Reaching Across Communities

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What in 2006 began as a family-based organization meant to promote civic engagement and promote cultural awareness among young people, has become a resource for diverse communities across Boston. Through a combination of community service projects, cultural banquets, and education programs, the National African Community Organization (NACO) aims to celebrate all forms of diversity and give them a tangible presence in the city’s social fabric.

“It wasn’t an easy road, getting to where we are,” said founder and current NACO Director of Operations, Josephine Erewa. “Now, the city reaches out to us and people recommend us as a resource.” The organization has been involved with the mayor’s neighborhood cleanup program, Boston Shines, helping clear an underground pass in Mattapan last year. And after participating in the 2010 Caribbean parade, NACO received a call from the U.S. Census Bureau for help in connecting with the African demographic, including Ethiopians, Somalis, Ugandans, Guineans, and Nigerians. “We also get calls from all sorts of places looking for interpreters,” Josephine said. “We got a call recently from a community center in Dorchester about that, and I can usually tell right away if it’s a language that I speak just from the name of the person who needs help.”

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Aside from community service projects, Josephine’s favorite program is NACO’s annual holiday toy giveaway. It accomplishes one of her main goals by attracting a large number of young volunteers. “It gets better every year,” Josephine said. “People are already sending us messages, saying they want to volunteer.” This past December, NACO held the toy giveaway at the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library in partnership with Toys for Tots, who helped get the word out.

NACO is also involved with a number of other Boston community organizations, including Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA) in the South End, the Caribbean Foundation of Boston in Dorchester, and Haitian-Americans United (HAU) in Mattapan. “You have to come out, you have to show that you have something to contribute,” Josephine said. “NACO isn’t about politics, but about doing things that show that you are here, that you are an active, productive part of society.”

Josephine’s drive comes from her background. She was born in Nigeria to a mother who never went to school, yet taught her brothers, her relatives, and their sons. This touched Josephine. Nicknamed “one in a thousand” for the leadership skills she has demonstrated since early childhood, she was determined to move past the cultural limitations of her gender. To do this, Josephine decided she had to travel and, in 1975, moved to Boston. She graduated the University of Massachusetts with a sociology minor and a business major, 

and has not been idle for a second since. “A good life brought me here and I’m glad I came to this country,” Josephine said. “I think about what I’ve gained and how much I’ve bene ted, and I think about what I can do to give back.” She started NACO with her three sons but, true to her dream, it’s young, new volunteers and strong connections with other diverse organizations that have made it into the integral part of Boston that it is today.

For more information on how to get involved with the National African Community Organization, visit new-naco.org.