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Examining African Liberation Today

More than 50 years after the formation of the Organization of African States, known today as the African Union, two important questions about the state of the project that’s African Liberation remained to be answered: 1.) What is African Liberation? and 2.) How far along are we as African people in realizing this goal?

During the May installment of the AllEyesOnDC news and artist showcase at Sankofa Video Books & Café, We set out to answer these questions.

In essence, defining African Liberation and making an honest assessment of our situation globally should be a perpetual process, especially for a group of people living in a world that propagandizes anti-Blackness in all forms of the mainstream media. Our failure to define and measure African Liberation so that it benefits us, and solely us, will ensure that outside actors, European and traitorous African alike will never be able to consolidate power and work against the interests of working class Africans across the world.

For a new generation of freedom fighters, that means including women and children in the equation. Our pivot away from a male-centered examination of our Homeland and other communities populated by people of African descent allows us to create solutions that are more wholistic and reflective of Maatic, matriarchal values imparted upon us before the European touched the African continent.

In comes in Mama Hasinatu Camara, elder freedom fighter and confidant of Kwame Ture, and Yejide Orunmila, president of African National Women’s Organization, an entity formed to address the oppression that African women face globally as a result of colonialism. Both women defined African Liberation and assessed our current situation globally. You can definitely watch the video for yourself, but in short understand that African Liberation, according to these women, mean fully and wholistically embracing a way of life in which sexism and capitalism no longer exists.

How an Understanding of Race as a Social Construct Strengthens the Call for Black Liberation

A depiction of Bacon’s Rebellion, the 1676 event believed to usher the start of the racial caste system that legitimized the enslavement of African people in the United States./ http://www.history.com 

In most of the mature conversations about race I’ve participated in, both sides have acknowledged the U.S. racial caste system to be a farce, designed to keep the multi-ethnic, disenfranchised majority from uniting against the One Percent. At that point in the discussion, the party who’s determined to organize solely with Black people, myself in many cases, must answer the question of whether this fact changes how they fight for Black liberation.

After engaging in many discussions and deliberating in my private time, I would say no and yes.

Knowing that the Elites created the concept of race in the U.S. doesn’t discourage me from solely organizing with Black people on several fronts. The global Black race’s survival depends on our ability to do for self, whether that’s in Liberia against impeding foreign investors or in D.C. amid mass gentrification. As a reporter, if I want my people to survive, I must do my part by writing about and reporting on issues concerning Black people in D.C., the U.S., and abroad. As an educator, I must teach Black, and Latino, children about our common African heritage.

This mission for Black self-determination equally applies in the home. My beau is a Black woman. I will eventually become the head of a Black family. My life is beautifully Black, more so because of my passion for combating the all-out assault on Black people in this country and abroad.

This begs the question of whether, by overtly celebrating and protecting my Blackness, I’m becoming a prisoner of the very box that I’m trying to escape. By solely organizing with Black people, am I participating in the race war that the Elites are creating from afar? By echoing my warrior ancestors’ call for a united African nation, am I just as evil as the white people who want to exterminate my race? These are real questions that often come from friends, colleagues, strangers, and whoever else asks about what some would consider my obsession with living Black.

To them, I say that by affirming my African heritage in this pseudo-racial caste system, I redefine Blackness. Coming to terms with my precarious status as a so-called first-generation Black American helped me realize this. As a teenager in what was once called Chocolate City, I often felt that I had to choose between being a Liberian and being a Black American. At the George Washington University, I saw similar schisms between continental and diasporic Africans. Such experiences further compelled me to live an honestly Black live in this country and reject any temptation to let go of Mama Africa.

While not directly affected by the U.S.’ slave-holding history, by being born and raised in the United States, I’m subject to the laws, standards, and Eurocentric thinking created to impede African American progress. In my adolescent years, I had to decide between adhering to the cultural norms that my parents taught me, or following the way of life prescribed to my peers through BET videos and misinformation from malignant media sources and traumatized people. To be totally fair, the young African-American men I grew up with, many of whom came from loving homes despite what the media tried to tell my Liberian-born parents, had to make the same decisions despite their upbringing.

Making that connection between me and my friends showed me that as a young African man in the Babylon system, your home life didn’t matter to an extent if it wasn’t centered in an African cultural identity or a yearning for such. If the definition of Black as given by America has no positive semblance of Africa, both continental and diasporic Africans struggling to find their way will suffer in the end by strictly adhering to those values.

