Coming to Town

New investment in immigrant communities to reinvigorate Southwest Philly

This post is a summary of a story by WHYY’s Jordan Levy, published November 25, 2022 and shared through a partnership via the News & Information Community Exchange. (Read the original article here)

Since at least 2005, a part of SW Philly roughly from S. 47th & Baltimore to S. 74th & Lindbergh has become home to a growing community of Caribbean and African families, businesses, churches and cultural organizations now slated for extra love and nurturing. With a $9 million development grant announced this November, the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA) seeks to reinforce an innovative model for community pride and prosperity called the Africatown project.

Philadelphia has long been an attractive destination for immigrants to the US. As a major city we offer lots of opportunities, yet our housing costs are low compared to other metropolitan areas. We also have many robust language and educational programs for Black and brown people starting new lives. Pew reports that Africans, especially, have been the fastest-growing immigrant group in Philly – populations have more than tripled in the last 20 years! To say Africatown is ready for this substantial investment is an understatement.

“We are no longer transient, we are a permanent part of the community,” said Voffee Jabateh, ACANA’s CEO (and a Liberian immigrant). In ACANA’s eyes, the grant is a formal acknowledgement of what is already here and thriving. “This boom will only get bigger,” he said, noting that every individual success story helps pave the way for others. ACANA hopes this new funding will inspire more capital, more customers, more creative solutions and collaborations.

PA State Representative Jordan Harris went to high school in Southwest Philly, and remembers how the African immigrant community was growing even back then, with very little (if any) government assistance. This new funding comes out of the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which supports economic efforts through cultural and civic leadership. City, state, federal and private partners will work collaboratively on the next phase of Africatown’s development.

Plans include a multi-million dollar community space that will house ACANA’s flagship office plus a health center, banquet hall, job skills facilities, and more. Africatown will also benefit from new infrastructure for better access, parking, safety, streetscape, etc. In addition, they’re targeting improvements for the Woodland Ave Commercial Corridor that anchors the project.

The grant funding, Harris says, is an example of state officials capitalizing on local improvements, that “not only benefits those brothers and sisters who can draw direct lines of a family relation to an African country, but really for the whole of Southwest Philadelphia.” The area has had a rough time in recent decades, with wide swaths of Kingsessing and Eastwick neighborhoods being “blighted” by the City (ie flagged for condemnation/seizure). Many of these areas overlap with Africatown, which ACANA can now target for new growth and enterprise.

Few American cities are as rich in African diversity as Philadelphia —  home to over 120,000 immigrants, from 35+ countries with incredible history, art, food, and heritage. As much as ACANA seeks to honor and support the growing African & Caribbean community, they also strive to spotlight how amazing it is for the rest of the city. And perhaps inspire visitors to explore this vibrant, authentic and exciting cultural hub.

The African Cultural Alliance of North America is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Philadelphia to serve African & Caribbean immigrants with a variety of resources and cultural support. Founded in 1999 by a group of African musicians, ACANA has grown to provide vital social, health and legal assistance in the Delaware Valley and beyond. It’s also part Community Development Corporation, working with corporate partners to clean streets, build local business, and even rehabilitate blighted buildings around the Chester Avenue corridor in Southwest Philly.; follow on Facebook & Instagram

ABOUT AFRICATOWN: Africatown is a cooperative initiative to create jobs, increase business ownership, and eliminate poverty in one of the most economically-depressed communities in Philadelphia. Seeking to attract investment for a tourist destination point for the global African diaspora. Learn more at  — and check out a current Business Directory here

NICE partner Saj Purple Blackwell & daughter Tommi at the Africatown Groundbreaking (Nov 25, 2022)

This story has been “Localized” and shared through a partnership via the News & Information Community Exchange. (Read Jordan Levy’s original article for WHYY here)


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