In 2007 I visited Africa for the first time and it was a dream come true. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life and one I’ll never forget. I was part of a seven-week leadership immersion experience with The Impact Movement, a nonprofit organization that empowers leaders of African descent. Prior to this, I only dreamt of going to this great continent and I knew very little about it. In fact, I always referred to it as Africa; just Africa. It was the black man’s Mecca, a distant place that perhaps someday I’d see. After my initial trip I realized that other black people and I had similar experiences. Here are a few.
Welcome home: This was by far one of the more prevalent greetings. This, and Akwaaba, which means welcome. Being in Ghana was like going back to a place I’ve never been for the first time. Yes, you read that correctly, it was like going home for the first time.
All black everything: For the first time in my life I was immersed in an all-black society. I was part of the majority and boy did it feel good. I mean great! I mean amazing! I mean utterly incredible! Words cannot express what it felt like to see people who looked like me on billboards, television programs, in the streets, in the classroom and practically everywhere. Sometimes you never know what you’ve been missing until it’s returned to you. Going to Ghana made me realize how amazing it was to be in an ethnically and culturally diverse majority black population.
I wasn’t black, I was an American: Simply being an American was one of the hardest adjustments I had to make. Most black Americans, especially men will agree they are constantly reminded of their blackness, and unfortunately it’s rare this reminder derives from a culturally appreciative context. It’s seldom a blatant disapproval based on skin color. Most of the time it’s a subtle reminder that you’re simply different. From the lack of representation in popular media, to the overexposure of fractures within your community, to the inability to simply find the right kind of hair products, you’re always reminded that you’re different. Not in Ghana. I was simply American and for the first time I truly felt like I embodied King’s vision to be judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin. Words cannot describe how beautifully emancipating it was to simply BE.
My sense of blackness and affinity with African culture strengthened: For centuries we have been presented with a historically anorexic narrative about our history. Essentially, we are taught we are the descendants of slaves. That’s where our history begins and is most significant. Going to Ghana, visiting the slave castles, talking with educated Africans and learning more about African history helped me realize my people were not slaves; they were Africans who were enslaved. That’s a big difference. Slavery is only one aspect of my history, not the complete and full context of it. Knowing this was intellectually and culturally revolutionary.
I became unapologetically black: Gaining historical perspective concerning my people’s sense of charisma, language, love for music, spirituality and other aspects of black culture equipped me with the cultural esteem to move towards celebrating my identity instead of frequently apologizing for it. I now tell people I’m unapologetically Christian, unapologetically black and unapologetically a man. Simply put, I’m unapologetically ME.
As an American I’m extremely privileged: As the saying goes, sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The average American, regardless of background is extremely privileged. Whether it’s running water, food access, or the ability to freely travel internationally; we are privileged and blessed. If we don’t like the service at a restaurant, department store or shopping center we can take our business elsewhere, but what you do if “elsewhere” isn’t an option? Different countries like Ghana still experience very real challenges such as the lack of employment, restricted education opportunities and resource shortages.
We are remarkably undereducated about other nations: As a child I was constantly exposed to images about Africa; you know Africa: people dying of starvation, living in spiritual desolation, those uncivilized, savage people-you know Africa. For the most part Americans are severely undereducated about other nations. I was surprised when I met Ghanaians who knew more American presidents than I, knew more about my economy and had a level of cultural fluency that surpassed that of most of my peers and I. It was a sobering reality that we do an immensely disheartening disservice of miseducating and undereducating our children about other nations, especially Africa.
Just as America has many states with even more diverse cultures, ideas and characteristics so does Africa. It’s a continent with over 50 countries which are all very different and equally unique. Visiting Ghana left me with an even stronger desire to explore my history and unfortunately I cannot rely on the traditional American education system to teach me. Since arriving in America, Africans and the descendants of enslaved Africans have been trying to rediscover who they are and desperately reconfigure the shattered remnants of their identity. Who we are as humans and as black people begins in Africa. If you’re trying to find who you are Africa is a great place to start. Sankofa!
Check out one of my favorite songs Africa Rising.
Find more photos of my trip on my Facebook page.