Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kenya's Jamhuri Day, Kansas City

For Kenyans, December 12, is a special day. It is the day Kenya got independence, in 1963, and became a Republic (Jamhuri) the following year. Kenyans at home and abroad celebrate this important day. As luck would have it, this year the Organization of Kenyans in Kansas City invited me as a guest at their celebration of Jamhuri Day. I warmly embraced the opportunity and traveled to Kansas City.
The celebration was scheduled for the evening. After a wonderful dinner, with a rich variety of East African foods, the formal program started. Mr. Ali Nassir, the chairman of the OKKC, gave an account of the Organization, reiterating its goals, achievements, challenges and vision for the days ahead. He called for a membership drive and more involvement by the members in OKKC programs and activities.
Then he asked Mary Mwangi, seen at the far right of the photo above, to introduce me. Mary is the person who had contacted me, to arrange my visit to Kansas City, and she had been happily reading my Africans and Americans book.
In my remarks, I paid homage to the ancestors of the Kenyans, who fought against colonialism and brought about Kenya's independence, enabling Kenya to be where it is today. I said that the Kenyans of today have their own historic obligation to fulfill, whether they are in Kenya or abroad, and we, as neighbours, are with them.

I talked about my wonderful visits to Kenya, starting in 1989, for research and conferences. I said I owe much of my reputation as a scholar to Kenyans, who welcomed me and shared with me their knowledge of Swahili classical poetry, folklore, and culture.

I highlighted a memorable encounter I had in Witu, a small town on the Kenya coast. I was sitting with a group of men one morning, in 1990, at a small restaurant. The old men asked me why we had a border between Kenya and Tanzania, while we were related by blood. Several of them said that their ancestors came from Tanzania. They compared that border to the Berlin Wall.
The celebration went briskly. It was delightful to see children actively involved, singing and playing games for the audience. I think it is very important for children to have such opportunities to be seen, heard and appreciated. I said as much in a blog post about a West African cultural celebration I attended.
The OKKC got to know about me through Dr. Mbaari Kinya, seen in the photo above. She is the director of WEET Institute, who had heard me speak a few weeks earlier at Principia College.

It was good to meet and get to know members of OKKC, who represent Kenya's diverse population, and to know about their activities. I heard much about the OKKC soccer team. Meeting Kenyans, whether in their country or elsewhere, always brings back fond memories of my visits to Kenya, and I look forward to the day when the border between our two countries will disappear.
(My thanks to Mary Mwangi, who took the photos seen here, except the first one at the top).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Conversation With The African American Action Council

In earlier blog posts, I have written about the Pan African Summit, whose main goal is to bring together Africans and African Americans. Early this year, the planning committee agreed to organize small gatherings, over breakfast, addressing specific topics as a way of building the groundwork and momentum for the Summit itself. Today we had our first breakfast meeting, at Vicky's Place, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Eugene Dix gave a presentation on the work of The African American Action Council, of which he is the founder and executive director. Operating mostly in the Brooklyn Park and surrounding areas, the AAAC seeks to ensure that African American and other marginalized communities have a voice on issues that concern them. It believes in working on this agenda "in a thoughtful and professional manner."

The AAAC carries out its mission through mentoring activities to youth; partnering with other local non-profits and agencies to provide quality services to families and youth; sourcing economic opportunities in the area; advocating for education, economic stability and affordable housing, as well as developing new leaders through training and organizing.
Eugene gave an enlightening account of existing disparities in these areas, and he dwelt, in particular, on the school system. He gave a passionate account of the plight of school children from the marginalized communities who have to go through a system that is not working well for them, as evidenced by data on the rate of suspensions of such students.
The AAAC has concrete suggestions for solving the problem. These include parent involvement. Parents should be aware of the situation in the schools and should take advantage of services that facilitate their involvement. Multicultural perspectives and tools should be incorporated in the training of educators. There is need for research into the issues affecting the school system, which should involve educators, community organizations, parents, and students.There should be good communication between parents, school officials and teachers, to bring about parent participation in their children's school work and other activities. With the demographic diversity of the area, the school system needs to involve people of different backgrounds as teachers, administrators, school board members, and counselors.Eugene shared out literature about the AAAC and he invites people to join the efforts of this organization. The contact information is, 763-503-0159 (ph), 763-503-0160 (fax). While writing this blog post, I encountered this article, which sheds more light on today's conversations.
In the group photo above, taken at the end of the meeting, are, from left to right, Eugene Dix, Chioma Onwukwe, Lorraine Rhodes-Dix, Victoria Karpeh, Joseph Mbele, Gerald Montgomery, Edmund Ocansey. When we thought about the idea of small gatherings and the topics for such gatherings, we all agreed that the education of our children should be a top priority. From my perspective, at least, Eugene has met our expectations and offered us much food for thought. We look forward to other meetings. Everyone is welcome to be part of this process, laying the groundwork for the Pan African Summit and a greater understanding between Africans and African Americans. For more information, contact Edmund Ocansey: