*This is the third installment in a three part series on the Year of Return*
Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing about my experience in Ghana last year for the Year of Return. In the first entry, Dreaming of Home, I talked about the things that led up to me going.
In the second post, Coming Home, I spoke about my initial experiences when we first arrived in Ghana, including visiting some of the dungeons where enslaved Africans were held.
This is now the third and final post in this particular series. I have and will continue to write about my experiences in my academic journey, knowing that bringing my story to my educational pursuits will yield fruit in the future.
July 7, 2019
On the 4th, we went to Du Bois’ compound first. We had an opportunity to see his library and dig a little bit deeper ito what his life was like. When I think about DuBois, I think of someone who was complicated by who stayed consistent, if not improving. He never sold out or compromised his convictions. He came to Ghana by the invitation of Nkrumah to write the Encyclopedia Africana. I think this is the same work that DuBois had sought funding for before but was displaced by people like Herskovits who thought DuBois wasn’t objective enough. DuBois was writing these volumes up until the time he died. He remained a powerhouse until the end.
After seeing his compound, we saw a center dedicated to Garvey right across the way. I found it interesting that Garvey and DuBois’ places were so close together. And then, we stumbled upon an organization being led by an African American woman expat who is working to get more Africans in the diaspora to move back. I believe this is a worthwhile goal, afterall, it is my heartbeat. But I wonder what that pipeline looks like not just for those with resources but also for those without. Are different types of housing available so that it isn’t just a matter of buying land? And yes, African Americans can bring our talents, skills, and invest. But also, what types of investment will Ghana make in us so that we can eliminate as many barriers for folks as possible?
We then moved onto Nkrumah’s mausoleum. Nkrumah was the first Ghanian president and Ghana the first independent country in Africa – after Ethiopia. He was a freedom fighter and really centered Africa’s independence until the coup in the 60s, which happened while he was in Vietnam and brought him to Guinea. He was fortunate, blessed I think, that he wasn’t killed like s many other African leaders who centered true independence. Like most things, the CIA was involved.
From Nkrumah, we went to the arts market where people clamored around us to buy things. It felt immensely overwhelming at times. But I know this is their livelihood. The bartering and bargaining is a lot but that is part of the whole thing. One observation – I would have liked to see more expats and listen to their stories. That would have been really helpful for me.
So much of the learning that took place during this trip were things that I had never learned in K-12, or even in college level courses (unless it was material that I brought into the course because of my own interests). This made me think about the level of mis-education that our people experience. This is not by accident, in fact, the educational system was intentionally designed to keep Black people down (read the White Architects of Black Education). This is why folks like Carter G Woodson, who wrote, curated, and published his own curriculum, were so incredibly important in his time, and why we need thousands upon thousands upon thousands of folks like him today!
And I believe that there are! The challenge is not that we lack Black teachers/curriculum who were as committed as Woodson (because there is an abundance) but that our school systems do not feel as if our story is not worthy of study. So many administrators, teachers, and others push back on the Afrocentric model of education, erroneously believing that it is the same thing as Eurocentrism (which it is not). And they do this, even as they continue to tout statistics about the achievement gap that show African American students doing the worst academically. This is not ironic but intentional!
July 8, 2019
After getting back to Accra on Wednesday, we left for Senchi on Friday. Thursday is when we saw the DuBois/Nkrumah memorials (on what was independence day in the states, July 4th).
Senchi is maybe 2 hours or so away (but it felt much further). Our first stop there was to meet the king so we came dressed in our attire. I wore a new outfit that I purchased at the arts market the day before. Everything else seemed too casual.
We got to Senchi, entered the King’s palace and were instructed to take off our shoes. We were welcomed by two men who led us on a tour of the museum. We learned about how Nana Asamani defeated the Dutch and took over one of the castles for over a year. Before handing it back over, he demanded for all the keys to be changed and Senchi still retains the keys to the palace. This shows me that at every turn our people fought against the Europeans.
Our team presented four bottles of wine to the King, and we were able to shake his hand and take pictures with him. It made me think of how formal yet accessible this culture is. We then met the Queen Mother, who is the aunt of the King. She has been ruling for 55 years. The Queen Mother chooses the king and the king is the one who chooses the Queen mother. The tribe is matrilineal so it wont be the king’s children that have access to the throne. It’s not automatic succession.