By stepping outside of the ethnocentric box that America created for Black people, we can tap into our African heritage and learn about a history beyond slavery that confirms our humanity and divinity. Our ancestors who walked this land during the rise of the American empire had similar goals, despite the Babylon system’s efforts to wipe away memories of those movements.

In recent years, I’ve gained a more globalized perspective, working alongside like-minded Black youth and learning about the African heritage I share with them and other Africans around the world – particularly the Caribbean and the African continent. Upon learning about some of our ancient history and struggle against the European minority, however I found more than enough reason to organize solely with Black people, despite knowing what I’ve come to find out in discussions — that this racial caste system thrives from division of non-wealthy white and Black people.

At a time when, as an aggregate, Black people in the United States are behind in many facets of living, I, nor other Black people, don’t have much time to convince white people of our humanity or to educate them about the fallacy of the racial caste system that continues to benefit them. Additionally, the very people who benefit from white supremacy are descendants of the Europeans that have committed numerous atrocities against African people and other melanated groups long before Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, an event that marked the beginning of chattel slavery by inheritance. Though the American Elite created “white” and “black” to destroy any possibility that impoverished people would unite against them, the “white” people who enjoyed the benefits of the system were already well on their way to controlling the melanated people’s way of life.

Not too far from where Bacon’s Rebellion happened, the English unleashed physical and germ warfare against Indigenous Americans upon landing on their shores decades earlier. Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer whose legacy the Babylon system celebrates every year, and his goons dealt a similar fate to the “Indians” they encountered in the 15th century. Columbus’ contribution to the cause kicked off a long period of Western imperialism and the Transatlantic slave trade, also known as Maafa, which means the African Holocaust.

Centuries earlier, the Greeks and then the Romans took over ancient Kemet after acquiring the vast wealth of knowledge that the Egyptians had. The Portuguese and other European groups took the system of wartime indentured servitude developed by Africans (the one often mentioned by white people in discussions about race) and turned it into an inter-generational marker of poverty and economic exploitation. The Industrial Revolution, a period of great economic growth for Western nation-states, paralleled the rape and plunder of the African continent and people. All the while across the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. government ran Indigenous Americans off their land.

Despite coming from various pre-New World nations, we melanated people share a common oppressor, but more so a common spiritual energy. Long before the European left the caves and embarked on its centuries-long campaign of destruction, people of African descent laid the foundation for many of the technological advancements we see today. The land mass that was Pangea serves as a testament to this common heritage. Over the decades, several African scholars, including Runoko Rashidi, have been able to find elements of African cultural influence in paintings, sculptures, and writings from all over the world.

Racial classifications – Black, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, etc. – do nothing to highlight the complexity of our ethnic, tribal, and cultural origins. Those markers signify economic fortune and reinforce limited, poisonous ideas about melanated people that the oppressor developed. In the spectrum of race, Black and white fall on opposite sides. As Walter Rodney eloquently explained in Groundings with My Brothers, people all around the world, based on their current economic and social situation, have some latitude in choosing where they land on that scale. In many modern societies, the melanated people who attain all an institution offers don’t challenge persistent ideas of whiteness. By design, its melanated people who uphold the racial caste system by not challenging whiteness.

The Babylon system has gone above and beyond to maintain whiteness, a concept that always faces extinction, in other forms.  Irish and Italian immigrants, Ashkenazi Jews, Catholics, and other white outcasts have been absorbed into so-called white American family as melanated groups continuously broke institutional barriers throughout the years. In exchange, those groups would hold down melanated groups.

These days, white “Hispanics” are becoming the next group to enter the white race. Many of these “Hispanics” may have enjoyed similar privileges as the lighter members of their home nations. Anywhere in the world, it doesn’t gain anyone profit to go against the oppressor. To act as though that’s the case makes the assumption that the oppressor got everything in its possession through hard work rather than theft and trickery of the truly enlightened majority.

When looking at the creation of America’s racial caste system through that lens, the original intent to continue the global oppression of melanated people has become clearer to me, even if it has kept some poor whites at the bottom. If the oppressed melanated people who bring up this racial caste system in race discussions truly understood the true nature of the Western beast, they would combat it by self-classifying as Black in a manner that reveres their connection to the Most High and respects the struggles of Africans abroad.

