Africans gather in Gilroy to launch support group

BUILDING COMMUNITY: Chris Elias of Gilroy helped organize South Santa Clara County's new Pan-African organization, the South Valley African Community. Elias is pictured at the group's inaugural event July 18, 2015 at Gilroy's Portuguese Hall. About 100 pe

GILROY—More than a dozen African families that came together for mutual support held an inaugural celebration July 18 in Gilroy for their newly formed organization.

The South Valley African Community (SOVACOM) was founded by 17 families and hopes to add many more from Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy, Hollister and surrounding communities, founders said.

“It went really well,” said Dr. Edwin Kimbo, 57, of the group’s “inaugural launching,” which attracted about a hundred parents, young adults and children to the Gilroy Portuguese Hall for food, dance and inspiring speeches, all punctuated African food and colorful fashions.

“It was our first get-together, it was a pretty big turnout,” said civil engineer Chris Elias, 50, of Gilroy. A native of Nigeria, Elias has lived in the United States 28 years.

The group might have come together sooner, but the Ebola crisis in Africa and worries about family living there were preoccupying South Valley Africans, said Kimbo, a medical doctor by training in Africa who works in the United States as a behavioral health consultant.

A resident of Gilroy, Kimbo said he and others have been planning the group for a couple of years and believe there are many more African immigrants in the South Valley area, roughly from Morgan Hill to Hollister, who could benefit from the organization’s goals.

The Pan-African group’s founding families are from Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone, and their ongoing desire is to “spread our wings to embrace all Africans in the Bay Area, while serving as an example and catalyst for the creation of similar groups nationwide and their eventual amalgamation to continue to rekindle the African spirit, a spirit that shall never die,” Kimbo said.

Specifically the group’s goals include bringing families together for support, educating member children “growing up in the diaspora” about Africa, empowering children to claim their heritage, connect culturally to their roots in Africa, and contributing meaningfully to enrich Gilroy and the other communities in which they live.

Elias said he and others “cherish the smallness” of Gilroy because it’s like a “village setting…an environ similar to what we grew up in” on the African continent.

He said that a major goal for SOVACOM members is to contribute to their communities.

“We want to make ourselves known and look for opportunities to participate in maintaining the legacy of (Gilroy) while at the same time injecting our heritage and culture into the process,” he said.

“We come in peace, friendship and open hearts,” Kimbo noted in a press release announcing the inaugural gathering. “And like most community groups, we pledge partnership with other South Valley community groups to foster community spirit and development.”
For more information, Elias is at [email protected] and Kimbo is at (408) 425-0768 or [email protected]