By Tiffani Jackson | State Journal-Register
When Olric Manthelot moved to Springfield in 2015, he was a victim of cultural stereotypes. As an African who immigrated from Congo-Brazzaville he said the language barrier and stigmas motivated ignorant assumptions about his people.
“They look at you like you’re from the jungle, like you’re poor and need help, and like you shouldn’t be here. Some would be afraid to come near me or try to bully me because of my accent or because of my style of clothing.”
Becoming a student at Lincoln Land College, Manthelot joined the Open Door mentorship program which aimed to help minorities survive on the campus. Through it he met two other African immigrants who faced similar experiences with cultural insensitivity and together decided to create an extension of the program’s reach.
In 2019, Manthelot, Yves Doumen of Cameroon, and Samuel Chibueze of Nigeria co-founded Afrohouse to become a platform of connection for Africans who live in the capital city. Manthelot said one of the group’s major goals is to help the local community understand African culture.
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“Most of the things we go through with racism is because people only know one side of our story. When people speak about the history of Africa they only focus on slavery or poverty so we wanted to bring the good news of what happens in our countries and educate about what they don’t know,” he said.
Manthelot said Afrohouse helps negate stigmas about African people and gives its members a sense of community. He said the more education people gain about the culture the more they want to invest.
“We help people realize that being Black doesn’t have to be negative and the stigma of Black people being behind is not always true,” Manthelot said. “When people who look like us come across the content on our pages it gives them confidence about what they can achieve and exposes other ethnicities to the things they don’t always see,” he said.
The Afrohouse is headquartered at Innovate Springfield where they also promote African businesses and help owners get connected to the local community.
Each month the group hosts events that celebrate African culture and puts its variety of elements in the spotlight. Afro beats, a popular style of African music, is one of the many tools they use to educate.
“Through these events, we play Afro beats to connect with other ethnicities and expose them to the different styles of our culture. Those of us who are more confident in our identity help those who may not be because being quiet doesn’t solve the problem,” Manthelot said.
The population of foreign-born citizens in Springfield was 4.48% in 2019 and U.S. Census data shows the number has been increasing. While groups who work with immigrant families aren’t clear about how many Africans have immigrated to the area, Manthelot said he’s met enough since he relocated to continue expanding the resources of Afrohouse.
Lucrece Pancha is from Cameroon and a senior at the University of Illinois Springfield. She came across AfroHouse after seeing flyers on campus about an event they were hosting. She attended and immediately felt connected to home.
“I was lonely before but Afrohouse helped me connect with other people from different backgrounds and age groups in my culture. When my friends and I attended most events in town they would only play Black American music or music from other cultures so I didn’t feel included and I was missing home,” Pancha said. I don’t feel lonely anymore because Afrohouse does a great job of mixing cultures and making everyone feel comfortable. They played music that was popular at home and exposed people to our culture so I think it’s important to have a platform like it in Springfield.”
Other recent events included a celebration of Ghana independence day on March 6.