From what I’ve seen and heard, not many of my sisters and brothers have done that, choosing instead to not connect with Africa. Unlike other oppressed groups, we have no direct connection to Mama Africa, due mainly to enslavement, but because many of us don’t want to know about it in the Age of Information. Sadly, we’ve been conditioned to not follow our predecessors in organizing with Africans abroad; we see our issues as separate from theirs.

In closing, for us to truly break out of this pseudo-racial system that critics of Pan-African ideology bring up time and time again in arguing against race consciousness, Black America must end its love affair with the white force that has oppressed its people globally long before Bacon’s Rebellion.

Unifying with the oppressor’s henchmen (middle and lower-class whites) with the hope that they will tear down Babylon with us is not the answer. The only unity this journalist and educator will unequivocally endorse is that among melanated people – including Africans, Indigenous Americans, and all those in between. In no way does this conflict with the call for Black unity as for this plan to truly come to fruition, Black unity must be examined through a global prism, where those who fight for Black self-determination in America think of themselves as Africans.

Having that common consciousness can lead us out of ignorance and into a situation where we can respect our common heritage with other Spirit Beings, eventually letting go of the Eurocentric ideas that perpetually destroy our souls. How’s that for destroying a racial caste system?

EDITORIAL: Israel’s Newfound Love for Africa Comes at a Price

PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in Kenya with President Uhuru Kenyetta this week. 

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first visit to the Motherland as part of an effort to strengthen ties with African leaders and discuss investment opportunities throughout the continent.

During his first stop in Uganda on Monday, he commemorated the 40th anniversary of a hostage rescue mission in which his brother died. Netanyahu also explored the possibility of Israel imparting its knowledge about security and technology on the African state. Other stops on what has been called an historic excursion include Kenya and Ethiopia. In Kenya, Netanyahu confidently exclaimed that “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel,” perhaps alluding to the relationship his state had with a number of African nations in the aftermath of their liberation from colonial rule.

On the surface, such a trip could provide an opportunity for Africa to further develop and participate in the global economy, especially when the Israeli government’s $12.9 billion plan to strengthen economic ties with Africa is taken into consideration. In examining this event through a Pan-African lens however, it become apparent that Netanyahu’s outreach to African leaders is a desperate attempt to muster international support for Israel’s violent actions against Palestinians.

This move comes amid an ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the former’s occupation of the latter’s land and the subsequent torture of Palestinian people. In peace-keeping discussions, Netanyahu has made it clear that he doesn’t support the idea of a two-nation state, demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a state and cut down its military forces. With the United States’ financial support, Israeli military forces have trekked throughout Palestinian settlements in the West Bank. The United Nations recently condemned these actions, urging Israeli leaders to halt this assault and wait until a peace deal is in place. 

These developments show signs of growing impatience among world leaders for what amounts to war crimes on Israel’s part.

In forging ties with African nations, Israel wants to ensure that their newfound allies won’t side with Arab nations in their resolutions against the Jewish state. 

Netanyahu, a student of history, has valid reasons for those fears. In the late 1970s, the then- Organization of African Unity, facing pressure from Arab states, passed a resolution recommending that member states sever ties with Israel in the midst of the Yon Kippur War. Decades later under the leadership of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, Israel lost its observer status in the African Union, completely removing it from the table. During his stop in Kenya, Netanyahu made public his wish to get Israel reinstated. These power moves allow him to build a coalition that will ease his nation’s ability to take over the entire West Bank.

As always is the case, African leaders dealing with other heads of state and power brokers must stay true to their predecessors’ commitment to remain socially and economically independent. In an increasingly globalized society, making that vision come to fruition has been very difficult, in part because many of the African countries rely on their so-called allies for aid and assistance. As seen with the Europeans during Colonization and with the Chinese today, that comes with a heavy price.

In short, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopia’s Mulatu Tashome, along with their other African presidential colleagues must look at Israel’s outreach soberly. In addition, they must adopt a Pan-African, anti-imperialistic mindset that will embolden them to stand up against Israel’s assault on Palestinians. In doing so, they make it known that Africa won’t be used as a pawn in Netanyahu’s games.

Healing Mama Liberia, One Shipment at a Time

Personal and professional success didn’t always come easy for Nallie Brumskine Moore, who endured abject poverty and widespread violence in Liberia before starting a new life in the United States. More than 15 years later, she’s a licensed practical nurse at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, wife, and proud mother of two.

