DOVER – A community celebration called Umokuumani: Unity, Creativity and Faith. A Celebration of African and Black immigrant communities in New Hampshire, planned for Saturday, November 6 from 1 pm to 4 pm at the Dover Friends Meeting. The event, which marks the closure of a national public art exhibit highlighting stories of asylum seekers in New Hampshire, will feature a dance performance, fashion show, and showcase of community resources and immigration information, as well as music, food and drink. The event is free and open to the public.
Event organizer Grace Kindeke of the American Friends Service Committee and the Manchester Community Action Coalition explained the meaning of Umokuumani: “Utilizing a combination of three Swahili words – Umoja meaning unity, Kuumba meaning creativity, and Imani meaning faith – we formed a new word – Umokuumani – to represent three principles that many Black and African communities rely on to navigate a new country while staying connected to families back home.”
“The purpose of the event is to uplift the experiences and stories of Black and African immigrants who contribute so much to New Hampshire,” explained Kindeke, who arrived to Manchester, NH from the Democratic Republic of Congo at the age of 2.
Dover Friends Meetinghouse, a house of worship for local Quakers and a sanctuary congregation for immigrants facing the threat of detention and deportation, installed the Familias Separadas public art installation in June 2021. The exhibit’s two large banners feature the stories of African immigrants, Mark and G, Seacoast residents seeking asylum in the U.S. :
G – G is an African immigrant who was detained at the border between Mexico and the United States. He describes his journey, not knowing where he was or how to communicate. He speaks to the challenges of learning Spanish and English and the bonds forged in spite of language barriers.
Mark – Mark is an African immigrant who was detained for two years in the United States. He was targeted in his home country due to his participation in peaceful protests demanding positive change in his community. He speaks to the challenges of when he was incarcerated and the impact it has had on his family.
“In New Hampshire and throughout the U.S., Black immigrants are vital members of the community, contributing to the diverse fabric of a steadily diversifying state. These stories are often left out of the narratives about immigration and the advocacy for immigrant rights,” explained Kindeke, noting that 3.8 million Black immigrants live in the United States. “Many have fled harsh conditions in Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere and seek asylum in the U.S. Upon arrival, they are forced into U.S. detention centers and are forced to make their cases without benefit of legal representation or guarantees of due process.”
Kindeke added that “This event comes at a critical time as Congress continues negotiations to include a pathway to citizenship as part of the Build Back Better package. We are the closest we have been in 35 years to passing critical protections to bring relief to millions of undocumented immigrants, including 619,000 Black and African immigrants.”
From Mark, whose story is featured in the exhibit: “The importance of this celebration is to advocate against violence towards Black immigrants who are undocumented and to develop a deeper understanding of the systemic barriers that prevent Black people from realizing equal opportunity in the United States. It is important to showcase how members of the Black community work to contribute to the growth of the larger community, and for the broader community to be continuously self-reflective about their own privilege and power. This event is also an opportunity to focus on the unique challenges faced by Black immigrants who sit at the intersections of overlapping systems of discrimination.”
As a member of the celebration planning team, Mark explained the group’s purpose: “We push for the recognition of the voices of those most directly impacted, because they are frequently excluded from mainstream conversations. We seek to amplify, promote, and support the voices and storytelling of those most affected by policies and practices that block real, lasting, and equitable change. We hope to build community and encourage alliances and coalitions so that together we can achieve equal opportunity and social justice.”
From Christine Kindeke, a community member from the Democratic Republic of Congo and member of the planning team: “African and Black Immigrants in New Hampshire, friends and supporters feel the urgent need to come together around this event to proudly share our stories of resilience, of hope against all odds, of unshakable faith, of overcomers and survival. To plant the seed of brotherhood and sisterhood rooted in African solidarity. To give a voice and a face to the African and Black immigrant communities which are too often invisible and unrepresented in New Hampshire. We hope to share the contributions, skills, integrity and wisdom of these hardworking communities to shine before men and give glory to our Creator.“
From Lidia Yen, Lead Organizer for Change for Concord and member of the planning committee: “New Hampshire is still a majority white state, but there is a vibrant community of Black immigrants and refugees here. So much has happened in the last few years as we continue to push for humane immigration policy, recover from the pandemic and respond to our communities’ needs. This is an important time to uplift Black and African people and show that New Hampshire can be a diverse and welcoming place.”
From Clifton West, Co-founder and Executive Director for Black Lives Matter Seacoast and member of the planning committee: “Black and African immigrants are valuable community members but unfortunately their voices, experiences and culture do not get highlighted. This event is meant to uplift and bring together people from many different backgrounds in a beautiful way. We hope that this event inspires a new sense caring and appreciation towards the experiences of our fellow Black and African immigrants and also an understanding that we as a community are here to support them through their journeys and help them in any way possible.”
From Asma Elhuni, a community member from Libya and the Movement Politics Director for Rights and Democracy NH: “It is important that people include African voices and stories because often times our stories get left out even though our journeys and experiences matter. Africans not only live in New Hampshire, we enrich it and are a vital part of the fabric here. It is important that we honor New Hampshire’s African community members. I hope you will join us as we celebrate human diversity, honor our African and Black communities and stand in solidarity with them by demanding that Congress pass a pathway to citizenship this year.”