Dr. Rosaire IfediHistory was made July 21, 2017 when Ohio State Governor John Kasich appointed six into the New African Immigrants Commission, and with the seventh added in September to join the Commission created in 2008 to have 11 members. It was established by legislation to among others “gather and disseminate information and conduct hearings, conferences, investigations, and special studies on problems and programs concerning sub-Saharan African people.”
The members elected Dr. Rosaire Ifedi as Chair; Comfort Kenneh as Vice Chair, and Ibrahima Sow as recorder. Other members of the Commission include Abass Bangura, Tariq Mohamed, Eugenie Kirenga and Mariame Diabate.
The Chair, Dr Rosaire Ifedi, an Assoicate Professor at Ashland University, Ohio and originally from Nigeria has been a resident of Ohio State for 26 years, married with four children. She spoke with the New Americans on the pioneering efforts being made to put structures in place to get the Commission going: –
It came with a lot of mixed feelings:: – happiness and kind of “Well, we’ve finally come to this point.” If you read the history of the African Immigrants Commission, it’s been a long time coming. It was actually established in 2008 but finally, with a lot of pressure and working with all those involved, it has got to this point where we are actually seated. That is why I said it was a kind of mixed feelings. We are very happy to have it now functioning; we are very happy to have it now set up and we are expecting to do what the law requires us to do.
Of course any chairperson will be in charge of overseeing, giving direction, and making sure the actual work gets done. That’s why I agreed to step into the role as stated in the Ohio Revised Code 4112.21.. Looking at all the aspects that need to be addressed, I felt I would do a good job as the Chair. I am providing the direction, making sure we are talking to the right people, making sure that questions are being answered from the governor’s side, from the legislative side, outside constituents and the members themselves. Our initial work has been to set our own rules, set our own procedures, establish our media policy and put all the structures in place. That is what we’ve been working on.
There was nothing on ground. Resources, office space, communication, nothing was in place. Of course, it’s been eight years. People may have tried doing something in the past but nothing happened. And so they may have given up. At this point we have an office space, the governor’s office is assisting us with work on the website, with the Departments of Administrative Services (DAS) and Job and Family Services (DJFS). We are very appreciative of all the things they have been able to do for us in the past two months. We now have designated phone lines, office space and email address. We are working with other commissions such as the Ohio Hispanic Commission which has been in place for 25 years. They’ve been very kind to give us their guidelines, and we are looking at the things they have done. Also we’ve looked at the Ohio Asian Pacific Council, and their documents have provided some direction. As the chairperson, I’ve been putting these together and sharing with our community and making sure that things are moving forward.
Primarily, there was the need we’ve already identified for issues requiring special attention. Our job is to advocate on behalf of sub-Saharan Africans, follow legislation and how it affects us. It is to highlight the contributions of Africans in Ohio. We are going to make it more formalized so that our voices are heard. Of course we will advocate for people whose voices are still not being heard. There are people still trying to get jobs, houses, and businesses. If there are obstacles to their success in this society, and in the state, the Ohio African Immigrants Commission will work to make sure those obstacles are taken away. Africans are part of the fabric of this state economically and socially and we will ensure an environment that allows them to thrive even better and contribute to the wellbeing of the State of Ohio. That is our vision going forward.
There are some things you do because they are the right things to do. Speaking on behalf of the seven commissioners who have been appointed, as we wait for the remaining four, we have to look at it as setting a precedence. It is the first commission of its kind in Ohio for Africans. We have to go beyond what is in it for me to look at what it means to the whole constituency. What can this do? That is what is driving all of us, giving us the energy to just serve. As we get things done, there is an opportunity to have grants, an opportunity to receive funds from different sources. The treasurer’s office is helping to set this up.. That is not going to worry us right now. A lot of people will have to come in and have the mentality to serve. They have to want to do the right thing and what is good for the people. It is a long term goal.
We are still not fully constituted. Making sure there is an 11 member board is very important to me. We want to make sure the Ohio African Immigrants Commission is representative of the sub-Saharan Africa and of Ohio. We are looking to have more members from the northern part and other parts of Ohio. We are looking forward to get all the necessary voices involved in this endeavor. Once the website is up, we want people to engage so that their voices can be heard. There are only 11 members in the NAIC but there are a lot of African countries that will need to be represented. Especially because not every African country will have a seat on the NAIC, it is important that those countries are heard, seen, and represented: Malawians, Kenyans are all needed to engage with this work. I know we have the support. The Governor’s office has been very supportive. We want to applaud the work of all those that have been there for us, helping the work to proceed: Directors Kacy Bullard, Blair Cathcart, and Dave Ward as well as the Attorney General’s Office.