Even with this change in fortune, Moore still finds time to help her fellow Liberians and advocate for the creation of sustainable medical institutions in her home country.

Since launching her nonprofit Delivering Good Community Health Services International in 2012, Moore has collected and shipped hundreds of pounds of medical supplies to Liberia. Her services proved especially critical at the high point of the 2014 Ebola outbreak when she provided protective gear for personnel on the ground tending to the sick. During an interview with AllEyesOnDC, Moore said she aimed to fulfill her country people’s medical and spiritual needs during those tumultuous times.

That unfortunate experience served as a reminder of the harsh reality of life in a country with a nearly nonexistent medical infrastructure. More than 90 percent of medical services in Liberia come from outside non-governmental organizations. Though the infant mortality rate has significantly improved since the end of Liberia’s civil war, it still counts among the highest in the world. Additionally, only 50 doctors are available to serve a population of more than 4 million. Since the Ebola epidemic, improving the quality of such services has been quite the undertaking.

In this AllEyesOnDC clip, Moore speaks with AllEyesOnDC founder and host Sam P.K. Collins about her journey, the nature of her business, and what’s next in her effort to ensure Liberians can access quality medical supplies easily and perpetually.

Blacology & the Study of African Evolution (VIDEO)

“We are the custodians of the cultures of our mothers, fathers, elders, scholars, and ancestors. We are the perpetuators of the culture for our children. We have no right to leave behind a culture that’s less fertile than the ones our parents left us.” – Professor William Cross, co-founder of the Blacology Research and Development Institute

The study of people of African descent as many know it has long focused on the ethnic group’s oppression and the atrocities committed against them. Since the 1970s, Professor William Cross and Dr. Amos M.D. Sirleaf have countered such thinking, looking at the story of African people as that of justice and redemption.

They’ve coined this brand of Afrocentric scholarship as Blacology.

Through the Blacology Research and Development Institute, based in Fort Washington, Maryland, Cross and Sirleaf scientifically chronicle and analyze the worldwide black freedom struggle. In the spirit of self-determination, they disseminate what they consider an accurate portrayal of African history and culture.

While history often highlights enslavement and colonialization of Africans, the Cross and Sirleaf explore the totality of the African experience after the Black Holocaust, focusing on the Haitian Revolution and subsequent events that helped black people redevelop their culture and secure some semblance of justice. In spreading this knowledge, Cross and Sirleaf hope to help Africans across the world follow the example of their ancestors in everything they do.

In this AllEyesOnDC video, Cross and Sirleaf, now a professor at Cuttington University in Bong County, Liberia, talk about Blacology and the hurdles they’ve faced in their efforts to reverse centuries of European brainwashing. This interview counts among one of the best in the AllEyesOnDC catalogue considering that the mission of the Blacology Research and Development Institute mirrors that of AllEyesOnDC.

Check it out and weigh in!

Rwandans Mull over Possibility of Third Kagame Term

Millions of Rwandans took to the ballot box this week to vote on a constitutional referendum that, if passed, would allow Rwandan President Paul Kagame to stay in office until 2034. The months-long debate about presidential term limits has placed the spotlight on the controversial figure credited with stabilizing Rwanda in its post-genocide era.

Earlier this year, more than 3.7 million Rwandans petitioned the parliament to consider abandoning newly imposed two-term limits on the presidency, citing developmental and economic gains made under Kagame. However, some opponents, including the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, decried the move, describing Kagame as a heavy-handed leader who committed human rights abuses and silenced opposing media voices.

As of press time, he hasn’t finalized his decision to run for reelection in 2017, saying he’ll do so after referendum results are announced. “I did not apply for this. You go and ask Rwandans why they want me,” Kagame told the Agence France Presse, a Paris-based news wire service, shortly after submitting his ballot on Friday.

Kagame came to power in 1994 after his Tutsi rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, defeated Hutu extremists who killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within a 100-day period. He served as vice president and minister of defense until the parliament officially elected him as president in 2000. He won an election in 2003 under a new constitution and garnered enough votes for a reelection in 2010.

Under Kagame, Rwanda’s child mortality rate dropped by 50 percent, malaria deaths fell considerably, and annual economic growth exceeded 8 percent, even with a dearth of natural resources. Though Gacaca court proceedings to try accused perpetrators of genocidal violence haven’t met international standards, the grassroots justice model has prosecuted hundreds of thousands of Rwandans. Globally, Kagame has maintained a positive relationship with his fellow East African Community members, including Kenya and Uganda, the United States, and, as of 2009, France.

