Recently, LittleAfrica News Founder and Publisher, Mona Davids had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking to Catherine Cudjoe. Cudjoe is well known in the Bronx and New York’s African community for her civic work and activism. Popularly known as Keymama, Cudjoe will be running for the position of chairperson of the African Advisory Council (AAC) in the Bronx.
Mohamed Mardah, who has successfully served as chairperson for 4 years, is retiring and will not run for re-election in the January 12th election. If Cudjoe were to win, she would be the first woman to assume office as the chairperson of the AAC since its inception.
Catherine Cudjoe is from the West African country of Ghana. When she was in Ghana, she was a hawker on the bustling streets of Accra. To make ends meet she sold everything she could get her hands on; ice water, peanuts, and fruit were some of the goods she sold. When she arrived in the United States, she was eager to work and earn enough money for her family.
“Since I arrived in the U.S., I have made myself available, volunteering in any activity that goes on, whether I am invited or uninvited, I show up and provide my service,” she said. One of the first jobs Cudjoe had in the U.S. was at a nursing home, where she volunteered. She was placed in the Recreational Department where she did exceptionally in her role.
The director of the nursing home, Charles Sourby, saw her capabilities and encouraged her to study to become a recreational therapist. Cudjoe was doubtful, telling the director that she simply wanted to work and make a living, she had no intentions of studying. Sourby was insistent and Cudjoe enrolled at Bronx Community College, completing her associate’s degree to become a recreational therapist.
After she finished that course, Sourby again encouraged her to go back to school. Cudjoe went on to complete a bachelor’s degree at Lehman College. Cudjoe has gone on to complete an MBA and is in the process of completing another in the recreation and hospitality sector.
While completing her bachelor’s degree, Cudjoe heard about the Ghana Festival taking place in the city. “I’m a social butterfly. I love to dance. I love culture,” she said referring to herself and how she had been the perfect person to work with at the Ghana Festival.
Cudjoe started off as a volunteer and in 2014, she became the head of the festival. After she had assumed the role of head of the Ghana Festival, she became aware of the African Advisory Council and started working there as well.
She has served the AAC on the Arts and Culture Committee and the Civic Engagement Committee. Cudjoe feels that while women play a big role in the organization, she alleges that women do a notable amount of work but are usually in the “backseat” when it comes to leadership positions.
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A colleague of hers exploring running for chairperson of the AAC offered her the position of vice chairperson on his ticket. She pondered his proposal but eventually decided that she would run for chairperson instead. “I have what it takes. I have all the experience. Events that go on in the community, you will see me there. Whether invited or uninvited, I pop up,” she said.
The positions that are being contested for in the AAC are chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary, and liaison. In order to run, candidates must be an African-immigrant or the child of African immigrants. The election will be on January 12th. To be allowed to vote during the AAC election, one must attend the last two meetings before the election. One does not need to be a resident of the Bronx or an African immigrant to vote.
Catherine Cudjoe has lived in the Bronx ever since she arrived in the US. “The moment I set foot in the Bronx, I felt at home,” she said. She is well known for being active in the community to the point where someone told her that she was stretching herself too thin, to which she said, “I do not see myself as elastic.”
She started her own foundation, the Keymama Foundation. The foundation was started with the intention of helping families and one of the foundation’s ways of doing so is by having a special day set aside for families to come together and bond by spending quality time together. As lively as she is, she emphasizes that the work that one does is important.
“You don’t have to have a title. That’s one message I want to send to our African people especially. Don’t wait for a title before you provide your service. You are an ambassador for wherever you are coming from,” she said. “Let the work speak for you,” she added.
“My dear residents of New York and the Bronx, I am here as a servant. I am here to serve you! I know your problems because I am in the problem,” she said in conclusion. “When we come together, we can move mountains.”
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