By Dedra Cordle
It was a phone call Urbancrest mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. could scarcely believe.
On the line was a representative with the U.S. Department of State inquiring as to whether the village would be willing to host a number of delegates from Colombia, South America as they journeyed through the country as part of a multi-week educational tour of local and federal governance.
Barnes said he could not fathom what was being asked of the village.
“I thought my ears weren’t working correctly,” he said with a laugh.
Once the shock of the request somewhat subsided, Barnes said there was no way he could turn this opportunity down.
“The request alone was huge for our village,” he said. “It means that they have heard of our progress and growth as a community at the highest of levels.”
As their arrival approached, Barnes said he grew more nervous.
“I could hardly sleep the night before,” he admitted.
But early on Nov. 2, Barnes, village councilwoman Veronica Shepherd and community ambassador Abdi Issa welcomed six officials, most of them mayors, from towns and cities of various sizes throughout Colombia. For nearly two hours, the village representatives spoke with the Colombian representatives about local governance, unemployment, opportunities and reaching out to younger generations.
At one point during a discussion on the topic of youth involvement and unemployment, Julio Cesar Riviera Cortes, the mayor of Tumaco, said it was hard to get young adults excited about investing in their communities when there are limited employment opportunities to be found.
Barnes said that seems to be one area that is shared by many municipalities regardless of the country’s origins.
“We do need to offer them educational opportunities,” he said during the meet and greet at the municipal hall.
He said with educational opportunities comes an investment in the betterment of selves and communities.
“They are the future so they need to be encouraged.”
When the topic of business and financial opportunities were broached, Barnes encouraged the officials to keep reaching out to local entities who may be willing to lend a hand.
“Try to establish a good relationship with them,” he said.
He used formed relations with county, state and local agencies as examples of how the village has progressed due in part to these partnerships.
Village ambassador Abdi Issa requested that the officials reach out to local US embassies, consulates or agencies for partnerships as well. He called them an invaluable resource for those looking for change or opportunities.
Before they ended their meeting, Oscar Gamboa Zuniga, the director of the National Association of Afro-Colombian Mayors, said he doesn’t know if it is possible, but he would like for them to remain in touch with those in the village.
Barnes said that would be an honor, and he would continue to work on their behalf while attending the forthcoming conference for African-American Mayors.
Upon the conclusion of the meeting, Barnes said he could still hardly believe this international visit happened in Urbancrest, but stated he felt enriched by their appearance.
“I think we can all relate to some of the things they had spoken about,” he said, “and that we all can play a part in reaching out and helping others no matter where they live.”