Family legacy inspires interest in Public Service
About the Author: Togba Jallah-Porte is a Liberian-American Philadelphian who just completed a year of service with Serve Philadelphia VISTA with the Office of Immigrant Affairs.
As a Liberian-American youth growing up in Philly, who were some of your heroes in the African and Caribbean immigrant community?
Growing up, I had a lot of role models within my family. My family came to America because of the Civil War in Liberia, and seeing what they have done in a strange land with so little at times, pushes me to strive for greatness. My grandfather has his own nonprofit called Agape Senior Center and I have followed behind him and learned some of the basics of civil service since I was a child. I would say he is one.
In your opinion, what makes Philadelphia a Welcoming City for African and Caribbean Immigrants?
Philadelphia has a huge immigrant population, it is so diverse already so it creates a welcoming atmosphere for anyone from any background to be welcomed and feel at home away from home. My experience has been with the Liberian community in Southwest Philadelphia. We are many and make considerable contributions to the economic structure of Southwest Philadelphia from Woodland Ave. alone and the many African and Caribbean businesses there. The community has recognized our culture and allowed us to fully be ourselves by giving us spaces to host our cultural events, to join us in our cuisine and wardrobe.
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?
Since I was eight I have been following the lead of my mother, grandfather, aunts, and uncles in their effort into making America a comfortable transition for the Liberians coming or having already been in America for a while. I’ve been to meetings with Mayor Micheal Nutter as well as cleaned some neighborhoods with him alongside my family. I have assisted my grandfather with his nonprofit organization. I say all that to say that I have unintentionally been in the environment of public service before I knew what it was. As I got older, it has become a goal and dream of mine to improve the quality of life for my people in America as well as back home in the motherland.
What projects did you work on at OIA? With the Mayor’s Commission on African and Immigrant Affairs?
I served as a liaison between the Commission and the Office of Immigrant Affairs helping to facilitate meetings and coordination between our office and the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs.
My main duties with OIA were to serve as the Black Immigrant Capacity Building VISTA which has included leading the facilitation of a Black Immigrant Capacity Building project for approximately one year. The goal of the project was for OIA to develop a capacity-building collaborative to provide culturally competent technical assistance and organizational development tools to local nonprofit organizations in a two-year period.
This is the first project in Philadelphia of this kind. Three major Philadelphian African organizations helped to pivot this opportunity from a one-time funding opportunity to something that will continue to provide funding resources for African and Caribbean-led organizations in Philly for many years. OIA serves as the facilitator of this project through the VISTA position. Bloom Planning provided consultation throughout this project and helped the three anchor orgs, ACANA, AFRICOM, and AFAHO to align on a shared vision.
What accomplishments are you most proud of? What are the biggest lessons you learned while working at OIA and with MCACIA?
I am proud of the framework that OIA, Bloom Consulting, and the three leading advisors have made for the Capacity Building project. Because it is the first project of its kind, it is exciting to see a blueprint that will ensure many years of success.
I have learned how to handle big personalities within the professional space. I also learned how to move things along when a cohort can’t come to a majority decision. It takes patience and respectful initiating.
What are your hopes for Philadelphia’s African and Caribbean communities?
My hopes are that we become self-sufficient people that are able to make strives for our communities here and in our home countries. We grow to a point that can cure a little bit of the reoccurring problems that occur in our communities for so long. It falls on us because no one else will do it.
What’s next for you?
I am still early in my professional development, so I look forward to continuing my path within the city government and learning ways to become a great public servant.