Today, after many months of planning, we had the Pan African Summit, at the Center for Families. Dozens of Africans and African Americans attended. We listened to presentations that offered much food for thought. These were followed by honest and enlightening discussions. This summit was in certain ways better than the first one, and I cannot even pretend that I will be able to present an adequate report of it here. I will only touch on some of its highlights. I plan to return to it again and again in future blog posts.
The proceedings started with opening remarks by Edmund Ocansey, chair of the Pan African Summit planning committee. He stated the purpose of our gathering, recalling the journey we had traveled since the first summit, and described the schedule we were going to follow during our proceedings for today.
Then he introduced the keynote speaker, Gerald Montgomery, and called him to the podium. A former U.S. marine and a holder of a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering Technology, Gerald is a member of the planning committee, as you can see in various previous posts on this blog. He is also a writer and a keen analyst of the African and African American condition.
Gerald spoke about Geo-Africanism, a concept he has been developing to help people of African ancestry come to terms with their origins and identity. He noted that when people say they are of Irish descent, for example, we accept it without any problem, but when an African American says he or she is of African descent the issue becomes problematical. Geo-Africanism is a concept that gives African Americans the chance to claim their ethnicity. Gerald wants African Americans to learn how to be African. They should seek to know African countries. After eating some African food, they should go online and learn about the people and the country it came from. Echoing a theme from the first summit, Gerald said African Americans owe Africans a welcome to the USA. He wants Africans to be a bit more forthcoming and open minded towards African Americans.
Dr. Kofi Mensah a distinguished scientist in the process and product development division of the General Mills company, gave a slide presentation on Pan Africanism, its history, ramifications and challenges in a time perspective, as well as its potential as a force in the world today and in the future.
He noted, for example, that other groups with common heritage are forming alliances and networks. The people of African descent need to do the same, to achieve unity and work towards their collective advancement.
He stressed the importance of education: Africans should learn about African Americans and vice versa, through seminars, courses and one-on-one interactions.
Pam White, CNP, the Founder and President of the Health Empowerment Resource (HER), recounted her own life story of growing up as a disadvantage girl who became a teenage mother, resentful when people told her to go back to Africa. Later someone taught her about her African heritage, about kings and queens, and restored her pride in her African heritage.
She went on to study and became a women's health-care nurse practitioner, finally starting her own clinic for "women of color, and underserved populations." HER seeks to empower and assist women in learning how to live healthier and longer by reclaiming their self-respect and a sense of balance.
Pam offered a compelling account of the specific health issues and challenges of "women of color" arguing that it is important that patients have the opportunity to be served by people who share their cultural and other background. (Photo on the left by Edmund Ocansey)
After the presentations, we split the gathering into two: an African group and an African American group. We had done the same during the first summit. This time, however, we had an African facilitator for the African American group, and an African American facilitator for the African group. Each group was requested to discuss the issues they had concerning the other group.
Before we split, however, we had a delicious lunch, with African and African American food. (Photo on the left by Edmund Ocansey)
There were tables for vendors, and organizations and individual businesses had an opportunity to showcase their products and services. In addition to everything else, books, brochures and other literature are a valuable resource for the kind of dream the Pan African summit is pursuing. (Photo on the left by Edmund Ocansey)
Some of the issues mentioned in the first summit came up again. For example, an African American said that Africans come to the USA, take "our jobs," take the wealth and return to Africa. They do not seem concerned about the problems and struggles of African Americans. They do not, for example, concern themselves with the blacks in prisons: they don't visit them or do anything to help out. I think this is a topic for a whole meeting.
An African American lady complained about Africans talking in their languages even when she is around. For example, she visits an African store or hair salon, and the Africans just keep talking in their language, not caring that she doesn't understand. She wonders whether they are talking about her, and why they don't respect her as a client. I think this is a legitimate complaint.
It is always good, when we gather to explore such complex and difficult issues as the relations between Africans and African Americans, to have some moments of relaxation. Accordingly, halfway through the proceedings, Ghanaian drummers came and put up a spirited performance. We danced an relieved some of the solemnity and tension of the dialogue.
I learned a great deal during this summit, as I had during the first one. Africans and African Americans need to recognize that they have a very long way to go to understand one another and to fully acknowledge their different histories and experiences. Whether they like it or not, these different histories and experiences have shaped and continue to inform their different mindsets and outlooks, which can cause misunderstandings and most unpleasant confrontations.