The Agape African Senior Center, a Black-led, Black-centered Organizing Fund and Immigration Justice Fund grantee, was founded in 2000 by immigrants and refugees of African descent. Their mission, in the words of founder Rev. Dr. John Jallah, is to “organize to help aging refugees and immigrants cope with life.” In the beginning, Agape members met once a week to develop an understanding of how government worked in Philadelphia. A 2004 grant from Bread & Roses Community Fund was the Center’s first source of funding.
Elderly African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees living in Philadelphia face economic, cultural, social, and language barriers. The Agape African Senior Center’s English as a Second Language classes, residency and citizenship assistance, skills trainings, and peer support group aim to build a base to take collective action.
“The first win has been to get senior citizens out of their homes and to participate,” Jallah says. The Center’s programming enables community members to independently navigate the city, addressing the isolation often experienced by elderly immigrants and refugees.
The Center’s inclusion campaign calls on the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging to re-direct funding to community-led organizations that meet the specific needs of aging African and Caribbean immigrants and refugees, who face discrimination accessing health care and other services available to seniors. The campaign hopes to ensure that the “10,000 aging African and Caribbean immigrants are treated like other aging Philadelphians,” says Jallah.
Members of the Agape African Senior Center advocate for their needs at the city level by serving on the newly formed African Caribbean Advisory Body as well as the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs. “Our community already has organizations,” says Jallah. “Our community should be empowered to serve our people and our refugees.”