Creating a Strong African-American Voice for Africa
By Rev. Derrick Boykin on December 9, 2011
© The Washington Informer
Each year at this time, we have a chance to reflect on what we’ve accomplished over the past 12 months and what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to participate in a movement to shift how African-Americans view Africa. In light of large-scale unemployment, hunger, and poverty here in the United States, you might wonder: Why should I care about the challenges facing our African brothers and sisters?
The easy answer is that we are called to care for others. But let me take it a step further and ask you this: If our community doesn’t come together in support of our “Motherland,” who will? As many Jewish Americans show strong, intentional support for Israel, I believe African-Americans must continue our long march toward justice for hungry and poor people in Africa. But where do we begin?
In my position as associate for African American leadership outreach at Bread for the World, I work to create a strong voice among African-American leaders (nonprofit, religious, political, and others) for Africa. Bread for the world is a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization that works to change policies that impact hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.
Our creation of the African-American Voices for Africa initiative was just the beginning. In June, we convened a powerful group of leaders, launching a “grasstops” campaign to organize leaders to help our community better understand the triumphs and challenges—including hunger and poverty, malnutrition, education disparities, infrastructure difficulties, disease, and famine—that our neighbors in Africa are experiencing. Then, in the fall, I had an opportunity to travel with a delegation of my colleagues and other religious leaders to Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania to learn more about work being done to address maternal and child nutrition issues.
During the trip, I learned that 45 percent of Zambian children under age 5 suffer from stunted growth because they have limited access to nutritious food and medicines. Almost 21 percent are severely stunted, according to the World Health Organization’s standards. In southern Malawi, we had an opportunity to visit the Jombo and Biliati villages to get a closer look at maternal and child nutrition programs aimed at meeting the critical needs of many poor families there.
We also saw tremendous signs of hope. In Tanzania, we met with leaders from Africare, which had just been awarded a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to implement a flagship nutrition project under Tanzania’s Feed the Future program. The program’s goal is to improve the nutritional status of Tanzanian children, pregnant women, and breast-feeding mothers through interventions in three particular regions, in effect reducing child-stunting and maternal anemia. This is a great example of the type of country-led initiatives that Bread for the World supports—helping to build capacity among local institutions and encourage a behavioral change that will lead to improved nutrition to help end hunger.
Bread for the World is not alone in this effort. Dr. Gaidi Faraj and Kobi Little have started a similar initiative, called African Americans Act 4 Africa (AAA4A). The only difference between our two efforts is that AAA4A was launched in Africa and ours was launched in the United States. In the next year, we are hoping to continue urging leaders to unite and magnify their voices while advocating for policies that improve lives on the local level—through programs such as Feed the Future in Tanzania. With push coming from two continents, we are hoping to create a strong base of African-American supporters who will meet in the middle and make a difference.
As you can see, our community has taken steps in the right direction, but there are many more places—such as the Horn of Africa—where the need far outweighs the work being done. As a Christian and Baptist minister, I believe I am called to be compassionate to others, and to be aware of issues facing my brothers and sisters in other countries. As an African-American, I feel particularly compelled to take action on issues facing my brothers and sisters in Africa. Won’t you join me?