James Baldwin once said, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” It’s a quote that has resonated with rapper and philanthropist Vic Mensa as he works toward his mission of connecting Black Americans to Ghana—and Africa as a whole.
The son of a Ghanaian father, Mensa began visiting the West African nation as a child. Now as an adult, he understands what a privilege and honor it is to have that connection to his father's homeland, and he hopes that others across the diaspora feel the same.
“Most of my family is still in Ghana, my father is the only one who came to the United States,” Mensa told EBONY. “I now understand what a privilege it is to be able to keep my connection to my ancestry and culture. It’s an immense honor to know my history, the language of my people and so much more.”
As with any privilege comes responsibility, and for the Chicago-born music artist that means being a conduit between Black Americans and the Mother Continent, and bridging the gap.
“Black Americans have become detached from the Mother Continent, not just physically but also mentally, as shown throughout history. But, it’s time to accept who we are as African people.”
Mensa realized that one way to bridge this gap was by exposing more Black American youth directly to Africa. Over the last year or so, he began putting the plan in motion—linking up with two of his friends, Mike Abrantie and Uduimoh, both brought up in Chicago and both with Ghanaian roots—to take Chicago high school students to Ghana. The group, along with Mensa’s non-profit, SaveMoney SaveLife foundation, partnered with Shane Evan’s Academy Group organization to make it all happen. Chicago’s Chance the Rapper would later hop on board as well.
“I brought Chance with me to Ghana in January,” Mensa said. “He was deeply impacted by that trip, and immediately wanted to get involved. Taking him to Ghana, to me, was the first step in my overall mission connect. Bringing the students was the next.”
In July, Mensa fulfilled that next step as he and Chance hosted a group of Black Chicago high school students in Ghana. Many of the students had never left the country, and two of them also had African-born parents.
While in Accra, the group spent some time at Free The Youth—a collective and retail space owned by a crew of Ghanaian fashion entrepreneurs—where they were able to engage in motivating chats with not only the FTY owners, but other young, Ghanaian impact makers.
“Being a Black kid in American rarely has anything to do with your cultural history beyond America and slavery. So, to be able to provide this experience was not only significant, but also emotional for me. I just sat back and said, ‘Wow, we really did it!’”
In addition to impactful chats, the kids also went through a series of educational lectures during the 10-day visit, covering everything from fashion, music and governmental policies. They were also able to marvel the beauty of Ghana’s landscape, try native dishes and see historical sites such as the slave castles to further connect past with present.
“This will be an annual experience. My real goal is to build intercontinental coIlaborations that have the potential to mend the broken bond between the diaspora," added Mensa. "I can only imagine the result that will come from students being exposed to their ancestral land earlier in life.”
The third step—and certainty not the last—in Mensa’s mission of rebuilding the connection between Black America and Ghana is his upcoming Black Star Line Music Fest, happening January 6, 2023, in the country’s history Black Star Square.
Mensa and Chance the Rapper will team up yet again to put on the one-day fest featuring some of the U.S.’s top Black musical talents. While final details of the Pan-African themed event are still being worked out, Mensa says it will be about more than just performances.
“The idea for the festival came after I sat back and looked at how we as Black American artists have performed ten-times over in places like Europe before we ever make it to do a show in Africa. It’s the same with travel as well. I’m starting this fest so that we can not only perform for our African fans, but it is also my vision to immerse the artists in Ghanaian cultural experiences while they are here.”
He initially began ideating with his friends Abrantie and Uduimoh, and then tapped Chance, seeing that he had expertise in putting together large-scale music events.
“Now is the time for Black Americans to get to Ghana because the momentum is there, thanks to events like the Year of Return. Ghana is welcoming us back home.”
Mensa further shares that a visit to his family’s hometown Kofuridua (aka Kof City) is a must when in Ghana, along with Labadi Beach and Keta Beach, as well as the Free The Youth space.