Immigration from Africa to the United States has exploded. Between 2008 and 2012, 1.6 million immigrants came from the continent, representing 4 percent of the foreign born population; in 1970 it was one percent. In fact, more Africans have been coming here annually than in any of the peak years of slavery’s Middle Passage. Since 1970, the number of foreign born from Africa has doubled each decade.
Like immigrants before them, many of the new African residents have left their countries in search of better lives, and they bring with them skills and education. In fact, compared with the overall foreign-born population, Africans have much higher levels of education. Forty-one percent of the African-born population have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28 percent of the overall foreign born population in the U.S. Only 12 percent have less than a high school education, in contrast to 32 percent of all foreign-born citizens.
As history has proven, a wave of educated, ambitious newcomers breath new life into cities and also create tension. In many communities, the most visible signs of the new immigration are the proliferation of African churches, mosques, hair-braiding salons, restaurants, tailors and small shopkeepers selling goods from their homelands.
In raw numbers, New York City has the most African immigrants – 200,000 –the bulk from West Africa. They have transformed the Harlem community, beginning with Marcus Samulesson’s mega-popular restaurant, Red Rooster, and his newest offering, Street Bird. Small African-owned businesses have sprung up all along West 116th Street,
anchored by the Malcolm Shabazz Market at 5th Avenue, the gateway to “Little Africa.”
Though New York has the highest numbers, Africans in smaller, midwestern communities have an even larger impact. They make up 23 percent of the total number of foreign born in Columbus, Ohio and 20 percent in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region. In that city, 64,000 Somali and Ethiopian refugees have settled, most fleeing from strife in their countries. Among the states, North Dakota has the highest proportion of African immigrants – 20 percent of all foreign-born residents.
We’d like to examine how this rapid growth of African immigration has changed American communities, focusing on three: Harlem, Minneapolis and one other.
Through in-depth reporting and with interactive elements, we plan to examine these questions:
• What kinds of businesses do African immigrants start – and how successful are they?
• How do their experiences differ from previous generations of African immigrants – and immigrants from other countries?
• What are the problems the immigrant business owners face?
• How do they deal with tensions that arise – from non Africans and also African Americans, who have long had trouble gaining an economic toehold in many
• How has their success supported the communities they left?
• What does the future look like for them?
Along with interviews and photographs, our piece will also feature:
• An interactive map showing the connection between African immigrants' country of birth and their now adopted homeland.
• An interactive graph showing the various reasons for immigrating.
• An interactive graph looking at remittances and the economic relations between families and their home countries.
• Several short videos highlighting African entrepreneurs.