Positive Signs between American born Africans and African born Africans in Detroit. I L ;DVE HEARING STORIES OF AFRICAN PEOPLE COMMING TOGHETHER and SEEING THEMSELVES AS ONE...BECAUSE WE ARE!Number has nearly doubled in past decade
By Oralandar Brand-Williams / The Detroit News
Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News
Larry Alebiosu came to the United States in 1982 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend college. Now he owns a retail clothing business, Fashion International, in Southfield.
Comment on this story
Send this story to a friend
Get Home Delivery
DETROIT -- In years past, when Kwaku Adwini-Poku wanted to make fufu, a staple of traditional African meals, it meant a trip to an Asian grocery store on the city's east side.
African immigrants such as Adwini-Poku, a 49-year-old Ghana native who has been in Detroit for more than 20 years, represented such a small group in Metro Detroit that the food products of their homeland were hard to find.
But that's changing. The number of African immigrants in Metro Detroit has nearly doubled in the past decade. According to U.S. census figures, 9,532 African immigrants now live in the Metro region. As a result, Metro Detroit has seen a surge in the number of African-owned businesses.
Businesses owned by African-born Metro Detroiters include 24-hour hair-braiding shops and supermarkets that carry imported traditional African food products, such as cassava roots and dried meats.
"There are more Africans settling on the northwest side," said Adwini-Poku, an automotive engineer and secretary of the United African Community Organization.
"A decade ago, the population of Africans here was very small. Now that the population is bigger, there is a need to have more African stores, so people recognized that and are setting them up."
Historically, most African immigrants have been students or professionals who have sought careers in engineering and medical fields. But Adwini-Poku says many of the new immigrants are merchants and laborers who have come to Metro Detroit because of its job opportunities.
"They have found that there is a lot of employment here and they don't have to be professionals to do it," Adwini-Poku said. "The biggest challenge people face is the transportation. Many of the people who come here have never driven before."
Clothing retailer Larry Alebiosu came to the United States in 1982 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend college. Five years later, he moved to Detroit to work for a cellular phone company.
He now owns a retail clothing business, Fashion International, on 10 Mile in Southfield.
Alebiosu says Metro Detroit is attractive to Africans because of the area's racial makeup.
"I blend in very well with the African-American community because we are black people," Alebiosu said. "It's easy to get along with people that are the same as you are. And you have a lot of African-Americans here who are interested in Africa."
Africans traditionally have been drawn to cities like New York, Houston and Atlanta. But now, they are moving to smaller cities and the Midwest.
"They are now very visible," said Jacob Olupona, a Nigerian, who is director of African-American and African studies at the University of California at Davis. "The numbers have doubled, if not quadrupled."
Civil wars in several African nations such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda are driving many Africans to other parts of the world, Olupona said.
"In Kenya, there are a number of refugees waiting to come to the United States," he said.
Public relations executive Chinyere Ubamadu, 33, felt welcome in Metro Detroit, after living in Boston.
"The diverse environment ... and the attitudes seem to be more welcoming," said Ubamadu, who is a native of Nigeria and lives in Southfield. "Some might argue there is more a split in the culture and that there is discrimination in the area, but I witnessed racial discrimination in Boston and it's more blatant there ...like someone actually referring to me with the n-word."
But the influx of many African immigrants into Metro Detroit, as in other large American cities, hasn't translated into an immediate bonding between Africans and African-Americans.
In a recent study by the Lewis Mumford Center at the State University of New York at Albany, researchers found a growing cultural gap between American blacks and immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.
"It's not that different than other immigrant groups from another country that bring different languages or cultures either through music, food or religion," said John Logan, a researcher for the center.
"It is really the same kind of question in the black community that you will find among Hispanics, where Central and South Americans are moving into areas that used to be Mexican or Puerto Rican. The same process took place on a larger scale 100 years ago, with respect to white immigrant groups like the Irish, Italians and Jews."
But African immigrants are forging relationships with African-Americans through several new programs and organizations, such as the United African Community Organization, a 1-year-old umbrella group that represents African immigrants.
Its president, Salewa Ola, said the relationship between Africans and American blacks needs to become stronger.
"We want to see how we can heal the wounds of the past," said Ola, a native of Nigeria. "We have more that brings us together than separates us."
On Saturday, the group is hosting a program at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. It's aimed at bringing blacks and Africans together.
Ola and Adwini-Poku, the organization's secretary, hope the event spurs more interaction among African and American-born blacks. They also hope more African-Americans will be interested enough in African culture to travel to one of the continent's 54 countries.
"It's like the story of the lost son or daughter who comes home," Ola said. "When a black person goes to Africa, they are welcomed with open arms."
In January, an estimated 3,000 people turned out at the Wayne County Community College District's downtown campus to attend the Passport to Africa program, a cultural immersion program about Africa.
"Speakers taught people about the kinds of foods people eat and the country's exports and languages," said David Butty, WCCC's director of public affairs and a native of Liberia.
Butty said the program was so popular that it will become an annual event every January, preceding Black History Month.
"Africa has offered more to the world than we hear about," Butty said. "We hear more about the fighting and the famine. So people were happy that we were having something like this."
You can reach Oralandar Brand-Williams at (313) 222-2690 or email@example.com. Co-owner Kwasi Effah stocks goods at the K&K African Market in Detroit. More African immigrants in Detroit has meant more African-owned businesses.Larry Alebiosu came to the United States in 1982 from Lagos, Nigeria, to attend college. Now he owns a retail clothing business, Fashion International, in Southfield.