The next day we had the opportunity to see Senchi Ferry’s library as well as observe a local ceremony. We were also able to tour the largest manmade lake in the world. It was simply beautiful. Ghana is so beautiful as are its people. I have enjoyed every bit of being here and am sad we are leaving soon. There is only so much one can take in during one trip.
Our last main activity as we were coming back from Senchi was visiting the ancestral wall. It was constructed by a Black man from California and his family. His children led the tour and they were absolutely brilliant. It made me think about how much our children in the United States have to go in serious education and knowledge of who they are.
Again, I could see myself resettling here. That call from those who are here as expats and citizens came through on this trip. I have not had to worry about white fragility and sensibilities the whole time I was here. That was absolutely refreshing. I could be my absolute self and no one said I was too Black or too African. I was just me. And my me was enough.
There are so many take aways and lessons learned throughout this process. The biggest one? My people are rich! We have and have always had the personality, the intelligence, the know how, the resources, the connections, to pull us through absolutely anything. We are not only resilient. We are brilliant. Slavery in the Western context has only been around for 500 years. I believe we have the ability to not only defeat this but heal the globe in the process.
And so concludes my final journal entry. There was so much more that happened while we were there, so much more that I still need to unpack, and the truth of the matter is, I will probably be unpacking the trip for the rest of my life. This is because the experiences – from seeing the slave dungeons to visiting the Ancestral Wall, were so deep. And there were many angles from which to interpret these experiences. With my natural eyes, I saw one thing. But my biggest prayer was not just to see in the natural, but to see through the eyes of the spirit in order to fully comprehend our history. And not just the history of brutality, but the history that tells us who we were before Europeans wrecked havoc on the continent.
This is one of the reasons that I wanted to go back go back to the continent as soon as possible; I did not want to allow another 12 years to go by before I touched Africa’s soil as I did the last time (I was in Central Africa in 2007). There were so many things that that I wanted to uncover, things that no book – try as it might – could teach me. So I made plans to return in December of 2019, but just couldn’t pull it off between my eye surgery and hosting a conference for the Kinky Curly Theological Collective. Then I made efforts to go to another part of the continent with a friend, and that just did not pan out either. Initially, I was upset but then as COVID19 hit, I began to understand that this was a matter of God’s timing and while opportunities to reconnect back to the soil would come again, I would have to wait.
I was content in waiting. And then George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police. When George Floyd was killed, I started asking different sorts of questions because we have been in this predicament too many times to count. In spite of all of the work that we have collectively put in to alleviate harm against Black bodies, things have not gotten better. In spite of the policy changes, the protests, the pressure, we are still facing the same brutality that our ancestor’s did. In fact, it is worse. The NAACP reports that between 1882 – 1968, 4743 Black people were lynched throughout the United States. Unfortunately however, within just 5 years, at least 1252 Black people have been killed by police and so many more by white supremacist violence. This suggests that the rate at which Black people are being killed today is higher than it was during the Jim Crow Era.
Of course, it is not just the killing. It is the everyday assault on Black bodies through places employment and education, struggles to find affordable (and decent) housing, the disparities in homeownership, food inaccessibility, mistreatment by healthcare workers, mass incarceration, and the disproportionate number of us either unemployed or dying as a result of COVID19. The cumulative effect of all of just these few things, not to mention, when they are layered with “microaggressions,” is enough to make one lose their sense of sanity.
This reality leads me to believe that we must re-imagine our relationship to this country while we continue to fight for reparations, push to defund the police and justice in all forms. We must re-imagine our relationship to this country, this place where DuBois said one can never truly be both Black AND American. This country that only does right by us when it benefits those in power. This country that none of our ancestors ever chose to come to, but who still made the best out of an evil situation so that we could be here today. We stand on their shoulders and many of us are able to do far more than they ever imagined. So many of them imagined going home one day, putting their feet back in Africa’s rich soil and greeting the roaring Atlantic in the morning. Maybe it is time for us to do the same, not because returning is the only solution, but because we owe it to ourselves and to those who came before it, to consider it a possibility.