Africare House Turns 20

Africare’s International Headquarters Building and “Washington’s House of Africa” Commemorates Its Opening in October 1987

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 8, 2007 — Back in 1981, the disused, boarded-up D.C. public school at 440 R Street, N.W., showed all the signs of neglect. That same year, the District of Columbia government offered the 20,000-square-foot building and its property at public auction. And Africare purchased it.

Six years and a $2 million fund-raising campaign later, Africare moved into the renovated building: the organization’s first wholly-owned headquarters, also serving the capital city of the United States as a public center on Africa.

And on the evening of October 8, 1987 — 20 years ago — more than 500 supporters gathered for the formal opening of “Africare House.” There to cut the ribbon was His Excellency Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda, then President of Zambia, Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (now, the African Union) and Honorary Chairman of Africare.

“The location is symbolic,” notes former Africare President C. Payne Lucas today. “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 relate to it and feel proud of Africa. Africare House became a community building. It was also a place where people at all levels have engaged in conversations about Africa and ideas about Africa — how to ‘make Africa work.’ ” Lucas is an Africare co-founder and served as the organization’s president from 1971 until June 2002. During that time, he spearheaded the creation of Africare House.

As a community building, Africare House has been home to monthly ANC2 (Advisory Neighborhood Commission) meetings for Washington’s Howard/Shaw community.

As an international building, Africare House has, since 1987, hosted the monthly meetings of the Washington-based African Diplomatic Corps. “We applaud the idea of a center embracing Africa as a whole in the capital city of the United States,” stated the then-dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in 1983, during the building’s fund-raising campaign.

Finally, Africare House has played host to hundreds of events sponsored by organizations and individuals concerned with Africa. Those events have ranged from African embassies' receptions for their visiting heads of state to educational and social events sponsored by businesses, membership groups and international development organizations.

Africare had several homes before Africare House. Incorporated in Hawaii in September 1970, Africare operated there for its first eight months in the home of its founding president, William Kirker, M.D. Reincorporated in Washington, D.C., in May 1971, Africare moved into the home of its second president, C. Payne Lucas. Within a year, the organization occupied several borrowed rooms in the Embassy of Niger. As Africare grew, it moved into rented offices on, successively, 16th Street, N.W., and Connecticut Avenue, N.W. — and finally, in 1987, into its own building: Africare House.

“Africare takes a 360-degree approach to development,” notes Africare’s third and current President, Julius E. Coles. “We address needs in food security, health, water and sanitation, and emergency assistance in the most rural locations on the continent of Africa. And one of our goals operating out of Washington, D.C., is to connect U.S. communities that are concerned about international development with communities in Africa.”

Initially, Africare consisted of a handful of volunteer employees and a budget of only a few thousand dollars. Today, the staff exceeds 1,000 headquarters and Africa-based staff, with an operating budget of over $40 million annually — in large part due to the donations of concerned individuals in the U.S.

UPCOMING EVENT: As a “thank you” to Africare friends of past and a “welcome” to future friends, Africare will host a block party-style open house at the end of October. The family-friendly gathering will provide visitors to Africare House with a chance to experience African culture, food and entertainment — as well as the opportunity to learn more about the important initiatives that Africare is carrying out in Africa today.

Africare is a leading non-profit organization specializing in African aid. It is also the oldest and largest African-American led organization in that field. Since its founding in 1970, Africare has delivered more than $675 million in assistance and support — over 2,000 projects and millions of beneficiaries — to 36 countries Africa-wide. Africare has its international headquarters in Washington, DC, with field offices currently in some 25 African countries.