Friday, November 9, 2012
It is quite a magical thing to wake up from sleep for the first time, in Africa, the land of my ancestors.
I am in Yola, Nigeria, at the hotel connected to the American University in Nigeria, who brought me here to do a series of speeches. I do not care where you are from on the planet, I think everyone of every race, culture, and ethnicity should not only make it a point to connect with the roots of your specific group and know that history as much as possible, but also to go there at least once in your life, if you can. Italian Americans should go to Italy, Chinese Americans to China, Jewish sisters and brothers to Israel, Puerto Ricans to Puerto Rico, and so on.
To me there is no greater way to fall in love with who you are as a human being, to truly understand the greatness of humanity and our human connections, than to know who you are and where you come from. In fact, just before my trip here to Nigeria, I learned from Gina Paige of African Ancestry, that my mother’s side of the family is from Guinea-Bissau, and that we share genetic ancestry with two groups in that nation today: the Brame and Balanta people.
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A couple of years back Ms. Paige provided the DNA test to me as a birthday present, and I had never bothered to get the results. But as the trip to Nigeria approached I felt compelled to know. I thanked her profusely, spent time looking at maps and articles of Guinea-Bissau, and vowed I would visit that nation one day. And I chuckled when Ms. Paige told me that people from that area had much to do with rice. My family is from South Carolina, the Low Country of South Carolina, I am a first-generation Northerner, and God knows my mother cooked a lot of rice as I was growing up. It seems that is all we would ever eat! Partly because we were so incredibly poor and you can basically eat anything with rice. And I have certainly noticed through the years that people of color, people of African descent, from the Dominican Republic, from Brazil, from the West Indies, from Black America, all eat much rice.
The trip into Yola yesterday was on an airline called Arik, which bills itself as “the wings of Nigeria” but from what I am told, is owned by Arabs. In spite of this, as much as I fly, it is rare (okay, never!) that I get to see two Black pilots and an all-Black flight crew.
Some people take these things for granted but, again, when we talk about the difference between self-love and self-hate, it’s very important that no matter who you are or where you are from, you regularly see, during the course of your life, positive images of yourself in various roles—so you know what is possible.
Many young Black males I’ve encountered back home in America’s ghettoes only aspire to three things: be a rapper, be an athlete, or be a hustler in some form. Why? Because that is what we see daily in our communities where so-called successful men are often missing in action, and it is what the American media machine pushes to us more than anything else in the form of sports, entertainment and news coverage of our communities. In Yola, this much was evident, too, as I was driven from the airport to my hotel—the poverty is devastating.
Garbage everywhere, wooden shacks as makeshift homes and tiny stores everywhere, children in high numbers during school hours either begging for money or trying to sell anything from black market gas from canisters to sugarcane to bottles of water. I asked Francis, my driver and an employee at the university how he, a native of Yola, survived this. “Education,” he said, plain and simple. Grimly, he added, that the future for these children would be the streets without an education. Same for me in America, I said to Francis. I just looked at the children, and the many adults hustling on the streets too, with a mixture of love and sadness.
These are my people, all of them….
Kevin Powell is an award-winning writer, public speaker, and political activist. Through the years Kevin has written for Ebony, Esquire, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Essence, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and Vibe, where he served as a senior writer. He is also the author of 11 books, including his latest, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org