Founder and Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof, alongside Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell, right, prepares to cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Founder and Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof, alongside Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell, right, prepares to cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Born out of struggle, West African Center flourishes in Lynnwood

African music filled the room Saturday at 19203 36th Ave. West, for the grand opening of the nonprofit’s new state headquarters.

LYNNWOOD — Excitement was in the air Saturday as people gathered to talk, eat and celebrate the opening of the new Washington West African Center headquarters in Lynnwood.

It was a packed program. Music filled the room at 19203 36th Ave. West as a children’s choir sang songs. In another performance, Pa Bobo Jobarteh strummed a traditional West African instrument called a kora.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell was among the speakers.

“Thank you for bringing Africa to us,” she told the crowd.

The move is going to make a big difference for the nonprofit.

At the old location, which was much smaller, there were “people lined up outside” to get in, Board Chair Gloria Walton said. “If you don’t have enough room to support them, how can you do your job effectively?”

The center provides many services for the local West African community: rental assistance, food and an after-school program for kids, among others.

It’s all part of Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof’s vision.

For Joof, coming to the United States from The Gambia meant years of obstacles.

Children from the Bideww Choir sing and dance during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Children from the Bideww Choir sing and dance during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Food and rent were a struggle. At one point, he was incarcerated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for four months. When he was released, he was placed on electronic monitoring for a time.

That period of hardship led Joof to found the Washington West African Center in 2017.

“The struggles I went through is what inspired me,” he said. “I didn’t want my community to go through the same and not have resources.”

Cultural services the center provides are “not available anywhere else,” he said.

Local food banks, for example, used to not provide the kinds of culturally specific foods that people with West African roots would want, he said. Now, the center provides them with lists of food to fit the community’s appetite.

Census data shows Lynnwood is the most diverse city in Snohomish County: 17.4% of the population identifies as Asian or Pacific Islander; 13.9% as Hispanic or Latino; 11.8% as multiracial; and 8.8% as Black or African American — all well above the average countywide.

Gloria Walton, WAWAC Board Chairperson, speaks during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Gloria Walton, WAWAC Board Chairperson, speaks during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Five years from now, Joof wants the West African center to own its own land with a daycare center, event hall, temporary housing and a West African mall.

It was Joof that brought together local West African “grandmas,” said Suntu Camara, vice president of the Seattle Gambian Grandma’s Association.

Before, the community was disjointed, she said. After Joof organized a meeting of grandmas, they got to know each other.

The association has grown to over 100 grandmas, she said. If someone organizes an event now, “everybody will come.”

“We are happy,” she said. “And (we’re) just praying for him to just expand more and more and more. The sky is the limit.”

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside WSP District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed in a collision on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State trooper killed, 1 arrested in crash on I-5 near Marysville

Authorities said Trooper Chris Gadd had been stopped along the freeway around 3 a.m. near 136th Street NE. A Lynnwood driver, 32, was arrested.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.