Controversy over the impending constitutional referendum changes, however, threatens that goodwill. During his visit to the Motherland in September, U.S. President Barack Obama cautioned Kagame against seeking a third term, noting political instability in neighboring Burundi and Congo-Brazzaville due to similar issues. The European Union has also weighed in, expressing worry that opposition forces didn’t have enough time to campaign against the referendum.

Some people like Rwandan refugee Susan F. said such course of action by the Western powers won’t suffice. While talking to AllEyesOnDC, Susan, who requested the use of a pseudonym, expressed her disappointment in the in what she described as the United States’ lack of consistency in addressing African political matters.

“President Obama has looked at Africa ambivalently. The West only steps in to get rid of the dictators they don’t want anymore,” Susan said. “They’re pleased with puppets. I would like to see the day when they give all African dictators equal treatment when they commit wrongs against their people. When a report came out accusing Kagame of downing the plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana, it suddenly disappeared. Why is that? The west has some interest in keeping him in power. They support what he’s doing,” said Susan, who currently lives on the east coast.

But expert Sam Phatey shared a different sentiment, saying that a third Kagame term wouldn’t serve the United States’ best interests or that of other African countries.

“If President Kagame keeps himself in perpetual power, he won’t stay in office until 2034. This is a recipe for military expeditions to overthrow his government,” Phatey, a student in the U.S. Institute of Peace’s conflict analysis program in Northwest, told AllEyesOnDC. In 2012, Phatey conducted research about the economic causes of the Rwandan conflict. These days, he talks extensively about the implications of a third Kagame term with his colleagues.

“[A third Kagame term] will destabilize Rwanda. If Kagame says he needs to stay longer to maintain stability, that means he has failed as a leader to build strong institutions,” Phatey, 26-year-old Atlanta resident, said “He’s not the only one in Rwanda with great ideas and leadership skills needed to make Rwanda a progressive nation. Kagame thinks that staying in power would be Rwanda’s bet interest but it could deprive the country of a lot when it comes to international cooperation.”

Eugenie Mukeshimana, a Rwandan woman who has lived in the U.S. for 14 years, has a more nuanced view on presidential term limits, telling AllEyesOnDC that people in the East African country only want to do what they think benefits them the most, even if it means Kagame staying in office.

“What’s complicated about Rwanda is that people don’t feel like they have to listen to those outside of their country. Right now, they’re fearful that the president succeeding Kagame could damage what we have worked so hard to build,” Mukeshimana, a social worker living in Baltimore, said. As much as people think of democracy on their own terms, it doesn’t fit everyone that way.”

Even so, she admitted that a third Kagame term could open up Pandora’s Box, allowing future leaders to consolidate their power. “Right now, three terms may work for Kagame. We want a continuation of the successful policies that he has put in place. But you’re setting a precedent that would allow someone in the future to make similar changes. They will change the constitution so that it works for them,” said Mukeshimana.

Hundreds Commit to African Unity at the 2015 Global African Stakeholders Diaspora Convention

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.”

Nation Building 101 – Visits to Lalibela & Axum, Ethiopia

In the centuries after the end of Maafa – the worldwide separation of African people via the Transatlantic Slave Trade – people of African descent have struggled to foster a collective consciousness under a global system that favors everything European.

Brainwashed by the Western world’s portrayal of the African continent as a land devoid of history and culture, many African Americans continue to shun their stolen past. Meanwhile, Africans on the Motherland, many of whom suffer under conditions brought on by former colonizers, clamor to enjoy the trappings of the so-called First World at any cost.

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Posted up over the Church of St. George’s in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Earlier this month, I found a common understanding of the “black struggle” with my Ethiopian brethren during the Third International Conference on Ethiopia and Its Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Roots. During this trip, I along with five other African-American youth from the D.C. chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF) joined a group of elders on a journey to unearth the African origins of Biblical history and highlight a history of congenial relations between Ethiopians and African Americans.

“We’re the continuation of a strong legacy. On this trip, we wanted to pick up the pieces and build on the foundation our ancestors left for the 21st century” Kamau Grimes, chair of NBUF’s international affairs committee and key organizer of the trip, told AllEyesOnDC. “Understanding our history allows us to transcend our petty differences. We have an unprecedented opportunity to travel, communicate and have the shared experience of our ancestors.”

