Colorado’s African Communities Reach Out for Political Action

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African Community leaders gather at the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in Aurora, CO.  February 28Africa Agenda

African Community leaders gather at the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in Aurora, CO. February 28

When Mike Coffman, a Republican member of Congress from Colorado won re-election against Andrew Romanoff last November, one of the many thank-you messages the congressman offered on election night went to the African, Latino and Asian communities that are part of his constituency.

For sure—the community of minorities which make up Colorado’s 6th congressional district continues to expand. Both the Coffman and Romanoff camps fought a hard battle to win over votes from thousands of immigrants that are concentrated within the district.

The district remains a battleground and is “fairly evenly split” between Democratic and Republican voters. “Aurora had long been a Republican-leaning city, but with more black and Latino residents moving in, it has been trending Democratic in recent years. The 6th is competitive politically,” according to National Journal.

Exactly what percentage of Africans contributed to a Coffman victory during the mid-term elections is not clear. What is clear today is the networking potential of the people leading these communities.

We are calling them “Africans” for the sake of this report. But they are first and second generation Americans of African descent.

For the Africans, it may be that while they are actively courted, if not hotly pursued by politicians for their increasing power to deliver new votes, the time may be ripe for the community to begin courting politicians too–because of their ability to make decisions that can affect their future.

Besides, the community has a lot of catch-up work to do. The Asian and Latino communities seem more skilled in this kind of business. They have been openly reaching out and seeking ties with political leaders for decades.

Now– the leaders within the African community want to be taken seriously. Coffman and his team, it appears, have a new friend in this community. It also appears–they too, want to engage, connect and develop that friendship with their elected representatives.

At a February 28 meeting with the leaders at his office on Parker Road in Aurora, the signs of friendship were visible.

“When there is an important event going on in your community, please make sure you let me know,” the congressman told the leaders who had crammed into a conference room at his office.

The leaders, immigrants from more than 15 African countries, braved the Saturday morning freeze and made it to  the planned meeting.

They gathered under the umbrella of a coalition group–The Afro-Caribbean Advisory Council. The members of the group said they were not just coming together—they were joining hands.

Coffman was not there personally, but joined the meeting by telephone. He informed the guests that he was stuck in D.C. and could not attend in person because of the stalled DHS appropriations vote that went late into the night February 27.

The list of things they had on the agenda was long.

On the table for discussion–business with the City of Aurora and the State of Colorado—how can the state begin to recognize degrees and certificates obtained from other countries—how does the community get access to job opportunities so that qualified members of the community can apply for them—immigration concerns—an African Chamber of Commerce. The list goes on.

They said they wanted action on these matters. They also wanted an opportunity for quarterly meetings with the congressman’s office and plans for how they could work together to address their many concerns.

Coffman said a lot of these matters could be addressed by multiple agencies as well as by varying county and municipal governments. But he said he wanted to focus on the ones that needed immediate attention.

“We want to be able to bring people in and address those that are a priority,” Coffman said.

“As an African community we are coming together as one. This is an amazing opportunity for us. We are focused on making change in our own community,” said Papa Dia, Leader of the African Leadership Group.

Dia helped convene the meeting. He says he wants the group to work together and help solve the many challenges the community faces. “Sitting on the sides and expecting that somebody is going to solve them is not going to work.”

“Do not please neglect Africa. We need your support,” said Hamidou Diarra from Mali. Diarra was concerned about relationship between the United States and African countries and wanted the congressman to do something about it.

Ben Stein, Chief of Staff, as well as Aurora Ogg, Director of Constituent Services for Coffman, moderated the hour-long meeting.

What good may eventually come out of this relationship remains to be seen.

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