Providing a place of community and support is essential to any group of people. That is why the city of Madison is moving toward creating an African community center to “[increase] access to language services, job training and immigration counseling.”

According to Aliko Songolo, a former University of Wisconsin African cultural studies professor, the African community in Madison has grown substantially. This type of community center could significantly aid African immigrants in their transition to Madison.

As explained by the American Psychological Association, children of immigrants specifically struggle with their adjustment to schooling in the United States. There is often a 3-year turnover in language programs for non-native speakers. However, it is proven that language takes anywhere from 4-7 years to fully develop. This leaves many students undeveloped in their English proficiency and can greatly affect their quality of education.

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Furthermore, many schools are underfunded and ill-equipped to handle language programs and other services for children of immigrants. Community centers, like the one being developed in Madison, could greatly impact the education and futures of many young immigrant children.

The African Center for Community Development would include a computer lab, food pantry, and access to financial services, cultural programs and business mentoring. Besides serving immigrants, the center would also help low-income families in the Madison area.

The community center’s project proposal proved that immigrants who speak French, Portuguese and African languages have a more difficult time accessing city services. With the help of the community center’s services, the hope is that immigrants better understand how to adjust to living in the United States and Madison specifically.

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The main goal of the African Center for Community Development is to build a sense of community within Madison and create a way for Africans to share and build culture. One of the main supporters of this mission has been president of the Madison City Council, Samba Baldeh.

Born in Africa, Baldeh is the epitome of a success story. He grew up without a father in a nomadic tribe that taught him how to be self-sufficient. Baldeh decided to come to the United States with a passion for education. If it were not for the support of other immigrants, however, Baldeh said never would have stayed in Madison.

Baldeh is advocating for a community center to keep the immigrant community in Madison from feeling isolated and to encourage openness and community in a world that can feel very divided. Baldeh is also making history as the first African immigrant and Muslim elected to the city council. Along with Sheri Carter, they have made history as the first president/vice president team of color.

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Baldeh’s position gives him a special connection to the African Center for Community Development, and Baldeh himself is a perfect example of why Madison needs an African community center. Without the proper resources, immigrants can struggle with finding a job, understanding how to adjust to living in the United States and ensuring the success of their children. In addition, community centers like the one being proposed promote diversity and provide a cultural haven for groups of people who can feel isolated.

The community center is vital to the survival of immigrants in a city like Madison, where jobs, rules and housing can be confusing. Furthermore, the center would act as a great resource for low or moderate income families who need support financially, socially or culturally.

We should all support the African Center for Community Development’s mission and hope that their goals to serve the Madison community come to fruition.

Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.