The first Rural African Summit will convene at the Radisson Suite Hotel in downtown St. Cloud the evening of Sunday, October 26, and will continue into the afternoon of October 27th. Africans living and working throughout the Midwest will discuss their experiences in the United States, with a focus on successes and opportunities. With over 20,000 Africans already living in rural areas of Minnesota, the first annual Summit will provide a forum for community leaders, officials, providers, religious leaders, educators, and business people to learn from each other about the economic and social benefits, and challenges of rural life for African immigrants.
The rapidly changing landscape of Rural America includes a significant change in the demographics of who is living and working in our rural communities. Thousands of African refugees, fleeing civil war and internment camps have settled in the mid-west. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has launched one of the first comprehensive efforts to survey the needs of rural Somali communities in an effort to find ways to ensure their successful long-term integration into rural Minnesota and the mid-west.
In 2008, IATP hired Garat Ibrahim as our Rural African Organizer. Garat will begin a survey of Minnesota and nearby out-state communities where Somali communities have come together in rural areas. These communities often have chicken and turkey processing plants, where new immigrants find work. Several have formed mosques and in a few communities, such as Barron, Wisconsin, restaurants serving halal foods have opened.
The combination of language, religion and cultural experience has often isolated the African refugee community from the larger community. As other new and existing immigrant communities have established themselves in rural areas, Africans are starting to overcome their isolation and become more active in community life.
We are looking to the members of the African community to help define the next phase of our investigation. We are making plans to hold a celebration that brings together Somali people across the region to begin building the networks that can effectively address issues of education, housing, healthcare, transportation and jobs.