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Organization brings community to African, African-American women

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by Taleiza Calloway, St. Cloud Times

omekagroupWomen gain more than a connection during Omeka! gatherings. They gain a voice.

Launched in November, Omeka! aims to build relationships between African and African-American women in the St. Cloud community. The monthly gatherings offer food, fellowship, a listening heart and more. And the organization is looking ahead to its second year and the needs of its growing membership.

Debra Leigh, an Omeka! organizer and professor at St. Cloud State University, has seen growth among the women and the connections that have formed since the group’s founding.

Leigh remembers during an early circle-share-in, one Somali woman spoke for all of the Somali women in attendance. Ten months later, all those in attendance share what they are feeling, she said.

“It was really powerful,” Leigh said. “We realized that each of them had found their voice.”

“Omeka!” is a Swahili word meaning to display; to speak out; to spread out. This is accomplished each time through the sharing of journeys, cultures and ideas; they’re always learning from one another, according to organizers.

From education and health care, to family life and housing, each meeting has a theme. Women are not the only benefactors. Child care is always offered, complete with an activity for children.

Looking ahead

Possible changes ahead include focusing more meetings to a particular topic, hosting a two-day educational summit, creating a space just for the meetings as well as helping other diverse groups, Leigh said.

As organizers for Omeka! look ahead, they are confident the organization will continue to reach women and improve its outreach. They will meet in November for an overall evaluation of the program, said Hedy Tripp, coordinator for Create CommUNITY.

Omeka! is one of the programs under Create CommUNITY’s umbrella. It is funded through a grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.

“Omeka is an experiment,” Leigh said with a smile. “We learn as we go.”

Sister Chrispina Lekule, who worked with helping form Omeka! believes the mission is being fulfilled. Lekule is a graduate student at St. Cloud State.

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“There are barriers between African and African-American women and no one knows why,” Lekule said. “In the beginning there were very few African-American women, but many more are getting to know about it. The aspect of socialization is helpful…”

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Lekule has also heard from African women that Omeka! has helped with communication and socialization. She admits Omeka! has also increased her social network with African-American women.

“The most important thing is getting to know each other and sharing our stories,” Lekule said. “That’s powerful.”

The gatherings are deliberately held in local homes so that women can remember a place in the community where they visited and were welcome, Leigh said.

“The homes become staples or bookmarks to revisit,” Leigh said. “It’s been good for the women to get to know each other and get to know who (lives) in your community.”

But Omeka! has also held meetings in locations that align with the theme of the event. For example, a health care discussion took place at CentraCare Health Plaza, featuring a panel of experts.

The St. Cloud group also traveled to Minneapolis this summer to connect with other African and African-American women. Some of the African women saw it as a vacation as they often do not go beyond St. Cloud, Leigh said. About 50 women went on the trip.

Growth continues for the group as the mailing list has reached more than 100. The balance between African and African-American women shifts each time. Diversity is evident among the African women who participate as they hail from Somalia, Kenya, Ghana, French Guinea and beyond.

The goal is to be a receiving community, helping people navigate and build relationships along the way, according to organizers.

Ghana-native Eunice Adjei-Bosompem has seen the value of Omeka! from the visiting and planning perspective. She greets and registers new members.

“I see the whole picture,” Adjei-Bosompem said. “Before when you see someone you would just bypass them; now you speak. It’s an ongoing relationship.”

Other progress she sees is as the women learn about the cultural differences. For example, in Africa, one does not question authority but this is what is observed in American culture, she said.

Discussions on health care and family also have been enlightening, she said, as women have expressed that they liked what they were learning.

“I think it really empowers the women,” she said of Omeka! “They gain advocates for themselves and their children.”

Anisa Abdille of Waite Park is no stranger to Omeka! She is amazed at the many diverse women she meets.

“I enjoy seeing all these beautiful black women I’ve never seen before,” Abdille said. “We connect. It’s like a homecoming.”

“There are barriers between African and African-American women and no one knows why,” Lekule said. “In the beginning there were very few African-American women, but many more are getting to know about it. The aspect of socialization is helpful…”

Lekule has also heard from African women that Omeka! has helped with communication and socialization. She admits Omeka! has also increased her social network with African-American women.“The most important thing is getting to know each other and sharing our stories,” Lekule said. “That’s powerful.”

The gatherings are deliberately held in local homes so that women can remember a place in the community where they visited and were welcome, Leigh said.

“The homes become staples or bookmarks to revisit,” Leigh said. “It’s been good for the women to get to know each other and get to know who (lives) in your community.”

But Omeka! has also held meetings in locations that align with the theme of the event. For example, a health care discussion took place at CentraCare Health Plaza, featuring a panel of experts.

The St. Cloud group also traveled to Minneapolis this summer to connect with other African and African-American women. Some of the African women saw it as a vacation as they often do not go beyond St. Cloud, Leigh said. About 50 women went on the trip.

Growth continues for the group as the mailing list has reached more than 100. The balance between African and African-American women shifts each time. Diversity is evident among the African women who participate as they hail from Somalia, Kenya, Ghana, French Guinea and beyond.

The goal is to be a receiving community, helping people navigate and build relationships along the way, according to organizers.

Ghana-native Eunice Adjei-Bosompem has seen the value of Omeka! from the visiting and planning perspective. She greets and registers new members.

“I see the whole picture,” Adjei-Bosompem said. “Before when you see someone you would just bypass them; now you speak. It’s an ongoing relationship.”

Other progress she sees is as the women learn about the cultural differences. For example, in Africa, one does not question authority but this is what is observed in American culture, she said.

Discussions on health care and family also have been enlightening, she said, as women have expressed that they liked what they were learning.

“I think it really empowers the women,” she said of Omeka! “They gain advocates for themselves and their children.”

Anisa Abdille of Waite Park is no stranger to Omeka! She is amazed at the many diverse women she meets.

“I enjoy seeing all these beautiful black women I’ve never seen before,” Abdille said. “We connect. It’s like a homecoming.”

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Written by Symphony

October 7, 2009 at 8:17 am

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