Mayor Cory A. Booker formed the group last summer to strengthen the ties between African and African American communities, with a mandate to help bridge subtle but significant gaps in cultural understanding (see The Catholic Advocate, Jan. 23).
Originally from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), West Africa, Kassimou, who currently resides in South Orange, will receive a multiple master's degree in diplomacy, international relations and public administration from Seton Hall University's Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations.
The commission and Kassimou's role in it may prove to be significant in the near term, as the Garden State's largest city grapples with burgeoning growth spurred by new business investment, such as the Prudential Center. Many Catholics who arrived from African nations and relocate to the Archdiocese of Newark find it difficult to adjust within the community, he said, noting that language barriers typically prevent them from adapting to U.S. culture.
"There needs to be more understanding of African culture and history and our rich traditions," Kassimou said. "My goal will be to bring people together to build a community." Unfortunately, community members many times don't connect and collaborate on important urban issues such as economic development, healthcare and education, he lamented.
Father Anselm I. Nwaorgu, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament/St. Charles Borromeo Parish, recently expressed similar observations. Establishing cultural connections for African clergy coming to the United States was one of Father Nwaorgu's top priorities while he served as president of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (see The Catholic Advocate, Feb. 6).
"Immigration can be disruptive," Father Nwaorgu-who was born and raised in Nigeria-said in a separate interview. "Part of the handicap to being accepted is not knowing the customs," he said.
Dialogue and community networking will be done through a series of programs and events, which are being planned by Kassimou's commission in the coming months. Catholic churches in the area will play a key role in providing a venue for these events, Kassimou said. Eventually, the outreach and dialogue will extend to other segments of the Greater Newark community. This extension would be a natural outgrowth of the commission's efforts, Kassimou explained, as Africa is a continent of diverse cultures and many religions and ethnic groups.