In the months leading up to the trip, Grimes recruited members of our group and hosted Ethiopia study sessions. We prepared heavily for this excursion, meeting weekly in Sankofa Video Books & Café on Georgia Avenue in D.C. and reading scores of books about the origins of Christianity in Ethiopia and the achievements of Menelik II and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I.

In Ethiopia, Grimes hosted a lecture about the early beginnings of the African-American-Ethiopian relationship at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. Much of that information came to life as we walked through the bustling streets of Addis Ababa, trekked through the hills and valleys of Lalibela, laid our sights on the Obelisks in Axum, and affirmed our commitment to total repatriation during a visit to Shashamene.

However, nothing proved more important to me than learning about contemporary Ethiopia through the experiences of the people I had the pleasure of meeting. Our two-day stay in Lalibela would provide me ample opportunity to see how folks really lived. During that time, our group visited the Church of Saint George and St. Mary’s Church of Zion – a location of the Ark of the Covenant.

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Getting adjusted to the thin air in the high altitudes of Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Getting to these sites required driving in a van along a meandering dirt path up hills and valleys before taking a walk up high altitudes –- a feat that ultimately strengthened my American lungs. Our tour guide likened our journey to that often taken by priests. The more I interacted with the people along the way, the more I believed him.

Often time, men, women and children either had their hands out for change or tried to sell custom wares. I quickly learned that making eye contact would be a mistake, especially if you had no intention of purchasing their items. The persistence of the young boys in Lalibela could put the wealthiest American business executive to shame. When it came to making money, these fellas proved to be relentless, continuously making pleas for attention and walking with their newfound friends for miles at a time.

Though many of the Ethiopians I encountered were “impoverished” by Western standards, they didn’t have poverty of the soul. Unlike most of the homeless folk I came across the in the states, the brothers of Lalibela -– many of whom called me “rasta” because of my freeform locs — had a genuine interest in my life. They also had a thirst for knowledge and educational advancement.

Take Abrhams, a 16-year-old captain of the St. George Football Team, for instance. Back-to-back championships meant nothing to him without a college degree. He told AllEyesOnDC of his plans to pursue engineering as a career before asking to have a pen – a request students commonly make of their foreign visitors. Since my return to the states, we’ve exchanged emails a couple times. The young brother proved to be more gracious than I initially thought, often wishing many blessings for my family and friends.

I would forge a similar relationship with a young brother by the name of Ras Robin while touring Axum. Like other Ethiopians I met, he called me Rasta but his reverence for the Rasta lifestyle intrigued me. Robin, who recently turned 20, too had dreams of attaining an advanced degree, so much so that he cut his locs before entering school. That decision, he said, didn’t diminish his adherence to its ethical code. Robin always contended that Rasta was in his heart. That type of mindset extended to his studies, He told AllEyesOnDC that he hoped to become one of Ethiopia’s best engineers.

For the time being, however, he would become an informal AllEyesOnDC ambassador and lifelong friend. On the last evening of my stay in Axum, I gave him a fresh AllEyesOnDC shirt upon his request for clothing.  Soon after, we took a photo together holding up the diamond-like hand sign known as a salutation of peace.  My spiritual journey culminated on this stretch of the journey.

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AllEyesOnDC connects with Ras Robin of Axum, Ethiopia.

In learning about my Ethiopian brothers and sisters’ experiences, I gained a deeper appreciation for entrepreneurship, crafting, and a life without an attachment to material things. Allured by my hosts’ calm demeanor, I became more enamored with what the Motherland had to offer. I know now more than ever that African Americans – regardless of how far removed genealogically from the Motherland – should take similar steps to reconcile those differences. For me, there are several ways to go from here. I plan to travel to the West Africa and connect with my Liberian brethren. I also have visions of revisiting Ethiopia and taking up Amharic.

As a member of the Diaspora, the possibilities are endless so why wait? The collective future of the African race very well depends on this commitment to nation building.

 

Ethiopia Day 1: More Questions than Answers in My Search for Truth

“They made history for black people in this church, so this is your church,” the tour guide told our group seconds before leading us through St. George’s Cathedral, a 120-year-old landmark of great historical significance located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

Tour guide plays drums inside of St. George's Cathedral.
Tour guide plays drums inside of St. George’s Cathedral.

