UC Clermont Assistant Professor Prince Ellis was appointed to the New African Immigrants Commission (NAIC) by Governor John Kasich this fall.
The NAIC is an advocacy and advisory group appointed to help the state government develop policies and programs to meet the needs of Ohio’s Sub-Saharan people. A decade in the making, the 11-member commission was created by statute in 2008, with the final four appointments made in 2018.
African immigrants in the US and Ohio
Some 1.9 million African immigrants live in the US, the overwhelming majority (1,716,000) of them from Sub-Saharan countries, according to US Census American Community Survey data, 2011-2015. “The Sub-Saharan African immigrant population roughly doubled every decade between 1980 and 2010 and increased by 29% over the following five years,” states a report from the Migration Policy Institute.
Franklin County, seat of Ohio’s capital, Columbus, is home to the second-largest community of Somali immigrants in the US and the fifth-largest Ghanaian immigrant community. The Cincinnati metropolitan area ranks 34th as a destination for African immigrants to the US. The largest numbers come from West African and East African countries, a trend that mirrors nationwide statistics. Many arrive as students or through family connections or the diversity visa lottery; some arrive as refugees.
Ellis came to Texas from Accra, Ghana, as a college student in 1998. A short time later, he moved to Cincinnati to live with his uncle and finish his bachelor’s degree in finance. “I had to take a bus two hours each way for a year. We don’t take education lightly.”
He is now a tenure-track professor of economics and finance, having earned his doctorate in business administration in 2013 while working as a teacher himself. “These guys who are teaching the class are my colleagues. I do quizzes, homework, I teach four classes, I take two. So I always tell my students education is really a lifelong experience.”
Ellis became a US citizen just last month, a journey of two decades. He is married to Ruth Nduta Ellis, who is originally from Nairobi, Kenya, and they have two children.
African Professional Network of Cincinnati
Ellis’s professional interests and his experiences as an immigrant both feed into his biggest personal project. He is the president and one of the founding members of the African Professional Network (APNET), a nonprofit group formed in Cincinnati in 2010 to support African entrepreneurship and provide a forum for professional development and community engagement.
“That curve to adjust [as an immigrant] can take about ten years if you don’t have the right group to talk to. I’ve gone through this F-1, H-1 process—all the struggles you go through, funding issues. We know the system now. We know where the resources are if people come for help.
“Part of my project is to work on an African chamber where we can provide the Africans of the diaspora, ‘How do you start a business? How do you run a business? How do you get funding for it?’ And so forth. We’ve realized that for most of the issues that affect the African community, sometimes the Africans are not involved in the process.”
APNET works both to identify those professional needs and to develop leaders. It also sponsors volunteer groups and events to support Cincinnati’s Sub-Saharan community as a whole, with services to students and the elderly, for example. The group now has a chapter in Columbus and hopes to expand beyond the state in the coming year.
Ellis’s work for the newly constituted NAIC is a natural outgrowth of that advocacy. The commission chair, Dr. Rosaire Ifedi, attended an APNET event in Columbus, and Ellis suspects that was germ of his appointment, which has a term of three years.
Ellis serves on the Workforce and Business Development committee. It is one of the five committees (the others are Education & Cultural Affairs, Social Services & Outreach, Health & Wellness, and Legal Services) through which the NAIC plans to conduct its work, gathering information, connecting people with needed resources, and stitching together existing networks like APNET.
In its first year, the NAIC has been working to collect usable data about its constituents and to create a public presence for the new commission. It has been conducting “listening sessions” throughout the state to assess needs. Legal assistance emerged as the most urgent, but as reflected in the NAIC’s five working committees, Sub-Saharan immigrants face a wide spectrum of issues.
The NAIC will work to serve the state’s legislators as well as Ohio’s immigrants directly. “The governor will rely on us to really know what is the need of the African community on the ground. Part of our goal is to provide informed decisions on what to do,” says Ellis.
UC International Strategy Group for Sub-Saharan Africa
Serving as an ambassador between cultures is part of Ellis’s role at the University of Cincinnati as well. Since 2015, he has been a member of UC International’s strategy group for the Sub-Saharan Africa region.
The strategy groups, divided into seven world regions, help UC decide on new international partnerships and activities it should pursue in support of its global educational mission. Their goal is to focus university resources on broad, large-scale partnerships that can be sustained and deepened over time.
Ellis helped facilitate the birth of UC’s newest strategic partnership, with the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He describes it as one of the highlights of his work. “That was huge. The partnership has really grown. They’re now working with the medical school to hopefully build something. There’s something going with the business school, something with the College of Allied Health Sciences and with Arts and Sciences.”
Ellis also works with international students individually, helping them with college applications, writing recommendation letters, and guiding them through the process. He is making plans to lead a study abroad group for students from UC’s Lindner College of Business to Kenya next year. It’s all part of his commitment to building networks that bridge cultures and distances.
Visit the NAIC website for more information about the new commission.