When on Saturday, April 27th, 2019 the Mayor of all of Houston, Sylvester Turner visited the Africa community, he made a heartfelt comment about how that moment was exceptionally personal to him. He was simply alluding to hereditary bond with this community, as well as expressing his ancestral connectivity to Motherland Africa.
He was a special guest when Wazobia African Market opened its second location on Beechnut. Mayor Turner had skipped all other engagements and cleared almost half of the day to attend this event. He was enduring and actually showed up to the event before many guests. He felt at home mingling with his Motherland brethren. One could tell his tribe – authentic Igbo blood with an American accent. He ate with them, walked around the gigantic grocery store admiring shelves of fresh African food, booths of eateries, and cubicles of assorted African snacks. In fact, he admitted that the “timing for Wazobia African Market could not happen soon enough since the city holds an unprecedented population of vibrant African residents.”
He was right. The population of Africans in Greater Houston is growing in geometrical progression. Africans have virtually colonized the Southwest side and beyond in alarming numbers as homeowners, business proprietors, and community advocates. In fact, Houston witnessed how during Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, how various African groups including churches, civic and social clubs joined other local communities and agencies to facilitate several recovery projects.
However, since Turner, 62nd Mayor of Houston assumed office on January 2, 2016, his relationship with his African brethren has been fragile – creating a gap between him and the core African community leaders whose influence in Houston’s political playfield have puffed-up over the period. But the political clouts of this community remain a heavy-duty feat and was in fact tested during Mayor Lee P. Brown’s bid to become the city’s first Black mayor in 1997.
I could recall how an association of cab drivers from Houston and surrounding cities shut down their services to shuttle voters to the polls; or how a long list of African business owners wrote checks; or even how a lineup of spiritual leaders declared a season of prayers and spiritual warfare to suppress all Mayor Brown’s electioneering opponents. This is the African community we know. They collaborated with Mayor Brown all through his regime and inspired what kept his government alive through the finishing lines of success.
The African community had mobilized their professionals, residents, businesses owners, community and spiritual leaders and embrace a massive crusade to elect Mayor Brown. I could recall how an association of cab drivers from Houston and surrounding cities shut down their services to shuttle voters to the polls; or how a long list of African business owners wrote checks; or even how a lineup of spiritual leaders declared a season of prayers and spiritual warfare to suppress all Mayor Brown’s electioneering opponents. This is the African community we know. They collaborated with Mayor Brown all through his regime and inspired what kept his government alive through the finishing lines of success.
To his credit, Mayor Turner initiated an international committee structured into business and community segments to guide him on matters about the foreign and refugee affairs. Tagged the Mayor’s Advisory Council of New Americans, this group encompasses community representatives who provide the Mayor, City Council, the City with recommendations on policy engagements.
However, using a one-size-fits-all structure to coordinate a cluster of the diverse Houston population might not yield lucrative results. An all-purpose advisory body basically denotes using a square peg in a round hole. This approach cannot offer the Mayor a flexible path to collaborating with core ethnic groups in a city categorized as one of the most diverse in the continent. Houston is globally known as the melting pot of cultures, races, religions, and ethnicities including the international communities. Each of these groups has unique characteristics and require specific approaches to deal with.
Representatives MITDC-AFRICA understood the African community, their politics, accent, and their cultural idiosyncrasies, and was able to provide substantial information that impaced the African community in a timely manner. In fact, during Hurricane Harvey, MITDC-AFRICA would have played a completely different role in corroborating relief information.
Mayor Turner’s predecessor, Annise Danette Parker did something different. He consolidated on The Mayor’s International Trade & Development Council – AFRICA (MITDC) initiated during Mayor Brown’s regime. The MITDC-AFRICA directly delivered the City’s initiative to the core stakeholders of the African community – home and abroad. The representatives of this group understood the African community, their politics, accent, and their cultural idiosyncrasies, and was able to provide substantial information that impacted the African community in a timely manner. In fact, For example, during Hurricane Harvey, MITDC-AFRICA would have played a completely different role in corroborating relief information.
I could recall in 2015, when the Former President of the Republic of Nigeria was scheduled to speak at the Texas Southern University (TSU). A collaboration of the MITDC-Africa and the Planning committee at TSU led to the mobilization of one of the largest Nigerian gathering in Houston’s history over policy affairs. In the past, MITDC-Africa coordinated African delegations in Houston and allowed them greater access and awareness about impending opportunities that could be shared directly to the African community.
Predominantly Nigerians, Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and holds the highest concentration of African citizens. Thus, Mayor Turner could take his relationship with his brethren from the Motherland to the next phase – an upper level of shared interest, collaborative measures on the communal partnership and political support. I am not done. This Mayor could strategically create a rapport with this community and work with their leaders as partners on policy-making engagements regarding their collective interests. He could mobilize their support for both his reelection bid and other community matters. I am still not done. These aforementioned measures are not just fundamental in building a strong bond between Mayor Turner and the Houston African community, but also, they are an ancestral call to boldly proclaim his Motherland kinship.
♦ Anthony Ogbo, PhD, Adjunct Professor at the Texas Southern University is the author of the Influence of Leadership (2015) and the Maxims of Political Leadership (2019). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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