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Chukwudel-unzu

African natives in the Chippewa Valley gathered Saturday to share stories, eat ethnic food and listen to music from home.

Felix Chukwudelunzu, 60, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, is a native of Nigeria. He earned his degree at Wayne State University in Detroit. He moved to Eau Claire 19 years ago, along with another physician from Nigeria.

“When I came here in 1999, it was just me and my friend — there were very few Africans,” Chukwudelunzu said. “Now, we have seven physicians (at Mayo Clinic Health System), just from Nigeria.”

Chukwudelunzu said he has observed a rise in the number of African natives who live in the Chippewa Valley, and he wanted to think of a way to bring them together. So, he organized the picnic, which was held at Carson Park.

“We had to find ways to organize activities, to get together,” he said. “They have no way to connect. We want people to know we are here and like it in this town. It’s so people can get to know each other and share experiences.”

To advertise, Chukwudelunzu sent off emails to the other Africans he knew, and he encouraged them to invite their friends as well.

“The African community is growing in Eau Claire,” he said. “It’s a place to be for people of different ethnic origins and backgrounds.”

Chukwudelunzu said he considers Eau Claire to be a warm and welcoming community; if he didn’t think so, he would have left a long time ago.

“The only thing I would change is the weather in the winter time,” he said with a laugh.

Zee Mannah, 47, of Liberia, moved to the United States in 1979. Before moving to Eau Claire three years ago, he had lived in Washington, D.C., and Houston. He decided to move here to be with his girlfriend.

“It has grown on me, and it’s the greatest place I’ve ever lived,” Mannah said.

Mannah brought his sound system, and he played a mix of Wiz Kid, 2 Face and PSquare — all popular Nigerian musicians. He pointed out the variety of foods on a nearby table.

“Food brings people together — it’s an African buffet,” Mannah said. “It’s mostly Nigerian food but also Ugandan and Kenyan food. It gives a little culture of being back home.”

Mannah felt it was important for the African community to gather like this. He said there have been pockets of African residents in the prior U.S. cities he has lived in, and they would frequently gather.

“When I got to Eau Claire, I thought it was the one thing missing,” Mannah said. “The greatest benefit is for the kids — let them interact with others. The more diversity you have, the more acceptance you have of different cultures.”

Olu Adegoke, 44, is a Nigerian native, and he moved here six years ago. He agreed it was great to get together and meet a few people he didn’t know in the area.

“We like to help each other out. We can discuss issues and lend a helping hand,” Adegoke said.

Adegoke said he has enjoyed living in Eau Claire; he likes it so much, he is trying to get his youngest sister to leave Nigeria and move here as well.

“I heard about (Eau Claire), that it was a good place to be,” Adegoke said. “So I thought I’d give it a try. And what I heard was true. Eau Claire is my home. I would never leave Eau Claire.”