For an hour, we toured the Orthodox Christian church barefoot, taking in the smell of burning myrrh and gawking in awe at paintings of St. George, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Jesus Christ, and other historical and biblical figures. After introducing us to a church elder, our guide played drums while chanting a hymn penned by Saint Yared — a routine commonly carried out during weekly services. He later showed us a prayer stick, which represented the staff of Moses and the cross on which Jesus Christ died. At a museum located across the complex, we gleaned through the Amharic Bible.

As our tour guide told us, St. George’s Cathedral evokes a sense of pride among Abyssinians.

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A painting of St. George.

The Battle of Adwa, a fight between the Ethiopian Empire and Italian fascists, took place on the grounds of the church in 1896. That year, Ethiopian soldiers, led by Emperor Menelik II — Selassie’s cousin and predecessor — defeated the European aggressors, carrying what they claimed to be the Ark of the Covenant – a wooden chest containing two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and the pot of manna. The historic battle happened nearly three decades before the Benito Mussolini and his men successfully occupied Ethiopia and forced Selassie – then known as Ras Tafari — into exile.

On that brisk Thursday morning, we soaked in pieces of that history. Even after the stress of a 12-hour plane ride and flare up of allergies likely caused by exposure to the air, I remained resolute to answer questions about Christianity that have weighed heavily on my mind since I consciously rejected the religion nearly two years ago. However, as some of my confidants predicted earlier this week, I came out of that cathedral visit with more questions than answers.

The tenets of the Christian faith as I and millions of Afrikan people worldwide have grown to know it were created during the Council of Nicea — a gathering of more than 310 bishops in the 4th century. At this meeting, religious leaders compiled a set of Christian beliefs and customs. That type of Christianity, as supported by the Roman Catholic Church, became a tool in the oppression of Afrikans worldwide in subsequent centuries.

Furthermore, learning about similarities between Christianity and ancient Egyptian spirituality – an older and more African-centered system – diminished its appeal. Unearthing that truth would be the final nail in the coffin in my relationship with Jesus Christ. That came after years of my struggles with judgmental clergy at my home church and feelings the ritualistic nature of how I had to connect with a higher power.

Ironically, the further I drifted away from Christianity, the more that aspects of the somewhat similar Rastafarian faith resonated with me, especially as I carried along on my journey to a higher Afrikan consciousness. I’ve overlooked the fact that Rastas were, in a sense, Christian because many of them cite the Biblical text’s mention of Ethiopia while denouncing the King James version of the Holy Book.

A painting of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations.
A painting of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I before the League of Nations.

I was formally introduced to Rasta through my study of Marcus Garvey, famed Pan-African revolutionary and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Upon learning about what Rastas celebrate as his prophecy of Haile Selassie’s rise as the second coming of Christ, my mission to spread messages of Afrikan unity became more of a spiritual calling rather than a profession. Additionally, the inspirational messages of the Honorable Bob Nesta Marley, Buju Banton, Jah9, Protoje, and other reggae artists crystallized what I consider an important transformation.

Due in part to my reluctance to connect to God through a routine, I haven’t embraced Rastafari as a religion. However, I appreciate its messages of railing against the Babylon system. Part of putting those words into action include forgoing a fresh shape up and neatly fitting suits for thickening, unruly locs and African garb. These aesthetically pleasing tools protect me against forces that don’t want me to represent the interests of Afrikan people in my news gathering.

Paralleling my favorite reggae artists’ references to Selassie, King Solomon, and Queen Makeda of Sheba to what I saw in St. George’s Cathedral proved refreshing. With that realization however came some confusion amid my efforts to chart out a chronology of Jesus Christ’s life and the part the Solomonic Dynasty played in introducing Orthodox Christianity to Ethiopians.

For a long time, there has been some discrepancy about when Ethiopians embraced what has come to be known as Christianity. Our tour guide clarified that point when he noted that the Abyssinians took on those principles in the 1st century – nearly 300 years before the Council of Nicea. Even so, the complication persisted as I thought about Jesus Christ as a historical figure rather than the physical representation of God.

The more I pontificated on that aspect, the more I realized that the Bible isn’t really a historical text, rather a compilation of stories for those who have faith in that belief system. At the age of 26, I know in my heart that I can no longer rely on faith alone when the stakes are high in keeping a clear mind. I’ve instead look to common sense as a guide. After that tour of St. George’s Cathedral, things still aren’t making much sense.

There’s always tomorrow.

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