Dear sister Malika
Do you remember my first time visiting the United States of America? Almost twenty years ago, we came straight from Mali. We landed in Atlanta and we drove to Selma Alabama. Today when I tell people I am going to Selma they say what? Where? Why? I know that trip was among the most defining travel in my life.
It was in March of 1996 and it was cold for me. I had travelled mainly within Africa; I did countries like Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and South Africa I think. I had been to Beijing in China. I had been jailed on the way to China in the Canaries Island in Spain because I didn’t have a transit visa for Paris. That’s a different story…
Remember 1995 was the world conference on women in Beijing. I know that trip brought everything together for me in my feminist engagement. I was a militant of pan African youth organization with the dream of creating the United States of Africa but it was the trip to Selma that clarified my pan African engagement. Do you remember it was twenty-two of us? The youngest must have been 15 one of teenager in our program and the oldest more than 60 retired schoolteacher. We travelled with teachers, community workers, musician; we had farmers, people from different religions and faith, people with disabilities. We were very intentional in forming the group. We wanted to take a diversity of age ethnic groups, social origins, and occupation. We wanted a diversity of perspective on African identity outside of Africa.
In the US we came fist to Selma, to jubilee, we visited many states. I remember your mother driving one of the vans for days. We did many states and cities in the South—Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Louisiana. I remember Morehouse College in Atlanta and a visit we did with organization of young men who worked on violence against women. You know I fell in love with them. I still remember certain faces…
I remember farmers’ cooperatives and I remember the discussion on organic food. As we had conversation with people at that time in the south working on that subject, it was incredible to some of the farmers in our group. The contradiction was so stunning: pesticides were pushed in West Africa even on farmers who only knew organic food and were considered backward because of it.
We met with writers like Gloria Naylor, your mother’s friend. How is she now? I looked at her where she was living, in this remote house and I though this is what I need to do. Write. This is the kind of place I would like to be in. Peace.
We went to many churches, we experienced the intensity of prayers and faith, the beautiful song, people so dress up but also the tradition of organizing in the church. We visited schools the Mac Rae Learning Center and your grandmother managing it strongly.
We went to colleges and universities. Tuskegee University stood out. Our jaws drop as we learned about the deliberate inoculation of syphilis that was done on black people and studying them as they died. I still can’t get over it and to tell the truth it make me understand why some of our people have paranoia. We learned about Booker T Washington and learn about Georges Washington Carver and peanut and I wondered if anyone from West African have ever heard of these none of in our group did before coming Selma.
I remember your mother holding my hand all the way to Spellman college and figuring out how to get me registered.
“I have to go back home” I said that was the agreement we had with the entire group I cannot be the one to break it. I will come back if necessary…
She understood. You are so smart she said you have to go to college …
We relearned about African identity outside of Africa , we understood better what slavery was we learn about Sojourner Truth and the Underground Railroad. We learned about the civil war in the US and about the confederate flag still showing up in the South in so many places.
We learned about segregation. We learned about Jim Crow laws and how it was detrimental to black people in the South. We learned about how people organized for so many years to get rid of it. We re-enact the Selma to Montgomery March we met with Reverend CT Vivian. We learned about freedom summer and the Mississippi voting right movement and met with Bob Moses. We learned about the tracking in the school and your work to fight it in Selma. We learned about the prison industrial complex, drug abuse, and gangs. We met with Diane Nash witht he Amelia Boynton…
We listen to your music to your poetry. We learned about the political system in the US. We saw people, honoring families , supporting each other in times of hardship, carrying many values that made sense to us as Africans living on the continent.
So many things that were so far from everything we know or heard about our sisters and brothers from in The USA. This was the beginning of my education in African American studies.
Over the course of that month, we learned more than we could get from any universities and over the course of almost 20 years coming back regularly and having to translate for others ,young people, teachers etc.… I have learned a lot more. To this day I am learning every time I sit down with you or members of your community. Staying with you, with your sister and brother, with your parents and grandparents, I learned so much more. Our conversations have been part of my education.
We sang, laugh, cried with all of you and we realized we are one under the same sky. We shared with you about Africa today our countries our struggles our riches. Our languages we translated civil right song in Bahaman. We shared our culture we told you about our heroes and heroines Wee spoke about slavery and the destruction it did for family communities on the continent. We talk about colonial rules and the continuous exploitation and slavery like treatment that happen for so many years. We share about this time where even though we have got flags and political independence we are still deep into non-economical independence.
We talk about brain washing and the very little sense of self-esteem. We talk about traitors from our own communities—those who sold brothers and sisters to save them or to become rich. We understood that every generation has theirs. We asked hard questions—why this, why that?
We found some answers. We are still looking for many.
What we did discover from these exchanges is that you and I were cut from the same materials. That even if we came from far apart, we have similar visions of changing the world for the better.
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