Decades of Dedication

Africare Celebrates Black History Month and the United Legacy of Our African and American Roots

This year during Black History Month, Africare reflects on the contributions of past and present generations who have had the vision and foresight to found and make flourish the largest and oldest African-American led organization working exclusively in Africa – an organization that continues to improve lives and build futures across the African continent. From small and humble origins in the Republic of Niger to a more permanent home in the Historic Howard/Shaw District of Washington, DC, Africare presidents C. Payne Lucas and Julius E. Coles have guided Africare to provide more than $760 million in development programs to underserved communities in 36 African nations.

During Black History Month 2009, we celebrate the Africare Story– made possible by the united efforts of Africans and Americans working to improve lives across every region of the African continent.


Famine in Niger. Nearly four decades ago, a small, dedicated group of volunteers laid the foundation of an organization that would later become a leader in development aid and humanitarian assistance to Africa. The year was 1970. West Africa was in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in its history. Crops could not grow; people and animals were dying. Thousands of villagers fled their homes in search of water. The famine forced then President Hamani Diori of Niger to look for a new kind of assistance organization, one that would link Africa and America and be a means by which African-Americans, in particular, could become directly connected with their mother land.

A small group of American volunteers responded to the call: Dr. William Kirker, a medical doctor who had been working in Niger; C. Payne Lucas, a 10-year Peace Corps veteran; Oumarou Youssoufou, First Secretary of the Niger Embassy; and Joseph C. Kennedy, Ph.D, another veteran of the Peace Corps. These original volunteers combined to create a new type of relief organization, one that would go where the need was greatest and partner with communities on the ground to build strong, sustainable societies. Fittingly, they called this new organization – Africare.

From the beginning, Africare’s philosophy would be grassroots, self-help development, placing communities at the center, empowering them to build their own sustainable societies. Beginning in Niger, Africare’s assistance would spread into every region in Sub-Saharan Africa through a handful of key, interrelated areas: food security and agriculture, water and sanitation, health & HIV/AIDS, and emergency and humanitarian assistance.

Humble Beginnings. Before Africare permanently incorporated itself in Washington, DC, the embryonic organization operated out the basement of one of its founder’s homes on a shoestring budget. When the space became too tight, growth carried Africare to several borrowed rooms within the Embassy of Niger, and then to rented office space on 16th Street before moving again to Connecticut Avenue. In 1987, Africare moved into its permanent home on 440 R Street, NW, a former elementary school, in the historic Howard/Shaw District of Washington, DC. The Howard/Shaw District once served as a freed slave encampment turned pre-Harlem center of African-American intellectual and cultural life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Africare House. “The location is symbolic,” noted Africare’s first president and co-founder, C.Payne Lucas, on the 20th anniversary of Africare House. “We wanted Africare House to capture the sprit and essence of Africa so we built the institution in the inner city where African Americans could feel at home, relate to it, and feel proud of it. It became a community building, a place where people engaged in conversations about Africa and about how to make Africa work.”

Educational efforts focused on helping Americans understand the challenges Africans face, the great need for help, and the sense of connection in supporting programs that lead to African self-sufficiency. Each year, more community, religious and fraternal organizations discovered that, through Africare, they could contribute directly to Africa’s regeneration—making Africare an organization truly led by the people through its grassroots networks.

Africare Today. Africare has grown from a small handful of employees with a budget just under $40,000 to a multicultural organization that today exceeds 1,000 international and local staff with an operating budget of over $50 million annually. Africare House continues to serve as a community gathering place, attracting local, national, and international visitors, and uniquely serving as the only place that brings together all the African Ambassadors once a month to discuss common issues.

Today, Africare stands apart for the respect and trust it has earned from communities and governments in Africa and its American-based donors, the long-term results of its community-based programs, and the life-transforming testimonies from millions of African beneficiaries. As we continue to grow and serve larger numbers of Africans in need, we always remember our humble beginnings, the vision that takes us to communities that exist “where the road ends,” and the support of millions of donors who make this vision a reality.

Black History Month Event

In honor of Black History Month, Africare will host a Happy Hour Fête at the Mahogany Restaurant and Lounge in the Historic U Street District on February 25, 2009 from 6-9pm. All are welcome!