ABOVE PHOTO: African Community Learning Program students, volunteers, and parents during our second annual Africa Celebration at the Blackwell Library on Sunday, December 16, 2018.
By Aminata Sy
Running a new organization is a daunting task, as one can never imagine just how much work lies ahead. On October 9, 2017, I started the African Community Learning Program with many people’s support. Our work moves very fast, leaving little time for reflection. As 2018 comes to an end, I am looking back on the African Community Learning Program’s significant accomplishments.
The African Community Learning is an educational nonprofit organization after-school program empowering people of African background. We teach 1st-8th grade students in West Philadelphia an African-centered curriculum with a focus on reading, comprehension, writing, and speaking and help them with homework. We have served a total 22 students since opening our door.
These are 10 significant accomplishments of the African Community Learning Program in 2018!
1. Ran successful semesters: During our spring and fall 2018 semesters, we have had students connected to seven African countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Some of our students have been new arrivals to America, and others were born and raised on the country. Even with our limited means, we have been able to meet students where they are linguistically, educationally, and personality wise to support them in advancing in their academics. Many students went from not speaking English to communicating, reading, writing, and comprehending the language and our texts as well as presenting to our class. Our students’ understanding of the African continent and its people have improved, from distinguishing among countries, to strengthening cultural pride and confidence, to appreciating people of African background’s contributions and diversity in general. Two of our students, Raimat and Dieynaba, graduated from 8th grade but decided to stay with us. Raimat wrote heartwarming “thank you” letter to us, and I shared Dieynaba’s story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Many students went from not speaking English to communicating, reading, writing, and comprehending the language and our texts as well as presenting to our class. Our students’ understanding of the African continent and its people have improved, from distinguishing among countries, to strengthening cultural pride and confidence, to appreciating people of African background’s contributions and diversity in general. Two of our students, Raimat and Dieynaba, graduated from 8th grade but decided to stay with us. Raimat wrote heartwarming “thank you” letter to us, and I shared Dieynaba’s story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
2. Mobilized a strong community of supporters: We started the African Community Learning in my family home’s basement and have temporary moved at the Blackwell Library in October 2018. The Blackwell Library has supported us since the beginning with many resources, including books. Many people at the University of Pennsylvania have also helped make our work possible: volunteers, the Van Pelt Library, Wharton Entrepreneurship, the School of Social Policy and Practice, and more. We secured the support of top Philadelphia city official, such as Mayor Kenney, who told me, “I think it’s extremely important, especially for immigrant children, to not lose their identity or if they’re American born to understand what their history is, their real history.” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell visited the African Community Learning Program in November 2018 and said, “Culture is wonderful and important and exciting.”
3. Became a nonprofit organization: The African Community Learning Program became a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania in April 2018. This is about six month after we started. This accomplishment shows that we are committed for the long term to educating and empowering young people in our city and beyond.
4. Toured the NBC 10 news station: We toured the Philadelphia NBC 10 station on April 2018. We saw many places, like the control rooms at the station and a live broadcast. NBC 10 staffers spoke with our students about the importance of storytelling and the processes that take place behind the scenes to bring stories on television and online. Aundrea Cline-Thomas, then NBC 10 reporter and whose family is from Sierra Leone, sent our students a video message of encouragement which stated, “You can do whatever you want to do…Don’t try to get rid of your culture; It’s beautiful, it’s necessary.”
5. Selected as 2018 Wharton Startup Challenge Finalist: We went through a rigorous application process for the 2018 Wharton Startup Challenge competition, and the African Community Learning Program was selected among the 27 semifinalists. We pitched our work in front judges at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business during a day-long showcase competition. Many supporters came to vote for us. We were selected as a 2018 Social Impact Finalist.
6. Launched our #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project: In May 2018, I launched the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project to create a library of stories that align with African Community Program’s mission of educating and empowering our students and community. Since then, we have written and published 16 stories and received 26 book donations from our recommendation list. We are continuing to produce content both for #500EmpoweringAfricanStories and for other aspects of our curriculum. Some people we have featured, such as David Adjaye, the lead architect of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and literary activist Marley Dias have reacted to our stories on Twitter.
7. Attracted a solid team of leaders: Since the beginning, we have had a strong team of leaders. Our vice president and my husband Abdoul Wane has been a leader in Philadelphia’s African community for years. He has contributed in many aspects of our work, such as renovating our initial location (the basement), providing transportation to students, and advising me. Hazim Hardeman was a hands-on secretary throughout his time with the African Community Learning Program, from handling volunteer communications and contributing in our students’ academics, to writing many stories for our #500EmpoweringAfricanStories project. We have been cheerleaders of Hazim’s well-deserved Rhodes Scholarship honor. Daniel Akuma has been a devoted volunteer since our launch, recruiting volunteers at Penn Medical School and tutoring our students. Daniel has taken on additional tasks as an intern since the fall of 2018 handing volunteer communications, among other responsibilities. Our current secretaries Similoluwa Ayinde and Wilnaphekie Taloute have contributed in multiple areas, such as tutoring our students, helping to increase our social media presence, and producing videos. Similoluwa and Wilnaphekie have done much work behind-the-scenes to keep our projects organized and executed in a timely manner.
8. Won the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship: I was selected as a 2019 Rangel International Graduate Fellow on Wednesday, November 14, 2018. The fellowship will help pay for my graduate studies, internship in Congress and will allow me to join an American embassy overseas, and U.S. Foreign Service to become a diplomat. The Rangel Fellowship also offers mentorship for a Foreign Service career. I will start my fellowship with a congressional internship on May 21, 2019 and plan to start graduate school in fall 2019. I shared this achievement with the African Community Learning Program’s students and briefly explained the work of a political diplomat, the track in which I am interested.
9. Featured in many news outlets: In 2018, various news outlets publicized our work with the African Community Learning Program. They are: The Philadelphia Tribune, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn Today, 34th Street Magazine, WURD’s Radio Xalaat, Philly CAM, WHYY, The Notebook, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In February 2018, WHYY and The Notebook reporters covered our students’ presentations on Black historical figures from our list of 23 individuals.
10. Celebrated our second annual Africa Celebration: Students, volunteers, parents and supporters attended our Africa Celebration on Sunday, December 16, 2018 at the Blackwell Library. We enjoyed our student and volunteer presentations and showcased our students’ individual and group works on display boards. We ate a variety of African dishes, including yassa and chicken, cassava leaves sauce with lamb, brochettes and plantains, then washed down the foods with some sweet, homemade bissab juice. Some even danced to Baaba Maal’s soulful music! The room was filled with laughter and joy. A volunteer told me, “This was a great study break. I am definitely coming back next semester.” I asked a student to rate the celebration from 1 to 5. He said, “I give it a 5. It was fun!”
Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a 2019 Rangle International Graduate Fellow, a multimedia journalist, and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English. She is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the #500EmpoweringAfricanStories Project.
To support African Community Learning Program visit: africancommunitylearningprogram.org
YouTube : African Community Learning Program
Email Aminata Sy at [email protected]