Jean Gregoire Sagbo, a 48-year-old African native, recently made history after he was elected Russia’s first Black politician. Sagbo, who now serves as one of the 10 councilmen in the village of Novozavidovo, aims to use his newly elected position as an opportunity to rescue the village from drug addiction, pollution and poverty.

“Novozavidovo is dying,” Sagbo told The Associated Press. “This is my home, my town. We can’t live like this.”

Sagbo, a village resident for 21 years, first came to Russia in the 1980s to study economics in Moscow. He later met his wife and the two settled down to have a family.

He went on to work in real estate and said he had no intentions of getting into politics, viewing it as a dirty and dangerous business. But the town council and various residents persuaded him to run for office, citing his various contributions to the community.

Since his arrival in Novozavidovo, he has donated time and money to improve the village by cleaning up his apartment building, funding street improvements and organizing what is now an annual day of collecting garbage.

Sagbo, one of an estimated 40,000 Afro-Russians, is not the only Black to run for office in Russia. Politician Joaquim Crima ran last year but was heavily defeated. Locals viewed Crima as the “Russian Obama” and since Sagbo’s arrival to office, many have given him the same nickname. Sagbo is unhappy with the moniker.

“My name is not Obama. It’s sensationalism,” Sagbo told the AP. “He is Black and I am Black, but it’s a totally different situation.”

As a councilor, Sagbo has already mobilized efforts for improvement in Novozavidovo. After collecting money from residents, he transformed vacant lots between buildings into vibrant playgrounds.

Despite Sagbo’s heavy support, Russia is notoriously known for its rampant bigotry and racist attacks. According to News One, in 2008 an African-American exchange student was stabbed and badly wounded in Volgograd and many believed the incident was racially motivated.