Creating and leading a group that represents nearly 400,00 Minnesota African immigrants from 54 countries is no easy task, but Basil Ajuo’s passion keeps him going. Founded in 2017 after calling a meeting of African community leaders, Minnesota Africans United has grown to 6,000 members, led by Ajuo who recognized a need for African immigrant support and resources.
Minnesota Africans United’s story begins in 2012 when Ajuo first migrated from the Central African nation of Cameroon to the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Family led him to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota where he began his education journey in the United States. He now holds a postgraduate degree in Public Policy and Advocacy through Metropolitan State University, a degree he puts to good use leading Minnesota Africans United and working full-time serving his community.
Ajuo credits the rapid growth of MAU to the connections he’s made with several Minnesotans who have helped along the way.
After several years of networking and navigating throughout Minnesota, Ajuo saw the need to provide support, education and empowerment to African immigrant families. In 2017, he called together leaders of 26 African countries to discuss the importance of an umbrella organization that would work to represent the needs of each of the 54 countries represented in Minnesota’s African immigrants, strengthening their communities. These leaders provided the knowledge and energy to help build an organization for Africans who now call Minnesota home. Thus, Minnesota Africans United was born.
MAU’s goal is simple but profound: to create opportunities for African immigrants to succeed in life through local and national partnerships. Through its programming, MAU works to unite and bring prosperity to African immigrants in Minnesota by helping to close the opportunity gap, provide small business development opportunities, cultivate and develop African leaders in the community, maintain cultural traditions, and leverage resources to improve Minnesota as a whole.
Minnesota Africans United works to address the unique challenges that African immigrants face, including:
Access to housing due to limited knowledge and resources
Starting and growing their own businesses due to lack of capital
Educational struggles due to language barriers and limited affordable post-secondary options
Limited employment options and a lack of advancement or leadership opportunities
Access to banking is one of the biggest challenges facing African immigrants, which is why Bremer jumped at the opportunity to support MAU. “Bremer’s purpose, inspired in us by our immigrant founder, is to cultivate thriving communities,” said Stephen Spears, SVP of Community Banking at Bremer. “We are proud to partner with MAU in its mission to support Minnesota’s African immigrants through programs and tools that support financial literacy, homeownership, entrepreneurship and building generational wealth.” Specifically, Bremer Bank has provided keynote speakers and panelists who have helped bring visibility to MAU’s amazing work. From Bremer Bank CEO Jeanne Crain serving as the keynote speaker at MAU’s annual Gala, to mortgage officers providing guidance at a housing webinar, the partnership has helped attract more African immigrants and partners to become members of MAU. “By sharing their expertise and providing financial support, Bremer Bank has made a strong impact as MAU works to support our community and grow our operations,” said Ajuo.
As MAU has grown, it has become a unifying force for African immigrants centered on closing the many racial inequities in Minnesota, including housing stability, workforce and economic development by helping the community build wealth through homeownership, small business ownership and career and educational opportunities. The work of MAU goes beyond Minnesota’s border and even reaches back to Africa. “Immigration is no longer a situation where the immigrant leaves their country behind to assimilate into their new one. African immigrants want to maintain their culture, family and collegial ties to their homelands,” says Ajuo. MAU acknowledges this in many ways. Perhaps the most potent means to maintain ties is by building economic ties. MAU works with Global Minnesota and Prosper Africa to sponsor international trade events and missions which give immigrants, businesses, and African people the information they need to create business relationships. This program is expected to grow as the effort to reach more members of African societies with goods and services gains traction.
Through the work of board members, partnerships, and memberships, as well as funding from the Target Foundation and the Saint Paul and Minnesota Foundation, MAU has grown significantly over the past five years. Most recently, they’ve partnered with Bremer Bank and SCORE to grow the African small business community and provide training and mentorship opportunities. MAU has also collaborated with the Minnesota Department of Health to tackle COVID-19 within the community. Other key partnerships include Metropolitan State University and the College of St. Scholastica to launch the Kofi Annan scholarship for African immigrants and eXp Realtors to provide housing opportunities for the African immigrant community.
As MAU looks forward, they plan to continue offering additional support to a growing African immigrant population. Future plans include expanding partnerships locally, nationally and globally, and investing in priority sectors such as housing, workforce, education, small business, healthcare, agriculture, etc. to support African immigrant families.
In the five years since its inception, MAU has made a big difference in its members’ lives. Ajuo says, “Success stories of MAU helping others build wealth, start small businesses, grow their own food, own their homes, encourage education, land jobs, and finally, the creation of the Kofi Anna scholarship have been my proudest moments.”