In 2018, Ghanian president Nana Akufo-Addo announced before the U.N. that 2019 would be the Year of Return for Africans across the diaspora. This was important because 2019 marked the 400th year since Africans were stolen and forcibly enslaved in the British colonies in what would become the United States. Although Africans had been enslaved by the Portugues and Spanish through the Americas, Caribbean, and Europe prior to the oft quoted 1619, this commemoration gave Africans across the diaspora whose ancestors experienced this horror – or Maafa – an opportunity to actively engage in the process of remembering and reclamation of self.
I can’t quite remember what I was doing when I heard the announcement back in October of 2018. Most likely, I was just getting home from class – as I had recently started my PhD program that fall. As my husband filled me in on President Akufo-Addo’s words, I do remember thinking to myself that I had to find a way to get to Ghana in the next several months. Meditating on the prospects of going, I penned these words:
Dream of Home
Rushing out the door, two kids in tow
Carrying backpacks, lunch bags, water bottles and one cup of tea for me
Piling into the car
Buckling the youngest one who always seems to need a boost of help to get him going
Speeding down Larpenteur
Praying the cops don’t see me because there still is that one ticket I didn’t pay
But I will…soon
Radio is blasting, can’t remember the song
Somewhere between Lexington and 280, my mind starts to wander to its happy place and all of the anxieties of the last hour dissipate because I’m thinking of you…dreaming of you…rehearsing the same dream in my mind that I have been conjuring up for the last four years
I started dreaming when Mike Brown was shot, and then more when his killer got off. My dream took on new dimensions after Charleston, intensified the more every single time one of us fell to the ground
The dream grew in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the election. Expanded as the deplorables tore apart policies my ancestor’s blood paid for. Reinvigorated with every single faux commitment to racial justice expressed by those well meaning liberals, and even some of us who weren’t so much as interested in dismantling the master’s house as we were living in it.
No matter the cycle, the season, the news feature, the misfortune, the dream has held steady. It has felt unattainable, irrational, and close all at the same time. And now, after 400 years, it’s within reach. They said we wouldn’t make it. That we wouldn’t get here. But the dream is no longer a thought, it’s on the horizon, just beyond the sun, just beyond where I-94 meets the streets, pushing me out of the dream and thrusting me back into reality.
Ms. Walker, bump Canada. I’m taking mama ‘em to Africa.
In many ways, these words became a prayer over the next few months. I applied for a travel abroad opportunity to Ghana through my school and was accepted, but I just couldn’t get my money right in time. But another opportunity presented itself and although money was still an issue, this time felt more sure. I could feel it in my soul even though I wasn’t sure about how. So I went for it.
Before I knew it, I was making the first, second and last deposits to go on this ten day trip with a team of people led by Dr. Artika Tyner and Monica Habia. I renewed my passport that had expired ten years prior and got all of the immunizations one body could handle. And I shopped and packed and made sure I had all of the snacks (believe me, I had all the snacks), doing everything possible to make sure that I was prepared for this journey. But the biggest preparation was that of my heart and spirit. The last time I was on the continent was back in 2007, and it was a trip that absolutely changed the prospect of my life. I am still reaping the rewards of that investment of time and resources that I spent on reconnecting to the land my ancestors were stolen from, even though back in 2007 I did not have the same political astuteness that I have today. I knew that the journey in 2019 would be even more impactful, so I spent time a lot of time in prayer and meditation so that my heart would be open to all that the ancestors had for me.
I also spent so much time in preparation because I needed to connect the dots between this travel experience, my study, and my work with the City of Minneapolis – specifically the work that I was doing around the 400 Year Commemoration. Prior to boarding that plane, I had spent the last seven months building out a process for the City to honor the 400 year experience of Black people in this country. It was a process that was fraught with tension for so many reasons, but one that I wanted to give myself completely to because I knew that God was laying the groundwork for something I couldn’t yet name, but something I needed to be obedient to.
On June 27th, two days after my son’s birthday suffering from a summer cold (who gets those) I got on that plane. I was slightly anxious because I had never been away from my family that long, and also excited for what would unfold over the next few weeks. Deep in the clouds hovering somewhere over North Africa, I wrote:
We are in the air and are about to past over the continent by way of North Africa – Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. I am delighted to be here as until I got to the plane yesterday, it all felt surreal. This is the moment i have been waiting for since I first heard about it in October.
You ordained this moment for me. God, from the beginning of time, you knew my ancestors would cross the Atlantic 400 years ago. And you knew that I would look white supremacy and racism squarely in the face and declare these forces of evil powerless. You knew I would be doing this work with the City of Mpls. The time has come for our healing and deliverance and I believe we have to reconnect with this place of our origins in order to find that rest.
If we are connected to the land, if the land is a living, breathing life producing thing, we have to reconnect back to it. The Spirit of our ancestors long for that rest. We have to get them back to the land.
After 400 years, i am here to bring my ancesotrs who longed for this day. I remember those who left, not knowing where they were going but knowing that they were leaving the only place they knew. I am going for them and so that I can move forward with remembering/bringing to consciousness who we were before slavery, so we have a much more adequate understanding of who we are, what we are building into the future.
We need a different vision. Continue to shape in me what that vision is.
I have much more to share about the experience. Stay tuned for Coming Home, Part II and Returning, Part III.