Rock Island looks to expand Cultural Liaison program

Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 12:47 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Rock Island is looking to expand a program aimed at helping migrant communities better understand city processes.

The city council recently renewed the contract for its Cultural Liaison at the Jan. 23 meeting.

Since the 1980s community gardens in Rock Island have been growing all kinds of fresh produce for their neighborhood.

In the last few years, these gardens throughout the city have been growing trust between the African migrant community and the local government, thanks to the Cultural Liasion Program.

Niyongabire Prosper is entering his third year as Rock Island’s Cultural Liaison, serving in the role since the program’s inception.

“Whenever I help someone ... overcome the barrier, it really, it’s kind of life-changing,” Prosper said. “It’s been my dream, to help bridge the communities, the cultural differences.”

The city has seen an influx of immigrants from the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Prosper, born in Burundi, moved to Idaho and eventually came to the Quad Cities in 2012.

He said many people like him have moved to the Quad Cities to be closer to family, who have already settled here.

“[It’s] not just food, but even other areas because there is so much this culture to offer for the city,” Prosper said.

Prosper speaks English, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi and Swahili.

He started helping other migrants apply for spaces at community gardens. Eventually, he started helping his community with other businesses they might have with the city.

According to Rock Island’s Community and Economic Development Director, Miles Brainard, it’s those conversations that sprouted the liaison program, something the city is now hoping to grow.

“We want to make sure that we really move past assuming that people know things about us, or assuming that people can reach us,” Brainard said. “Instead get people where they’re at, and literally speak to them, as they will understand.”

While expansion is in the early stages, Rock Island will look at how other communities run similar programs.

Prosper said he’s excited about what the future holds for immigrants in the city.

“I’m hoping more people will participate,” Prosper said. “Not just a few, but different cultures can join and do that. It’ll be very nice.”

City officials hope to have an official proposal for the expansion of the program with a timeline, funding and goals for the city council sometime this summer.