US-based Liberians Initiate Community Project to Promote Liberian Culture

Migration and settlement in another land leads to adaptation to another culture and could cause migrants to shed their cultural identity in the absence of a familiar and supportive community. 

When Liberians migrate to the United States and other countries, it is widely perceived that they will be adapting themselves to a new civilization that is superior to their home culture.  But this perception is rather porous, given the plethora of established Liberian communities across North America and Europe especially. Liberian communities in the Diaspora are celebrating their culture through their food, fashion, arts and their overall vibe.

In Columbus, Ohio, USA, Liberians are taking it a step further to construct a community center aimed at, among other things, promoting the culture of their homeland.

The community center is estimated at US$1.5 million and will be built on a 14,000-square foot lot in the Eastland Neighborhood in Far East Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio.  It is expected to impact and provide services to over 40,000 diverse residents in the community. The building is expected to be completed by 2024.

The project is being undertaken by Liberians under the banner, “Liberians in Columbus Incorporated (LICI).”

LICI Executive Director, Alpha Tongor, says in 2015 a Community Research Partner was retained by Franklin County Jobs and Family Services to conduct a need assessment of Liberians in Franklin County.

“The results astounded us, and we decided to use them as the driving force for this historic project. The research found that Liberians in the County are younger than the general population. Many of our youths between the ages 16 and 17 could be preparing to go to college or entering the workforce. Yet, college enrollment in our community is relatively low, and unemployment is astonishingly high. Furthermore, Liberians with college degrees often find that academic degrees earned elsewhere may not be as helpful or comparable to those achieved in the US. Many degree holders find it difficult to find employment in their chosen fields in the US.

Consequently, there is high unemployment within the Liberian population, creating stress, isolation for individuals and families, and financial and economic insufficiencies. As a result, many Liberian households are earning low incomes and living below the federal poverty line. More than half of this population segment is without health insurance or lacks access to healthcare. But our most significant challenges and needs are access to education, jobs, mental health services, resources, and information,” said Mr. Tongor.

Additionally, since the research in 2015, there are some Liberian Nurses, Doctors, Medical Practitioners, Entrepreneurs, Computer Professionals and Educators whose earnings are far, far above the federal poverty line.

According to Tongor, in recent years, more and more Liberians are graduating from colleges, universities, vocational schools, nursing schools and receiving diplomas to PhD. It is hopeful that the next need assessment of Liberians by Franklin County will reflect the overall improvement of Liberians living in Columbus. And the Liberian Community Center is expected to play a vital role in the overall development of Liberians in Columbus.

Tongor said the findings from the need assessment in 2015 “Became the motivating force for our community leaders to advocate for this growing New American Community. We embarked on this project not knowing where it will lead us. However, the idea of a community center excited our members and they bought into this project. Community members contributed as low as $1 and as high as $1000 + to purchase the land. We are relying on the same collective will of the community to see this project to the end.”

In addition to promoting Liberian culture, the Center will have a gymnasium for recreational activities, a childcare center, free clinic, a welcome center, computer and learning lab and areas to provide services to families, youth and elderly.  Above all, however, it will be the hub to keep and promote the Liberian culture and the corridor for Ohio connection to Liberia for mutual economic, educational, science and medical benefits to impact national growth and development.

Day to day functions of LICI include social services programs, after school tutoring, Computer Literacy, Adult Literacy and Workforce Development, Elderly Services, Health and Mental Awareness Education, Immigration (legal assistance) Arts and Culture and Resource Center.

Liberians In Columbus Inc. is the de facto organization for Liberians residing in Central Ohio since the early 1980s, and it is becoming one of Columbus’ fast-growing new American communities.  Approximately 10,000 Liberians reside in Central Ohio, predominantly on the Eastern, Northern, and Western sides of that State.