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A diaspora of hope

As I was preparing to host this week’s Need to Know, I was struck by the powerful reporting from Africa. But let’s face it: The news we get out of Africa is almost always bad news. Whether it’s the drought in Ethiopia or mass rapes in Congo or corruption in South Africa, this never-ending litany of problems makes many Americans think perhaps that Africa is only a continent in trouble.

While those problems are worth reporting (and worth acting on, when we can) it’s important to remember that they don’t give us the whole picture of life in the over fifty different African nations. Far from it.

Consider this one remarkable fact, cited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her recent speech to the African Union in Ethiopia. “Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies in the last decade are in sub-Saharan Africa, and that percentage is expected to grow in the next five years.”

Think about that for a minute: Of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, six of them are in Africa. Clearly, you aren’t getting, and enough American journalists aren’t reporting, the whole story about what’s happening in Africa.

So I wanted to take you to a place I see every day — my neighborhood — a place where Secretary Clinton’s words ring true. Here in New York City, right in the middle of Harlem, is a thriving community of West Africans. They’re immigrants from countries like Senegal and Ghana. And the Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea.

To walk around in this community is to see a very different portrait of Africa – and Africans — than the one we get in the news.  Here, it’s a portrait of entrepreneurship, where shopkeepers and businesspeople work hard, pay their bills and try to make a living in a tough economy.  It’s a portrait of tight-knit friends and families, looking after their kids, trying to pass their values to another generation.

This neighborhood is a counterpoint to the bad news from Africa — a reminder that millions and millions of Africans – both here and in their home countries – can, and do, flourish. To me, it’s a daily reminder that Africa isn’t so far away after all. It’s right here at home.