Work and play! African Cultural Alliance of North America assists newcomers and celebrates cultural values

In 1999, a group of African musicians working to establish themselves in the United States as artists created African Cultural Alliance of North America, or ACANA. Voffee Jabateh, CEO and executive director was among them. Prior to joining ACANA, Jabateh worked as a mental health counselor and saw a great need to bring the immigrant and refugee communities together. At the time, there was tense civil conflict in West Africa causing many West Africans to leave their home countries and seek refuge in the United States.

Like most immigrants and refugees rebuilding their lives in a new country, many felt lonely, confused and intimidated. ACANA initially intended to be a cultural arts program, bringing together African artists, but it quickly evolved to offer other social services to address barriers and challenges experienced by newly arrived immigrants in Philadelphia.

The arts and culture program “aims to ensure that African immigrants retain an appreciation for their ethnic and cultural heritage and share that appreciation with their new community.” In an area where cultural art programs are limited, this program has been helpful for at-risk youth, as it offers a healthy outlet to express themselves. It also provides support from their parents, community and mentors. The program includes dance classes, a fully equipped recording studio and community-wide events. ACANAFest is their annual multicultural festival, which will be held virtually in 2020 due to COVID-19.

With support from local officials and other partners, ACANA offers services that focus on all aspects of life to ensure successful integration. Their programs are dedicated to meet the needs of everyone in the community and consist of: arts and culture, mental and physical wellness, immigration law and legal help, community development, and support for youth and families. ACANA is a one-stop shop for anyone in need.

ACANA also works closely with low to moderate income neighborhoods as part of the Corridor Revitalization Project. Working with community members in the Chester, Elmwood and Woodland neighborhoods, ACANA focuses on community cleaning such as graffiti removal and street cleaning. They also assist in employment and financial opportunities, as well as assist small mom and pop shops, many of which are owned by immigrants. During recent peaceful protest for Black Lives, ACANA worked to support these neighborhoods and keep everyone involved safe. ACANA has worked closely with Black-led advocacy groups as a way to bridge together Africans with African Americans and other U.S. born citizens. They recently won their advocacy campaign to have Juneteenth officially recognized as a citywide holiday.

Their work also expands to immigration services. ACANA has participated in CLINIC’s New Americans Campaign over the last three years. So far, they have completed about 250 citizenship applications. While ACANA works primarily with the African immigrant community, they are able to assist and support newcomers and long-term residents alike through their all-inclusive services.

CLINIC applauds ACANA for promoting the well-being of immigrants while celebrating their culture and diversity. Want to be featured in our monthly highlight? Share with us how your community promotes immigrant integration.