf Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation, the Thiry-O’Leary Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. We have also received support from three other nonprofit organizations: Colorado Succeeds, RootED, and Climb Higher Colorado.
I want to give special thanks to Carrie Walton Penner, who back in 2016 served as Walton Family Foundation board chair. She paid a visit to ALG, and listened with great respect to our community members as they described to her the challenges faced by African immigrants and the vital role ALG played in helping them overcome obstacles.
While education is a key focus area for us, it is only one of many. When Walton invited me to speak at the prestigious Atlantic Magazine Education Summit in 2017, I explained to the audience how ALG approaches its work:
“I know we are all here with a focus on education,” I said. “But it’s important for me to say that we take a holistic view. We work for social impact, educational impact, and economic impact overall to improve the quality of life for our families.”
As we have deepened our relationship with Walton and other foundations, their leaders have come to appreciate our holistic approach. We feel strongly supported and we, in turn, regard our funders with the utmost respect and deep appreciation.
ALG is now a force for change and good in Colorado. Our influence and impact grow daily. Once again, ALG, and the African immigrant community in Colorado, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our foundation partners.