The Third Global Leadership Africa Summit Ends in Omaha

One of the several family photos during the Third Global Leadership Africa Summit held in Omaha, Nebraska on October 23, 2021

BY JOSEFINA LOZA / PHOTGRAPHY BY EDWIGE GAYIBOR

Something is changing in our culture. A vibrant influence is having a breakthrough. As more American listeners become attune to Afrobeats. As the frozen food aisles of Target begin to carry Jollof rice, Chicken Yassa, and Waakye. And as we learn the sexiness of ABC’s Station 19 star Boris Kodjoe could be linked to his ties to Ghana. Let’s pause a moment to appreciate how lit Africa is—and that the rest of the world is just late to it.

Over the last several years, Americans have noticed a beautiful emergence of the African immigrant community, which is growing in size, diversity and impact. Slightly more than 2 million immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa lived in the United States in 2018. While this population remains small, representing just 4.5 percent of the country’s 44.7 million immigrants, the 2018 U.S. Census reports that it is a rapidly growing one. 

Between 2010 and 2018, the sub-Saharan African population increased by 52 percent, significantly outpacing the 12 percent growth rate for the overall foreign-born population during that same period.

Significant indeed.

In October, Omaha, Nebraska got a glimpse of this burgeon African community in the Midwest at the Global Leadership Africa Summit (GLAS), which serves as a celebration of Africa’s history and contributions to the world while promoting a worldwide message of inclusion. 

The summit’s focus on diversity reflects a community that is growing in that area. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of minorities in Douglas County increased to 34.7% in the 2020 Census from 28.1% in 2010.

The Global Leadership Africa Summit creator Marco Kpeglo LeRoc, left, presents keynote speaker and well-known actor Boris Kodjoe with an award

“Omaha has a lot of diversity,” says Marco Kpeglo LeRoc, the creator and director of the Global Leadership Africa Summit. LeRoc, an Omaha-based author and international speaker, continued: “We want to amplify that diversity with this event.”

After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Leadership Africa Summit returned with notable leaders and celebrities to discuss critical topics such as women’s empowerment, physical and financial well-being, the pandemic’s impact and entrepreneurship. Participating in those key discussions was accomplished actor, philanthropist and entrepreneur Boris Kodjoe, fellow entrepreneur and video game developer Lual Mayen and Nigerian singer and songstress Simi. Omaha officials who spoke at the summit included the University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor Joanne Li and University of Nebraska Medical Center executive Dr. H. Dele Davies.

“We created the summit to elevate us. I understand that there is sometimes a stigma about Africans taking and not contributing.” Contrary to those beliefs, LeRoc says, “there are so many talents that I want to profile through this event. We want to provide learning opportunities for entrepreneurship. People come, learn, and connect with others. We want to share those stories.”

Immigrants from some of the largest sub-Saharan countries, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Somalia, South Africa and smaller Togo, have settled in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute reported that more than 2 million immigrants have come from the 51 countries that comprise sub-Saharan Africa, making up 84 percent of the 2.4 million immigrants from the entire African continent. According to the Institute, the remaining from the six countries of North Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia.

These African immigrants are now doctors, restaurateurs, academics, shop owners, hair stylists and more. They’re eager to connect and root themselves in business and commerce. Take the aspiring restaurateur who finally mustered the courage to open her eatery after attending the summit, LeRoc shared. The curious man who made connections and decided to go for that real estate position he dreamed of. The young professional who partnered with new friends he met at the summit and now runs his own small business. These are the connections in which summit participants strived to make during the fall summit.

Since the summit began in 2018, more than 800 people from more than 15 cities have gathered to share ideas to build stronger communities and form lasting relationships. More than 400 people participated in this year’s summit. LeRoc said the event would have likely attracted more if not for the ongoing pandemic.

Perhaps, LeRoc is being hard on himself. In small business owner Edwige Gayibor’s eyes, the Global Leadership Africa Summit was a success this year.

