Friday, March 24, 2017

NdCAD Open House

This evening, I attended an open house event at the premises of the Network for the Development of Children of African Descent in St. Paul. Founded in 1997, this network seeks to promote positive education for children and youths of African descent. Its mission embraces and engages parents and other community members in literacy programs, tutoring, and cultural enrichment. It runs a library service for children and adults.

Gevonee Ford welcomed us to the open house with a brief overview of the history and mission of the NdCAD. He eloquently explained, for example, that black children grow up in a world saturated with narratives of negativity and brokenness in the black world: from relationships to values and dreams. Without discounting the existence of problems, the NdCAD promotes the narrative that not everything is broken, and that there are positive things that need to be developed in order to build a better future.

Gevonee announced that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the NdCAD, and he unveiled the commemorative banner. The first photo above features the banner before it was unveiled.

I had visited the NdCAD for the first time on February 18. Seeing all those students, parents, volunteers, meeting rooms, books and other educational resources, not to mention photos of famous black personalities lining the walls, was an eye-opening experience. I was inspired to witness the communal spirit and the collective desire to bring about real education to the children and the community at large, rooted in an Afrocentric perspective, not in any wishy-washy or romantic sense, but a real understanding and appreciation of the central role that Africa and people of African descent have historically played in the world.

That the NdCAD has been operating for twenty years and looks confidently to the future is a remarkable story of unwavering determination and hope. It is a story that deserves to be widely known, for there is no doubt that it will inspire others as it has inspired me.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

An Evening of African Food and Folklore

In the evening of February 28, a number of people gathered in Brooklyn Center to share African folklore. The event was a joint initiative of the Kofa Foundation and me, as founder and owner of Africonexion: Cultural Consultants. We wanted to mark the last day of Black History Month and to recognize the work of the Kofa Foundation.

The Kofa Foundation was started to support victims of the ebola crisis in West Africa. Africonexion promotes cultural awareness, helping individuals, institutions, and organizations understand and deal with issues stemming from cultural differences.

We started the evening with delicious food prepared by the Kofa Foundation. Then, I stood up to make my presentation.

As I have been doing in my recent presentations, I gave a preview of Africa as the cradle of the human race and civilization. I emphasized the significance of oral culture and its implications, to foster an appreciation of the ingenuity of non-literate people.

I illustrated African traditional wisdom through proverbs and two tales: the Haitian tale of Frog and the well featured in  Harold Courlander's A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore and "The Monster in the Rice Field," featured in my Matengo Folktales.

Decontee Kofa, founder and director of the Kofa Foundation, seen in the photo on the left, hosted the event and announced that she would soon host a similar event. Lori, the lady in the middle, told me about the Transformative Circle, an organization that involves "diverse people coming together to foster greater understanding and appreciation for our community, cultural differences, and customs." She said she would like me to make a presentation to them.

I had brought copies of my books--Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and Matengo Folktales--and people were able to see and buy them, with proceeds going to the Kofa Foundation.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Interview: Beca Lewis and Joseph Mbele

Several months ago, a neighbour of mine, Merrilyn, who is an avid reader of my writings mentioned me to Beca Lewis, a friend of hers who lives in Ohio. She then sent Beca a copy of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences. At the same time, she enabled us to connect on Facebook.

I soon learned that Beca is a writer, educator and broadcaster, who owns and runs a social media and broadcasting outfit called The Shift. From what Merry told her about me and from reading my book, Beca asked me if she might interview me on my cultural outreach activities. I readily agreed, and we did the interview on February 14.

Today, Beca made the interview available online, and I am pleased to present it here:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My translation of "A Time to Talk" (Robert Frost)

Today, out of the blue, I decided to translate Robert Frost's short poem, "A Time to Talk," into Swahili. From time to time, I translate folklore and poetry, undeterred by the perils and uncertainties of the process. I work with three languages: Matengo, Swahili, and English. My most ambitious work of translation so far is Matengo Folktales.

I encountered Frost for the first time when I was a high school student in Tanzania, 1971-72. We read Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken." It was only three years ago, however, that I first read "A Time to Talk," when my daughter Zawadi bought me an anthology of Frost's poems, Robert Frost: Selected Poems. I was then in hospital in Minneapolis, and my daughter, knowing that I am a bookworm, thought a book of poems would lighten my days.

As soon as I got the book, I started reading it. Among the poems that struck me the most was "A Time to Talk." I marveled at how Frost evokes rural life and realities and expresses his sentiments about alienation and the erosion of human values.

A TIME TO TALK (Robert Frost, 1874-1963)

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.


Rafiki anaponiita kutoka barabarani
Huku akipunguza kwa makusudi mwendo wa farasi wake,
Sisimami tu na kuangalia huko na huko
Kubaini idadi ya vilima ambavyo bado sijalima,
Na kisha kupaaza sauti pale nilipo, Vipi?
Hapana, hapana kwani kuna muda wa kuongea.
Nasimika jembe langu katika ardhi tepetepe,
Ubapa wa jembe ukiwa juu futi tano toka ardhini,
Na ninatembea: ninaelekea kwenye ukuta wa mawe
Kukutana na rafiki.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

KMOJ Radio Interview: Charles Dennis and Joseph L Mbele

On February 4, 2017, I was a guest on the African Roots Connection program of KMOJ Radio, Minnesota. Program host Charles Dennis and I had a wide-ranging conversation. You can listen to it here:

(photo by Zawadi Mbele)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Evening of Storytelling at St. Olaf College

I have started this year with a spate of presentations in the community. This evening, following a request by Karibu, a St. Olaf College student organization, I made a presentation on story telling. The event was part of Africa Week, an annual program organized by Karibu to showcase and share knowledge about Africa.

As requested by Karibu, I emphasized the role and meaning of storytelling in African culture. I shared my admiration for oral cultures, constituted by individuals who are walking, dynamic encyclopaedias, so to speak. I invited the audience to contemplate the fact that these cultures, for the major part of human history, had to preserve and transmit all their knowledge without writing.

I engaged the audience in reflecting on proverbs and a Haitian folktale, "The Frog and the Well" published in Harold Courlander's A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore.