Bakary Tandia helps the immigrant community by serving as a case manager for the Harlem-based organization African Services Committee. A native of the West African country of Mauritania, he is also a policy advocate not only for the New York City immigrant community, but also for his home country.
Arriving in New York in 1992 to escape the conflicts in Mauritania between Africans and Arabs, he said he was one of many Blacks in the country who was forced to leave, as the government attempts to run the country under Arab rules. He noted that many Black refugees live in camps in nearby African nations.
“We as Blacks have been suffering from ongoing oppression,” he said. “We have a moral and legal obligation to protect those still living in refugee camps in Mali and Senegal.”
Since living in the United States, Tandia and several of his friends have been spreading the word about the ethic cleansing and genocide in Mauritania to bring awareness about the issue. He has participated in several protests in New York and Washington, D.C.
Locally, Tandia is a champion for the immigrant community, especially those who come from Africa. African Services Committee serves close to 10,000 people, helping them with housing, a food pantry, immigration and other services. The organization also combats the HIV/AIDS problem with testing and support services.
African Services Committee also helps the African-American and Caribbean communities.
He said, “We have to play the role of the family in many cases. New York is an immigrant city, and there is so much opportunity here. African immigrants are new immigrants, and we need a unified voice.”
Tandia said that African Services Committee also partners with several other organizations. He emphasizes that the partnerships are crucial in order to raise the awareness of the needs of each other.
As a policy advocate, Tandia is an outspoken voice when it comes to immigrant issues. He has spoken on the local, state and federal level about the need for more federal money for immigrant services. He often participates in public hearings to secure more resources in order to extend the African Services Committee’s outreach.
One of his latest victories was helping to urge the city to pass a law making it mandatory for city agencies to provide translations for all services.
“Policy advocacy is important. The best way to bring awareness about your issues is to explain them yourself and also build relationships with other organizations. We can’t do it alone,” he said.
Along with his work with the African Services Committee, Tandia serves as executive director for the African Immigrant Association. The group is made up of about 15 other African-based community groups. He points out that the African community in New York is diverse and that all those representing African nations should be in harmony.
“We have the opportunity to do something together,” he said. “I truly believe in an integrated Africa and I will spare no effort to play my part in making that a reality. When we come together, we can turn challenges into something meaningful.”