“As we get lost in our day to day jobs, such an event reminds me personally where I come from, what I overcame so far, and the work still ahead for me as an individual, and for the African continent,” said Gayibor, owner of VeeGe Photography.“ Boris Kodjoe, the keynote speaker, has been to the continent and is well aware of Africa’s potentials and some of its challenges. He therefore could relate to the questions from the audience and provided great insight on some of the challenges discussed.

Attendants sitting at a table

Now about Boris Kodjoe. He has helped a lot of African Americans connect to the motherland and has stayed in tune with how Africa could sustain itself. Franck Tucker Ebang, marketing director of the summit, said this year’s Global Leadership Africa summit subscribed under the banner of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “With the fundamental belief that by working together we can bring about change and move forward, our keynote speaker, Mr. Boris Kodjoe, was able to connect his vision of a completely autonomous and capable Africa to the task of reshaping the narrative about the continent. It was a heartfelt message, which most certainly uplifted the spirits of the attendees.”

Mourdjana M.J., a haute couture fashion designer and owner of M.J.’s Queen Beauty and Fashion boutique, was fortunate to have met him.

“Mr. Boris, his words of encouragement and wisdom were so inspiring. Our Africa is not a country. Africa is a continent. We need to take serious action towards our natural resources in Africa… Let’s come together and work as one. Africa has everything we need.”

James Sanigular II of AYO Foods was also in attendance.

AYO, which means “joy” in Yoruba, is the first West African frozen food line in the United States.  AYO Foods, which was co-founded by Perteet and Frederick Spencer, is a line of frozen, pre-made West African dishes, like Jollof Rice, and Puff Puff, was launched last year and can be found in Whole Foods, Kroger, and Target stores across the United States.

“Global Leadership Africa Summit was a phenomenal all-encompassing conference. Bringing the community together with one goal of improving and empower the continent of Africa,” Sanigular II said. “Boris Kodjoe’s exceptional keynote speech was not only moving but a powerful testament when action and unity can coincide together.”

Joubel Teko, co-creator of Afro Omaha, a multifaceted celebration of African culture in the Midwest which features a music festival, art and fashion show, was pleased by the connections he made throughout the summit. “I met genuine people. No one felt their person was above him or her.”

But the best part of the summit, by far, was the presenters who were “captivating and very engaging. We didn’t want it to end because we had so many questions we wanted to ask.”

For instance, Teko attended breakout session about mental health, which emphasized the need for men to protect their mental wellbeing.

“When it comes to African men, we hold everything inside. We tend to hold things to our self and we don’t reach out,” Teko explained. “We don’t seek professional health when it comes to our mental health. Women expect men to be the hero. During pandemic, stressors amplified the need for self-care.”

A few takeaways Jack Toyi Beguedou, owner of Beguedou insurance services, said he left with are as follows: “the summit provided a new opportunity to learn from people who look and sound like you. Boris’ speech was effective, reminding us that together not just Africans from the diaspora but African and African descent folks need to unite to build our continent and turn it into a global financial force.”

As Kodjoe’s speech touched on economic independence, unity, the power within Africa, there was one point in particular that made Karine Sokpoh, the president of the Midlands African Chamber reflect—the power of our youth.

“They’re young, vibrant, and enterprising,” Sokpoh said. A reminder of the first wave of young, ambitious African immigrants like herself in the late 1990s and early 2000s who came to America to attend college and change the world.

“The majority of us came here as students, some as refugees… And have since become entrepreneurs, parents, doctors, lawyers, and contributors to society in so many ways,” Sokpoh said. “We recreated a community for ourselves with our restaurants, law firms, schools, and places of worship. Then we had children—and lots of them. That’s the power of immigrants. That’s our secret weapon—it’s our kids.”

It’s also the reason why LeRoc continues to create opportunities for professional and business development. Why he works so diligently to create an inclusive community that embraces culture by way of food, music, art and leadership.

As Sokpoh said: “I can’t wait to see what next year’s summit will bring.”