After a multi-year campaign highlighting the positive contributions of immigrants and refugees to the Greater Dayton, Ohio community, the city made history recently by unanimously approving a comprehensive “Welcome Dayton” plan. Dayton officials say the plan focuses on making the community “one that treats all people kindly, fairly and humanely,” as Mayor Gary Leitzell put it.

One key leader in the campaign, AFSC staffer Migwe Kimemia, recently was appointed to that city’s Human Relations Council. This is an exciting opportunity to have a direct impact on civil rights and to bring attention to the concerns of African immigrants.

What is your family background and how did you get to Dayton?

I was born and raised in Kenya where my parents, under harsh colonial conditions, experienced forced labor and marginalization.  Subsequent political conflict and upheaval caused my family to break up; my oldest sister and her family went to Norway.  Five other siblings remain in Kenya, but I came to Dayton, Ohio, in September 1998 to attend United Theological Seminary.

I attained a Master’s degree in Transformational Leadership and a Doctor of Missiology degree in Globalization & Eco-spirituality. Currently, I am pursuing a post-doctoral research project in Prophetic Leadership at the Seminary.

My wife, Gathoni, and I have four children, all of whom are in college.

How long have you served with AFSC and how did your appointment come about?  What attracted you to the organization?

I joined AFSC’s Dayton Office as Program Director for the Africa Initiative in October 2002. The United Theological Seminary alerted me about the position when it appeared in the local papers because I had professional experience in international banking and trade in Africa before answering my call to ministry. It was a pleasant surprise for me to discover that AFSC had endorsed the Jubilee Movement for debt cancellation in Africa and other heavily indebted poor countries in the world. The opportunity to work with AFSC was the answer to my prayers for my authentic calling to global economic justice ministries.

What are some of the activities of your program in the greater Dayton community?

In Dayton AFSC’s Life-over-Debt campaign is developing a well-informed constituency to support and advocate for Africa among college students and faith communities in Ohio. The campaign also involves transformational leadership development among the African diaspora communities in Southwest Ohio.

The program advocates for immigrant and refugee rights in Ohio, and builds community among the various African immigrants through social events such as an annual soccer tournament. The program has been very successful in campaigning for affordable housing for refugees in Dayton.

The program has been instrumental in advocating for the Welcome Dayton plan, whose goal is to create a friendlier and more hospitable climate for immigrants in Dayton. I represented AFSC in the Welcome Dayton Business & Economic Development Team that recommended the promotion of immigrant businesses and entrepreneurship as a strategy for creating jobs in the city.

What are some of the positive results you’ve seen from your program?

As part of the Dayton Life-over-Debt campaign, two other community leaders and I took a delegation of 10 African students to Washington, D.C.  The students met with members of Congress and visited the Department of the Treasury.  The African youth shared their perspectives on debt, and felt empowered to talk about economic justice in Africa with policy-makers.

Following the visit to Congress, it was really exciting for Dayton’s African community to learn about the G8, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank official cancellation of international debt for 14 African countries in July 2006. Moreover, the Jubilee Movement around the world was, for the first time since its launching in 2000, highly energized. The local campaign celebrated the cancellation of international debt for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008.

What are your program’s plans for the next year?

My work in Dayton in 2012 will include continuing to build community among African immigrants and other groups, improving the economic status of immigrants, working with young people on leadership, and continuing to educate the public about issues that affect the dignity and rights of all of the people in Dayton.  

What will your role/voice be on the Human Relations Council (HRC)? 

My main role at the HRC is to lift up community concerns and contributions with a view to creating a more hospitable climate for immigrants and refugees in Greater Dayton. I also want to ensure that the Welcome Dayton plan is implemented and sustained by a vibrant city-community partnership that will rebuild Dayton into a vibrant and dynamic  city that taps the energies of all of its residents. 

This position is especially significant because it is the first time that the City Commission has appointed an African immigrant to the HRC Board. In this regard, I consider my role to be that of a “voice for the voiceless” in Dayton.