Coming 2 America: These Africans Share What They've Learned In Migrating To The U.S.

"My purpose in moving to America was to find my purpose."

Human Interest

Ah, the diaspora gap. It's shrinking, sure, but man do we still have lots of work to do. Lately, I've been finding myself lighting my candles with my wine, chatting with the ancestors, and finding new stand-out content to encourage myself to be more intentional in finding ways of getting closer to our eternal greatness of home besides the obvious visit (thanks COVID). And by this, I don't mean just going out and purchasing a shirt with the continent. I mean truly touching basis on what it means to be black in the hills of Ghana, or the markets of Nairobi, or the beaches of Zanzibar.

Or even Zamunda.

Amazon Prime Video

My curiosity set my sights on one of the most anticipated movies of this generation, Coming 2 America, the sequel to the 1988 cult classic, Coming to America. And the excitement of it's release, hilariously has everyone in full African mode.

The film, set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, follows King Akeem and his trusted confidante Semmi as they embark on an all-new hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York–where it all began. Eddie Murphy reprises his role as the ever-charming Prince Akeem and leads an all-star cast of our faves, including Arsenio Hall, Wesley Snipes, James Earl Jones, Teyana Taylor, and more.

In partnership with Amazon Transportation, Amazon Prime is taking the royal treatment up a notch by adorning 220 delivery vehicles, four trucks, and one plane with specialty wrapping featuring King Akeem. (Check out more photos of the fleet here.) They can be seen in eight key U.S. regions to celebrate the Zamundan Royal Family's return to America. On top of that, Prime Video has partnered with local Black-owned restaurants to provide over 5,000 meals to those in need. Yet another reason this film is one for the books!

If you're like me, you were excited to throw on Amazon Prime Video to immerse yourself in the motherland as we revisit what's been going on in Zamunda since 1998. And honestly, this inspired me to explore other people's stories about venturing to America from Africa. What country did they migrate from? What was their purpose? Were they looking for love like Akeem? Did they want different opportunities? And if so, did they find it?

I found three Africans who were all open to discuss their journeys of coming to America. Here are their stories:

*Some responses have been cut or edited for clarity.

Bahati Nzuri | Nairobi, Kenya

"A lot of people ask me, 'Why America?' or why I chose to move here. Well, I went to SCAD, which is the Savannah College of Art and Design. We had a career fair at our school where they came to visit so they were just putting the name out there and it really stuck with me because I really, really just wanted to go to a creative school.

"In Kenya, at the time, there weren't that many schools that did that, mostly because Kenya is traditional so there's not that many schools that focus on the creative industry."

"What's odd to me, is when I tell Americans this story, it shocks them, like 'What do you mean you just left to go to a different country?' But I feel like it's kind of normal in Kenya to do that. Or maybe if you're from a third world country, it's kind of normal to try to go after experiences outside [the country]. But for Americans, they find that to be crazy. I dealt with it, though, and I have some family here and a lot of my best friends were coming to the States as well, so I never really felt alone.

"But anyway, because it's really hard to get financial aid as an immigrant, I had to apply to lots and lots of scholarships to minimize my cost. I studied branded entertainment which is a cross between advertising, TV production, digital marketing and because it's a new field with social media and a huge part of our culture, it's considered a STEM degree.

"Ultimately, I just really wanted to experience the working world and the working culture here, so I guess you could say I came [to America] for opportunity. And it's really intense; the working culture here is insane, people are constantly, constantly working."

"But I do feel like it's growing me as a person. I've changed a lot and I'm here to stay (for now)."

For more of Bahati, follow her on Instagram.

Damilare 'Dami' Kujembola | Lagos, Nigeria

Courtesy of Damilare 'Dami' Kujembola

"I'm originally from Lagos, Nigeria, where I was a practicing entertainment lawyer. Entertainment law wasn't as popular to specialize in because it wasn't as lucrative as oil and gas or corporate law. However, I was attracted to the idea of being one of the pioneers within this space, so I decided to pursue a master's degree in Los Angeles, the world's capital of entertainment. So in 2014, I received a scholarship to pursue a master's degree at USC.

"The plan was to acquire my master's degree within a year, gain some practical experience, make connections in the U.S., then move back to Nigeria to help develop the entertainment industry by effecting advancement of the law. But God had other plans."

"Moving to Los Angeles was very tough for my family, as I am the first-born and we have a strong bond. I remember seeing my mother shed a tear for the first time in my life, and my dad's parting words were for me to 'remember the son of who I am.' Those words have stuck by me to this day. After a while, I realized the master's degree program left me feeling unequipped to make an impact in the entertainment industry back in Nigeria. Also, during this time, I noticed the African community had a small presence in Los Angeles.

"It was difficult for me to find African food, get a proper haircut or even find mentors who had gone through a similar experience. This wasn't because they didn't exist. It was just hard to find if you did not know anyone. Also, a lot of people had very little knowledge about the continent and there was a lack of representation for the culture. This was my opportunity to make a difference."

"After graduation, I was offered a job by one of my professors, who was the GC of a top digital media startup. During this time, I learned about so many opportunities that could be available for African entertainment, so I decided to transition from practicing law to representing the continent and the diaspora. My business partner, Timi Adeyeba, and I formed Amplify Africa to create community for Africans in the Diaspora, to educate more people about the cultures, reality and opportunities on the continent, to create representation for African interests in the diaspora and to help regain the diaspora's trust in the continent.

"As our team expanded, we realized the yearning for the continent isn't exclusive to African immigrants, as there are other people whose ancestors were forced off of the continent into slavery and who have, over time, created their own culture."

"As a result, we have expanded our vision to bridging the gap between the continent and the Black global experience of the African-American, Afro-Carribean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-European communities. We, now, boast about being one of the biggest media companies for the African diaspora. We've produced over 100 events in 13 cities around the U.S. pre-COVID, including the Afro Ball, a Gala in partnership with U.S. Congress, who provides Certificates of Recognition for Africans and people of African descent excelling in their respective fields.

"Although I haven't seen my family in person since 2014, outside of video calls, this is the year that I can finally reconnect with them. So, I guess you could say my purpose in moving to America, was to find my purpose. And the sacrifice was well worth it."

For more of Dami, follow Amplify Africa on Instagram.

Penelope Maria | Gweru, Zimbabwe

"I moved here about four years ago in 2016 when I was 19 years old, but that wasn't even the initial plan. When I finished high school, the plan was for me to go to the University of Zimbabwe to study law, because that is something that I always wanted to do. I was passionate about it, I was on the debate team, and I was good at it, so that was all I knew.

"I went to the city in Harare—that's the capital city and where the university is—and we filled out the application and we completed all the requirements and even got my ID."

"It just so happened that that after testing exceptionally well on my high school exams, my sister (who was in the States already) called my mother and told her, 'Why don't we try to bring Penny to the U.S. to come to school? She's a smart girl and she'll go places over here.' I never took her seriously and kind of brushed it off, but she was so persistent. So, I looked up colleges where she stayed in Virginia. But it was so expensive to go to a four-year college.

"I found a community college near where she lived and submitted my application as an effort to at least try. I knew in my heart I didn't want to be in Zimbabwe [and] I didn't want to go to school in Zimbabwe. So I applied and got in. Before I left, I didn't tell anyone, I just disappeared. I didn't want to jinx anything or I didn't want to make a big deal and things suddenly didn't work out.

"The best feeling was when I arrived in America and our plane was landing and I said to myself, 'I'm here.' And it's funny because the first thing I noticed was that the air smelled different. It was one of the best moments of my life."

Things have been going pretty great for me. I love it here.

For more of Penelope Maria, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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