Global Conversations: Honorable Stanley L Straughter, Chairman, African and Caribbean Business Council of Greater Philadelphia

The Honorable Stanley Straughter has been dedicated to global social justice supporting African and Caribbean communities of greater Philadelphia and was Chairman of the Mayor’s Commission of African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs under former mayor John F. Street. Mr. Straughter has also held positions such as Chairman, African and Caribbean Business Council of Greater Philadelphia; Chairman of the Board, UNESCO Center for Global Education; and Member of the Board of Directors, Constituency for Africa.

Could you discuss your role with the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs?

The Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs was created with Councilwoman Janie L. Blackwell and [then] mayor John F. Street. They recognized that there was a significant population of African and Caribbean immigrants living in Philadelphia and the greater Philadelphia area. They wanted to recognize this population and welcome them as citizens and work with them on various issues they faced as immigrants.

In 2005, I was selected as the first Chairman. We began the fantastic work of bringing together the African and Caribbean communities along with the African-American communities. The success of our efforts has spawned the birth of many entities that have taken place since the establishment of the commission. That includes the African-Caribbean Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, which I chair, and the African-Cultural Alliance of North America.

Based on your experiences, what is the greatest challenge in your work?

I grew up with some of the great leaders of this time, including the late Reverend Leon Sullivan, who founded the OIC Movement. There was also Congressmen William H. Gray III [first black House Majority Whip of U.S. Congress] and Lucien Blackwell, who advocated for the freedom of Nelson Mandela.

I was born in 1942 and everything was changing. The challenges that I had were mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. Subsequent to that, I was learning with those great leaders. Reverend Sullivan built the first black shopping center in the U.S. He created the OIC program, and I was there. I never believed that there was something that we couldn’t do because there were so many people who were doing things at that time, which was the Civil Rights era. It was these great leaders and many others that I learned a great deal from.

So, the work wasn’t the challenge. It was moving on from Philadelphia. I traveled all around the world – Washington, Denmark, Sweden and Holland – to discuss civil rights, human rights, and economic development issues. I helped set up home cooperatives in Philadelphia in 1967-1969, then in Africa.

What are the things that you are most proud of in your work?

I was proud to have the opportunity to be here “at the feet” of such great leaders, Rev. Sullivan, Congressman Blackwell, Congressman William Gray III, and Former State Representative David P. Richardson Jr. They are part of my growing up and experiences and being able to be a “change agent” in society. I learned from them and we continue to fight for social justice every day for those that are in need, especially for people of color and of African descent.

What does Philadelphia’s designation as a “World Heritage City” mean to you?

Well, first off, congratulations to the Global Philadelphia Association for doing that. It was a wonderful designation, but at the same time, I look at how black people are underrepresented with that designation. Philadelphia is a World Heritage City, it’s a historic city, but there’s no specific reference to the major contributions to the black people in this city.

I also saw this as an opportunity to educate the city and GPA about what they are missing[with the World Heritage City designation], such as the founders of the country of Liberia and the great leaders from historically black colleges in Philly and efforts to fight global racism and social injustices. GPA has been very open and we have been working together on these projects.

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

I think it is very appropriate and applicable at this day and time, given to the degree that we can get our education systems geared up to have students in school understand the relevance of what it means to be a global citizen. I think it will provide an opportunity to minimize racism in our systems to understand diversity and equity.

My concern is the premise of the applicability to the thousands of children in society and there are some who never get outside of the city and never understand the “global” community. My challenge is how to educate and enlighten the most of us to understand the least of us, in order to provide some parity and equity.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to work in government or immigrant affairs, whether it would be at the city, state or federal level?

Just as my experience indicated, I had the opportunity to work with people that were engaged. We didn’t refer to it as “mentoring,” but I was blessed to be working with them and learn about global social justice issues. I had the privilege to travel to over 25 countries (Russia, Brazil, Africa, etc.). This was a result of working with these leaders. I studied with them, read with them, and began to connect the dots of the issues.

What is an upcoming project/event that you are excited about?

The most prominent one is Africatown. We are working with Councilwoman Janie Blackwell and the African Cultural Alliance of North America, which is located in Southwest Philadelphia. We have embarked on the project there to not only memorialize that half of the population of Southwest Philadelphia are African immigrants but also to identify and develop Africatown as a destination point for the global African aspect. So, it will be a tourist destination, similar to the “historic city.”

In Southwest Philadelphia, there will be hotels, museums, restaurants, and we want to build an African-Caribbean Trade Center, African-Caribbean Performing Arts Center. While tourists come to Philadelphia to see the “historic city,” this will tell the story of people of color, specifically African, who worked and went to school here [such as the first elected Presidents of Ghana and Nigeria] in Philadelphia and will bring light to answer the question… “Why don’t we hear about these individuals or what did they do, where did they study, where did they hang out?”

It is these kinds of things that we need to document and tell the story of how it impacts social justice globally, and it all started here.


Interview conducted by Kyle Purchase on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association