After the events of this past weekend, a future in which descendants of enslaved Africans can join their brothers and sisters across the Atlantic Ocean in developing the Motherland seems more like a reality than a pipe dream.
More than 600 Pan-Africanists from across the country and around the world recently converged on the nation’s capital and neighboring Baltimore for four days of fellowship, planning, dancing, and reflection during the 2015 Global African Stakeholders Diaspora Convention.
The event, hosted by the African Union Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (AU ECOSOCC) — an entity composed of civil society organizations that advise the African Union (AU) — allowed visitors to revisit long-term goals and come to a common understanding of how to best build cross-cultural relationships between groups that have long been divided.
“The greatest crime committed against my people was the transatlantic slave trade. We cannot talk about economics unless we put reparations on the table,” Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, community mayor of Harlem, told guests in the Chesapeake II room of the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in Baltimore, Maryland on Friday, the second day of the convention.
Blakely counted among a slew of activists, scholars, and international leaders who spoke during the opening ceremony that morning. During her 15-minute speech, Blakely, who also serves as an ambassador of goodwill to the African continent, extolled the role of women in the Motherland’s economic growth, giving a rallying cry for African unification that included their input.
“The guiding force within you will keep you in the cradle of life [and give you the strength] to do what you’re supposed to do. Africa is what we want and is what we’ll tolerate. May you continue on the life path as we move forward,” Blakely added.
Two years prior to this assembly, the AU member states met on the 50th anniversary of its formation to devise a development vision for the Motherland. They outlined several goals in a document touted as “AU Agenda 2063.”
This action plan centered on a set of ideals including new trade and investment opportunities, eradication of poverty, peace and stability, and changes in the international financial infrastructure that benefit Africa. “AU Agenda 2063” also designated the African diaspora as the “sixth region,” setting the stage for cross-cultural collaboration.
The convention kicked off on Thursday evening at the African Union Mission in Northwest during which revelers chatted among each other while enjoying drinks and African cuisine. Activities on Friday at the Best Western included roundtable sessions themed around participants’ interests and issue areas. On Saturday, AU ECOSOCC hosted a community town hall followed by an evening gala. Festivities wrapped up with a service on Sunday at Metropolitan AME Church in Northwest featuring The Rev. William H. Lamar IV.
“The interfaith service affirms the call for people to cross religious lines. Without peace, our other values are obsolete,” Evelyn Joe, AU ECOSOCC special advisor on diaspora relations, told AllEyesOnDC. “The Africa diaspora is diverse and in spite of the differences and conflicts in relative interests and priorities, both the historical and contemporary diasporas have important and complementary roles to play.”
Mukasa Dada, a 1960s-era revolutionary formerly known as Willie Ricks, said he sees the African continent as his home. On Friday morning at Best Western, he showed friends, old and new, a photo of Stokely Carmichael, who he calls a close friend, and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in which they’re walking alongside each other during the March Against Fear in 1966.
“Africa is our home and place of salvation. That’s why we need to have this United States of Africa,” Dada told AllEyesOnDC. “We have to combine both groups and give our people the truth about our history and show the Africans on the continent that we want to unite the home. We want to combine our philosophy and makes Africans stronger around the world. We have nothing in the west.”
For Mama Rashida Forman-Bey, realizing the dream of African unity and repatriation requires spreading the lessons of the conference among different groups. She told AllEyesOnDC seeing African people from different industries at the convention excited her and gave her some hope for the future.
“There were artists, grassroots organizers, and academics coming together,” Forman-Bey, a head of WombWork Productions, Inc., a Baltimore-based dance company, said. “The time is right for Africans everywhere to unite. We have to train our young people and let them know who they are by connecting them to the tradition.”