President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf began the activities of her 10-day visit to United States when she attended Worship Service at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, following her safe arrival early Saturday morning, September 22.
The Church, over 200 years old, is a centerpiece in the African American culture of New York City as well as nationwide.
According to an Executive Mansion dispatch from New York, delivering a Special Statement at the Service, President Sirleaf encouraged African Americans to serve as ambassadors and advocates for Liberia. "What can African Americans do for Liberia? You can be our ambassadors; you can be our advocates. The Jews in this country do it for Israel. Why can't you do it for us?" she emphasized.
President Sirleaf's visit to the Abyssinian Baptist Church is aimed at establishing Liberia within the African-American community conscience in the United States by her appearance in Harlem and to increase the visibility and outreach of the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund (SMWF) in raising funds for the Omega Market, a second project expected to be undertaken by the SMWF.
In her Statement, President Sirleaf, who was speaking on a day celebrated in Harlem as Africa Day, provided a synopsis of Liberia's history and its connection with the United States of America. "Our forefathers knew nothing but the American way of life and so our flag, our Constitution, our laws, our system and structures are modeled after that of the United States," she told the attentive congregation.
She underscored Liberia's long-standing relationship with the African-American community, its support to Africa's struggle for independence, as well as its contribution to the establishment of several global, regional and sub-regional organizations and institutions.
Highlighting the country's return to the comity of nations after several years of war and destruction, President Sirleaf said Liberia is now in the process of national renewal; but noted that there were still numerous challenges confronting the country including youth unemployment, education, and the lack of infrastructure, amongst others.
Most importantly, the Liberian leader, speaking of her passion to lift Liberian women, especially market women, and ensure that their life and working conditions are improved, said this is why they've embarked on this outreach of the SMWF in raising funds for the project. "That's what Alpha Kappa Alpha and the SMW F and all those who work for it and support it is trying to achieve," she stressed, adding that it is her belief that women will continue to play a positive role in the country's development so it is necessary to bring relief and development to women.
Amidst rapturous rounds of applause earlier, the Pastor of Abyssinia, Rev. Calvin Butts, welcomed President Sirleaf saying that her vision is an indication of respect. "She has come to make an appeal to raise dollars; but she has come because there is a need for people of African descent across this globe to unite," he said, reiterating that her presence at the church solidifies the presence of great world leaders who have visited the church.
President William V.S. Tubman was the first Liberian President to have visited Abyssinia in 1954, during the Church's 147th anniversary. Other distinguished leaders that have made appearances there include: The Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie; President of Senegal, Leopold Senghor; President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki; President of Ghana, John Jerry Rawlings; President of Jamaica, Michael Manley.
"The more we do this, the stronger we become. The more we celebrate our common heritage, rather than being separated by massive and ignorant tribalism, we will become a greater nation," Rev. Butts said.
President Sirleaf presented a quilt with the flags of both Liberia and the United States. Rev. Butts said the gift was a generous expression of the President's love for the Church.
Following the Worship Service, President Sirleaf was the featured speaker at the launch of a fundraising/ friend- raising campaign by the Board of Directors of the SMWF at the Harlem School of Arts.
The launch featured the U.S. premiere of SMWF's new documentary, "God First, Second the Market: The Story of the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund of Liberia." Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and currently being shown internationally, the video documents how market women are helping to reconstruct Liberia and its economy and how they have inspired women from around the world to collaborate in rebuilding their lives.