December 6, 2019

Visiting Ghana helped me reclaim my roots

This year marks the 400 year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans’ arrival in the United States – a year for members of the diaspora to travel home to Africa. During fall break, eight other students and three faculty members and myself traveled to Accra, Ghana, in honor of The Year of The Return.  

A diaspora is a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland who have since moved out to places all over the world. The African Diaspora is the term commonly used to describe the mass dispersion of people from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, from the 1500s to the 1800s. This Diaspora lasted 366 years and took 12.5 million of people from Western and Central Africa to different regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. It was the largest forced migration in human history.

Going to Ghana was one of the greatest experiences in my life. I was able to understand the collectivism of their society and immerse in the culture. I was able to discover the Africa of my ancestry.

We saw how the Kente cloth was decorated with adinkra symbols and the importance of the symbols. My personal favorite, Gye Nyame, means “Only God”. Nyame is the God of the Akan people of the Ashanteland of Ghana. His name means “he who knows and sees everything” in the Akan language. The symbols are still used today to communicate. Ghanaians use the symbols as a way to express themselves. We also learned our African names. Every day of the week has a name. I was born on a Saturday so my African name is Ama. My full name would be Ama followed by the name I was given at birth. Men have different names than women. A man born on Saturday is named Kwame. This was only a small portion of what we learned. The Ghanains were always willing to answer our questions and educate us on our history.

The Ghanaians I met were nothing but kind and hospitable people. Everywhere we went, it felt like we were surrounded by distant relatives. We were instantly welcomed with open arms and plates filled with delicious food. They taught us how they greet one another by shaking hands then using the other’s middle finger to snap. The snap is the hardest part to master but the most important part. 

While in Ghana, we traveled to three of the 16 great regions of the country, starting with the Ancestral Wall, located in Accra. This is where we learned about notable Africans and African-Americans who contributed to social justice all around the world. For the first time in my life, I was learning about strong, intelligent and brave Black people other than Martin Luther King Jr. or Frederick Douglas, for example, Jonas Carboo, Teye Djangmah and Queen Amina, just to name a few. I had never heard of the majority of the people featured on the wall.

A few days later, we visited the Elmina Slave Castle where for years our African ancestors endured the unimaginable. As we walked through the tour, I could hear their cries for help. I felt their spirits revolting and fighting for their freedom. We stood in the same dungeons where they were tortured and murdered all the while growing angry because we had been robbed of this knowledge. Our education system tried to get us to forget about slavery, but it still weighs heavy on all our hearts.

Throughout my primary and secondary education, slavery and Black history were seen as almost a burden to teach. It was looked at as a dirty secret Americans tried to keep hidden. We weren’t taught why Black people were given the stereotypes we still fight today; this is a direct result of systematic racism. Everything was to be made our fault with the message that if we worked harder, things would get better. We were told our people were lazy and uneducated. They never told us about Black Wall Street or the Black Panthers and how they were more than just angry Black people with guns they were taking care of a community of people. They were providing the basic needs for our people that our government is supposed to do. Our education system only gives us the abstract of our history and hopes we’ll accept it as enough.

Even as I stood in the same places where my ancestors were raped and beaten, I felt no sense of connection to Ghana or Africa. I kept waiting for my ancestors to make themselves known, for them to give me a sign. I thought a chill would run down my spine or my body would erupt in goosebumps, but there was nothing. Everyone else in the group kept talking about how at home they felt, but I didn’t. I felt like an outsider. I felt anger – pure and unfiltered anger for what happened and what continues to happen to my people.

My time in Ghana was beautiful in every way possible. I learned about my roots. I saw how resilient and vibrant my people are. I laughed, cried and ate some amazing food. We danced with Webster students from the Ghana campus and discovered that we had more in common than we thought. We met with the President of Ghana’s Diaspora Affairs committee and learned about his initiative to bring us all together. Most importantly I developed the courage to continue to look for answers, to demand the truth. I can’t wait to return one day, hopefully for much longer, and see more of the beautiful land.

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