Ten years ago, just a handful of African immigrants tricklied into the Twin Cities. In 2009, conservative estimates put the number of African immigrants at about 100,000. On the West Bank and in suburbs like Brooklyn Park, they are becoming part of the fabric of their communities.
Sixteen years ago, Hussein Samatar, a refugee from Somalia, was struggling to adjust to his adopted country, and discovered that learning to navigate the American system was helpful in moving up the socio-economic ladder. When he founded the African Development Center (ADC) in 2004, Samatar saw the need to provide resources to African immigrants. Now, he is proud of the work that he, together with his eight-person staff, have done in the community. ADC, through culturally competent interaction, offers its clients, mostly African immigrants, workshops and one-on-one training on financial literacy, business development, and information on home ownership.
“I always knew that given an opportunity and change we would prosper,” said Samatar, the executive director of the African Development Center. “I see achievement and hope for the future in this building.” Samatar spoke October 15 at the opening of the center’s new offices in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Attended by a cross-section of Minneapolis community and business leaders, the open house showed a display of the support from the larger Minnesotan community that has made ADC an iconic institution.
Over the years, ADC has had an impressive track record. More than 400 families have become first-time homebuyers after receiving training on loans, taxes and managing finances on housing. More than 300 businesses have received training on how to effectively run a business. For small business-owners, ADC has been instrumental in locating loans and teaching these new Americans not only how to manage their finances, but also how to make profits during a recession.
“Our clientele was growing,” Samatar explained the move from 1608 Riverside Ave to 1927 S. Fifth St., the building across the street, that once housed the old North Country Co-op. “There is a huge growth of business in the African immigrant population and we were running out of space in our building.”
Symbolizing this growth, the exterior of the new ADC offices is painted a bright green. The interior colors are even more boldly painted, mostly in orange. However, it is not only the vibrant colors in and outside the building that are symbolic to ADC’s purpose for growth. Each room, from the conference room to the office cafeteria and the playroom for the children of clients, offers a sense of community. The homelike atmosphere has made ADC very successful in the African immigrant community.
With a staff that is exclusively made up of African immigrants (from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Liberia), ADC has done more than paid lip service to cultural competence, as each staff member knows how best to communicate and reach clients with diverse cultural backgrounds. For instance, ADC has worked with several lending agencies, including the city of Minneapolis, towards offering Sharia-compliant loans, which allow for Muslim borrowers to receive restructured loans without earning or paying interest on borrowed money which is prohibited by Islam.
In further support of African immigrant entrepreneurs, ADC’s hallways will feature art by different African artists. Oreoluwa Adedeji is the curator for this Contemporary African Art Gallery, in which she mostly features artists from Nigeria, Brazil and Somalia.
Samatar says that the choice to stay in the West Bank was deliberate: “Look at the diversity in the West Bank!” He says that his center is intent on being a pillar of support in business to this diversifying community and to move away from the stereotype of violence, referring to a spate of gang violence in the Somali community over the last year that has resulted in the death of several teenagers.
The ADC building on the West Bank undoubtedly stands as a sign of the diversifying of the not just the Twin Cities, but the rest of Minnesota.
Becky Shaw, an employee in the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development department said that ADC has been instrumental in bridging the African immigrant and mainstream communities together. “They have directed new business owners, who bring revenue to the city, to the right resources because they know what they are doing,” she said. “They are a trusted source.”