My work as a human development consultant and organizational solutionist has taken me to communities across the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. For so many years however, even during my college days at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, I longed to conduct sustainable work in the Motherland. Over the years, I had written for a women's journal in Nigeria, consulted with organizations in Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria via SKYPE and Oovoo; and given a school my girl's curriculum to start a leadership program, but that was not enough, I had a desire to go there, to immerse myself in the arms of the people and the place.
They say speak what you desire, believe that it will manifest, and be prepared when it does. As destiny would have it, my steps were ordered to come to Minneapolis for this season to do some work, and here is where I met Reverend, soon to be Dr. Mfon Archibong, who is the President/CEO of Grace Restoration International (GRI). GRI is a multi-dimensional human development organization that provides an array of programs and services to youth, adults and families across the African Diaspora. In numerous conversations, Mfon Archibong shared his vision and spirit-work with me, and when he asked would I help him, my response was a resounding "My pleasure."
Mother Africa Embraces Me
Last December, as a collaborative partner with GRI and our host the Hon Dr. Ekaette Ebong, the Deputy Speaker of the Akwa Ibom Legislature, I was invited to conduct a Microenterprise Learning Circle for women, and during my birthday week, my bucket list journey to Africa was realized. Indeed, a birthday gift to remember.
All I can say is "What an amazing visit home." I was treated royally, pampered like a long lost relative who has come back to the community after being absent for far too many years. Elected officials and community dignitaries all came to a surprise birthday party that Dr. Ekaette Ebong hosted for me; a woman who I had spoke to by phone on several occasions but had never met; a sister in service whose spirit connected with mine, as we both share a dedication for uplifting others, both of us committed to using our talents and expertise to transform people and places.
Over three hundred women signed up to be part of my social enterprise project there, and more astounding was being named the first woman Chief in honor of my human development work by the ITAM Clan in Akwa Ibom. I was named First Daughter of the Light or Adiaha Unwana Itam. Memorable were the King's comments, "This was already predestined, and we are merely crystallizing what was to be."
This was certainly a full circle journey for me, as I grew up in a sleepy North Carolina town called Belmont. In celebration of the city's 100 year anniversary in 1995, a book was written by my aunt and her colleague about people of color and their contributions to the community. The first settler as the scarce records note was my father's great aunt, known as Aunt Betty, born on a slave ship, her family came from West Africa. This book, Footprints on the Rough Side of the Mountain was dedicated to her. My father, in 1970, became the first African- American City Councilman in this textile town, and then in 2012, I was embraced in Africa.
Grace Restoration International (GRI) – Serving Others
Most people here in the Twin Cities have not heard of GRI or Reverend Archibong. With a passion for fostering social transformation, since 2006, with support from Shell Petroleum, Inc., he has been conducting education, employment, entrepreneurship and health programs in Africa. Just a few of GRI projects include:
• Coordinates an annual medical and educational outreach to Nigeria. Services includes: yearly de-worming of children, nutrition drive for children with poor nutrition, the provision of medicine and physical examinations,
• Donates school materials to students and works on renovating local schools in a selected village each year,
• Awarded scholarship to 3 high school students from Akwa State of Nigeria,
• Collaborates with Hope Ke-Abasi Foundation and Shell Petroleum to provide primary health care to local communities in Akwa Ibom state and Rivers State of Nigeria. Areas includes: HIV/AIDS, Diabetes awareness, dental health, wellness, eye exams, free eye glass distributions and medication drive, to include vitamins for children and prenatal support for mothers,
• Partners with Hope Ke-Abasi Foundation to fund micro-businesses for 30 women in two communities, and
• Create and conduct HIV awareness campaigns targeting secondary school youth.
When asked about his vision for creating GRI over seven years ago, Archibong said, "Simply to reduce generational poverty through education, health, and social entrepreneurship."
To learn more about GRI, visit www.graceresinternational.org, or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og7u6cy68YU
This September, GRI will be hosting its African Heritage Event, where its African partners will be on hand, and the organization will formally launch its Circle of 99 Book Project and Afia Designs, a micro-enterprise project for women and girls.