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Brooklyn Park deepens Liberian ties

  • Article by: KRISTIAN HERNANDEZ
  • Star Tribune
  • August 7, 2012 - 11:01 PM

Chants, drumming and dance animated City Hall when Brooklyn Park's City Council approved a sister-city relationship with Kakata, a regional commercial center in the West African nation of Liberia.

Two years ago the late Mayor Jeffrey Lampi set out to engage community members on their own terms. Mayor Jeffrey Lunde continued the quest, buying his own plane ticket to Liberia in March.

"This engagement lets us understand each other and get to know our Liberian citizens," Lunde said.

He said the initiative had made him more culturally competent and that he intended to continue reaching out to the Liberian community. Plans for a Liberian consulate in Brooklyn Park are being discussed, but Lunde said that could be a year down the road.

"We consider ourselves to be the largest Liberian city outside of Liberia," Lunde said. He estimates the Liberian population in Brooklyn Park to be 7,000, higher than the most recent official count. The 2010 Census counted 3,237 Liberians in Brooklyn Park, including 2,224 who were foreign-born. The majority of them came after fleeing civil war.

At a City Council meeting last month, Lunde extended his hand and said the sister-city resolution was a way of asking Liberians for their hand.

The Rev. Alexander Collins from the Liberian Ministers Association expressed his gratitude for the commitment.

"Brooklyn Park is a community that embraces sustainability. Brooklyn Park believes in us," Collins said.

A letter written by Ambassador Jeremiah Sulunte of the Liberian Embassy in Washington said Liberians were hopeful the new relationship would lead to mutual benefits for both communities and countries.

Last month , a Liberian firefighter traveled to Brooklyn Park to participate in a crash course on firefighting. Brooklyn Park firefighters showed him how to use equipment that will be donated next fall, through the Fire Rescue Alliance. The exchange is part of an effort to get Liberian firefighters up to international standards and help them restructure their country.

Lunde said advocates are thinking of other ways to engage and educate Liberians. He hopes to establish student-exchange programs through universities and colleges to create long-term commitments with Liberia.

During his visit to Kakata, Lunde delivered a verbal plan to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, mentioning to her the sister-city initiative and the possibility of opening a Liberian consulate in Brooklyn Park.

Kristian Hernandez • 612-673-4217

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