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Attending the 2018 Liberian Gala

Updated: May 9, 2018

The Liberian Community holds its 2018 Inagrual ball at the Hilton and SIWWM were proud to attend.

The Gala

SIWWM was honored to be invited by Jennifer Gray-Brumskine, the chair of the board of directors for the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA) as her special guests. The gala welcomed the new president and vice president. Staten Island played host to the multiple chapters of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA) from all across the country. Our friend and partner, Jennifer had said to the Staten Island Advance that the event was "a message to Staten Island that we are part of the fabric of this Island.

We are a part of the fabric of this Island.

Reverence to Liberia

Liberians, whose nation was founded by freed American slaves in the 1840s, have been settling in the Park Hill community for over 30 years. The small community is host to one of the largest Liberian population of any city outside Africa, with an estimated 10,000 – 15,000 immigrants. Minnesota has the largest with about 40,000 Liberians.

Liberian immigrants fleeing in huge numbers from the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1997) sought refuge from ethnic struggles, corrupt government, and political strife. The United States government was highly involved in Liberian affairs and began to offer refugee status (Temporary Protected Status-TPS) to displaced Liberians, especially those who had family in the United States.

The Liberian community in Park Hill has been involved in government lobbying campaigns since the 1990 until just last month to extend the "deferred enforced departure" (DED) status. This status has had to be renewed on a yearly basis by president order since the President Bill Clinton up until now with President Trump in order for immigrants who fled the Liberian war without immigration visas to be able to stay in this country they now call home. Park-Hill based community groups like Jennifer's group, Staten Island Liberian Community Association (SILCA), have become politically active in defending Liberians across the country who are on DED status. They were successful again in extending the status but only for a year and then they have to lobby all over yet again.

Inspiring Women

More and more immigrants emigrated to America as the civil war intensified, settling in communities all over the country. The community encompasses restaurant and business owners. Madam Clar Weah, wife of a former soccer star and Liberian presidential candidate George Weah, owns a business in Brooklyn and lives in Staten Island. Local Liberian civic groups organize Liberian-American involvement in their homeland, and promote a variety of charitable missions in West Africa.

Besides Jennifer, we met inspiring Liberian-Americans at the gala, such as the Mayor of Helena Montana, Wilmot Collins. He told his story of being a first time candidate running for Mayor despite the strong anti-refugee sentiment all over the US, and winning. I learned later that he unseated a four-term incumbent in a state where just over half a percent of the population is black. Then he spent the majority of his time at the podium praising his wife and speaking of her high measure of success as a woman and as a refugee.

Most surprising of all was an elegant woman whom we were casually speaking with in the lobby for some time, suddenly coming to the podium as a speaker. She was introduced as the mayor of Mason Tennessee. To our shock, we wondered why didn't she introduce herself as a Mayor! Mayor Gwendolyn Kilpatrick gave an inspiring speech asking all the women to stand and to own their power, then asking all the men to stand and accept the women's power. Mayor Kilpatrick spoke to us of the challenges of being the first black female mayor of a southern small town. We only just started scratching the surface of the obstacles she overcame when we realized we need to stay connected to this amazing woman.

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