Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Open forum: For county's African residents, a sea change

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by Eucharia Mbachu

County Executive Isiah Leggett recently unveiled a program to boost relationship with the people from the African continent who now live in Montgomery County.

He announced this at a July 17 meeting with the African Advisory Board, which is comprised of lawyers, doctors, teachers, business men and women, journalists, non-profit organizations, religious leaders, mothers, scholars and musicians. His guest list included a traditional ruler, Chief Alexander Taku.

Montgomery County has a reputation as one of the most liberal counties in the country. In his message he made it clear that the region is becoming a liberal sanctuary for all residents.

Mr. Leggett said the group represents a march toward the future. Among other things, he expects the advisory committee to advise the county executive on the needs and concerns of Africans in the county. He urged committee members "to be the eyes, ears and mouth for the county by bringing the concerns and needs of the African community to the county executive."

By making known the county's programs and resources to the African community, the members of the committee could help identify and recommend candidates for county positions to the county executive. Through such means, Mr. Leggett and his staff would be in a better position to comprehend and respond to the changing face of the county.

The county executive is quite sensitive to the urgency for collaboration with non-profit and faith-based organizations and for the recognition of opportunities that link public and private organizations for the betterment of the African community.

The advisory committee was long overdue. Africans in the county have long been neglected and there are little or no resource centers for them. For instance, many resource materials are not translated to reflect the African presence here. Africa is a complicated and demographically varied society, however, English and French are the dominant lingua franka there. The francophone Africans are the hardest hit in the field of language deficiency in the county. This state of affairs was brought to the attention of Mr. Leggett, and he agreed to move things forward.

Based on the dialogue that took place, Mr. Leggett and the African leaders assembled at the meeting, one could maintain that a sea change is taking place and there are challenges begging for immediate attention from all concerned.

Mr. Leggett did not mince words when he told the group that there are some resistances in the county. "I tell you that those who resist the changes that are coming to Montgomery County didn't start over night. Therefore, it is going to take focus, determination and (big dose of) responsibility in order to position ourselves and be able to manage the changes in Montgomery County successfully," he said.

In looking at the situation of the continental Africans here, one could assert that the meeting was a grand opportunity for Africans. Let them grab it and make use of it.

Just like Mr. Leggett advised the members to work with him, the following passage is instructive and inspiring: "(T)his is an aggressive program, take advantage of this new opportunity. This group must be prepared, focused and ready to effectively manage Montgomery County. We have invested programs and positions to fill to do this, we must be prepared to be involved and manage the change." This was a message of hope and an admonition and guide to the perplexed.

In rounding up my narrative about the county executive and the advisory committee, the word of African theologian, John Mbiti, comes to mind: "I am because we are; and since we are, therefore I am." Thus it is important to keep and maintain harmonious relationships with all the members of the community, especially in this age of globalization. It is also the responsibility of both to be willing to do whatever it takes to work toward harmony and to strengthen the community bonds, especially through understanding and participation in communal activities.

Eucharia Mbachu of Silver Spring is the founder of African Women and She also writes for different African news agencies in the United States.