By TRAVIS SVIHOVEC, The Bismarck Tribune
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Jasmine Tosseth-Smith found the perfect way to connect her African roots to her North Dakota heart — she started her own catering business.
African Nomad Catering will be a “culinary journey” into African culture, featuring flavors from all parts of the continent. For Tosseth-Smith, 38, it will be a longtime dream come true. She finally decided to pursue it after taking part in the New Immigrant Leadership Program.
The inaugural program was initiated by Leah Hargrove, founder of the nonprofit Bismarck Global Neighbors. It aims to identify and empower rising leaders in North Dakota’s immigrant community, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
“Having close relationships with the immigrant community locally for several years, I was disappointed to see that there were so few New Americans in public positions in Bismarck-Mandan. Particularly since so many of my immigrant neighbors are quite talented and passionate people,” Hargrove said. “So I created the New Immigrant Leadership Program as a way to introduce the amazing immigrant leaders I know to the amazing North Dakotans I know.”
The leaders spent eight weeks exploring topics such as leadership, education, civic engagement and entrepreneurship. They met with local elected officials, public school staff, nonprofit leaders, a financial adviser, business coaches and established immigrant leaders.
One of the new leaders is Joy Giciro, a soon-graduating nursing student who works part time as an integration specialist with Global Neighbors, helping immigrants adjust to their new community.
Giciro was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, but war forced her family to flee to Rwanda and then to Kenya. They were resettled in the United States in 2008 and made their way to North Dakota in 2017.
She said working with Global Neighbors and being a part of the leadership program has been an interesting experience that introduced her to many different people and their cultures. She hopes to use what she learned in a future career as an emergency room nurse.
“It’s been a really good support system to empower these new immigrants and to let them know that they can go out there and be so much more than just an immigrant — they belong in this community,” she said.
Tosseth-Smith was inspired to pursue her catering business while talking with other leaders in the program. They were discussing how nice it would be to have an African restaurant in Bismarck instead of having to drive all the way to Fargo.
“We were all sitting around talking about it and I made the comment, ‘Well instead of just talking about it, someone should just do it,’” she said. “And the moment the words left my mouth I just knew I’ll be the one to do it.”
Originally from Zimbabwe, Tosseth-Smith graduated from the Swiss Hotel Management School before coming to North Dakota in 2006. She almost fled the state after getting stuck in her first blizzard. She ended up staying after falling in love with the people.
“If it was only winter and if I hadn’t found those great people, I wouldn’t have stayed,” she said. “I’m done fighting it now; this is home.”
Tosseth-Smith remembers being one of the few women of color in the community when she first moved to Bismarck. She said she is glad to see other immigrants finding a home in the growing and diversifying city. She plans to use her business to empower these new neighbors by supplying job opportunities, business skills and English speaking skills.
“When I came in 2006, there was like three Black people total and we all knew each other,” she said. “Now Bismarck has diversified a lot since then, and it was nice to meet other immigrants and hear their experiences.”
African Nomad will also have pop-up events. Once a month, people will be able to preorder their meals online and pick them up later at By the Batch Bakery and Eatery on Broadway Avenue. The first pop-up is on Aug. 8. Orders can be made at http://www.africannomadnd.com.
The menu includes dishes such as jollof rice, fried plantain chips and North African meatballs, which Tosseth-Smith said has been a fan favorite.
She is also meeting with the BisMan Community Food Co-op to possibly host a supper club where people can learn how to eat traditional African dishes.
“There’s a lot about African food that you have to experience,” she said. “If I gave you fufu on a plate, you wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
While she said it is a little scary, Tosseth-Smith is excited to introduce these flavors to Bismarck, uniting her birth home with her chosen home.
“The African Nomad is so much more than just food — there’s a purpose and mission behind it,” she said.
Hargrove said Global Neighbors plans to run the program again next year if funding can be found. Those interested in getting involved with Global Neighbors’ mission can find more information at https://www.bismarckglobalneighbors.org.
“I am so proud of each of these graduates,” Hargrove said. “They didn’t need much from the program, other than a leg up into the host community and a coach to say ‘you’ve got this.’”
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