U.S. Based Liberian Run ACANA Receives $3M Grant To Build New Center
A staple immigrant services organization in Southwest Philadelphia, The African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA), recently received a $3 million state grant to build a center that will house its major programs.
The award, announced by State Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186), State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-181) and State Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-191) before New Year’s Day, is the largest the organization has ever received and will fund the building of a center, from which ACANA said they can better serve the 7,000 plus immigrants they reach annually.
“ACANA with its multiple programs has been located at a storefront. This grant will help us bring a major community service center in Southwest Philadelphia on Chester Avenue. The [facility] will include a community health center, a banquet hall and a recreation center. It will include offices for the African Cultural Alliance, it will anchor the development of a residential complex,” said Voffee Jabateh, ACANA CEO. “Southwest Philadelphia in particular has been neglected over the years. There is no major structure here in Southwest Philadelphia. Most of the time we do business, we have to go outside of this neighborhood in order to do it.”
Throughout its 21-year existence, ACANA has provided legal, social and business assistance to mainly African and Caribbean immigrants. But Jabateh and other ACANA reps said as the need has grown, so has their reach, which now spans more than African and Caribbean cultures.
“ACANA has been doing so much work. Our work has spilled over to anyone else in need of our services — African-Americans in that community, [and] we have small business owners that are Asian and Indian. We have people of all nationalities in that community that need our services,” said Kou Dolo, ACANA Communications Consultant.
“The recent situation with riots and looting — it wasn’t just African businesses that were affected. We had to get out there and assist all the businesses on Woodland and Chester. This may have started off helping immigrants adjust to a new environment but there’s a bigger need.”
Jabateh added that he anticipates the project will further ACANA’s work to connect Black people, African or not.
“We’ve had [grants] of $200,000-$300,000 but we have never gotten a grant in the millions. This is the largest one we’ve ever gotten. It’s a dream come true. To sit and see someone having trust to say we will give you $3 million to do what you have to do is major. It’s godsent. I can’t take credit for what God has made possible,” he said.
“This grant is a consolidation of that effort to bring us together as one community. The core of the matter is we are African immigrants sitting on the shoulder of African-Americans that first laid claim to this area,” said Jabateh. “I don’t want folks to get the wrong idea that we are creating a place [just] for Africans but this is a place we are creating for [people] of the African diaspora irrespective of their former [status] of slavery.”
State lawmakers shared a similar view, stating that the grant is a benefit to the larger Southwest Philadelphia community as much as it is to ACANA.
“The project being undertaken by ACANA is important in so many ways for the residents of the entire area, and we need to ensure organizations like this are funded for much-needed projects,” said McClinton. “We are in a very difficult time now and we can’t let their projects fall by the wayside. They provide services for our Black and Brown communities that are often out of reach but so very necessary.”
State Rep. Harris agreed.
“The African Cultural Alliance of North America is a vital partner in serving the Black and Brown communities who often struggle with access to services such as health care, legal consultations and community development,” Harris said. “The alliance also serves to bring festivals and art shows featuring Black and Brown musicians and artists to our community, highlighting the tremendous cultural achievements that continue to enrich Philadelphia and our nation. I’m incredibly appreciative to Governor Tom Wolf and his administration for seeing the value in this project and making this tremendous award.”
According to a statement issued by the lawmakers, the center will be “an anchor facility for economic development and cultural needs in Southwest Philadelphia. The Africa Center will be a multi-story building to house community space, office space, retail space and community health services. In future phases, it is anticipated that ACANA will construct three additional floors of a market-rate residential tower.”