Local Liberian community ‘overjoyed’ about Sirleaf visit

Despite busy schedule, Nobel Prize winner will have opportunities to meet fellow countrymen

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

June 01, 2012
  Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be enthusiastically welcomed by the large local Liberian population.

When Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives in Worcester to deliver the 39th Commencement address at UMass Worcester, she will be warmly welcomed by the Medical School community as a leader committed to rebuilding the health care and educational infrastructure of Liberia. Johnson Sirleaf will also be enthusiastically welcomed by the large Liberian population in Worcester County, which is also strongly connected to UMass Worcester.


More than 2,000 Liberians now call Central Massachusetts home and members of this immigrant community are beyond excited about Johnson Sirleaf’s visit and the opportunity to hear her speak. The UMMS Office of Community and Government Relations has been working closely with local Liberian community leaders to make sure they have an opportunity to take part in Commencement festivities.

Although her visit will be brief and busy, Johnson Sirleaf will spend time with local Liberian leaders at a dinner the night before Commencement, held each year to celebrate the honorary degree recipients. The Liberian Association of Worcester County will be represented by its president, Joshua Bing, and its board chair, Maggie Johnson-Jentzen. The Federation of Liberian Community Associations of Massachusetts will be represented by its president, Yvonne Hoggard-Kamara, and African Community Education (ACE) executive director Kaska Yawo will attend on behalf of ACE, a community group that supports African refugee and immigrant children in Worcester.

Prior to the dinner, Johnson Sirleaf will participate in a community event organized by the local Liberian delegation and hosted by UMass Worcester. Admission to the community event will be by ticket only, with tickets being distributed by the Federation of Liberian Community Associations of Massachusetts. Bing is coordinating the community event with Hoggard-Kamara.

“Worcester has the largest Liberian population in Massachusetts, so I was overjoyed when I learned that President Johnson Sirleaf would be coming here,” said Bing. “I immediately tried to connect with UMass to see how local Liberians could become a part of the visit. We want to show our appreciation to the president for accepting the invitation and for her good works in Liberia and bringing peace to our nation,” adding, “I can’t begin to express my appreciation to UMass for giving us the privilege of being a part of this celebration.”

In addition to the Saturday activities, about 50 tickets for Commencement on Sunday have been distributed to local Liberians, many of whom are eager for the chance to hear the president speak in person.

When Yawo first learned that Johnson Sirleaf would be delivering the 2012 Commence address, he was very excited. “Having President Johnson Sirleaf deliver the Commencement address at UMass Worcester will strengthen the already strong connections between UMass, the local Liberian community and Liberia,” said Yawo, who has partnered with UMMS for many years, since co-founding ACE with Olga Valdman, SOM ’09, when she was a medical student.

Yawo continues to be strongly connected to UMMS through ACE and through participation in international education and cultural competency initiatives of the School of Medicine. “I hope that those who get to hear President Johnson Sirleaf speak are inspired by her as a role model and are energized to become more engaged in their community.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Commencement, part 1: 39th Commencement marks endings and beginnings
Commencement, part 2: UMMS faculty forge strong bonds with Liberia
Commencement, part 3: Honorary degrees strengthen Commencement tradition.
Commencement, part 4: Muthee personifies the American dream
Commencement, part 5: A wedding and a graduation for GSBS speaker Allison Keeler
Commencement, part 6: All in the family for SOM class speaker Ferguson