Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another Step Towards the Pan-African Summit

On 13 February, planning for the Pan-African Summit moved one step ahead, with another breakfast meeting, at the Center for Families. As in the past, Edmund Ocansey chaired the meeting.
We started with a conversation about plans for the Pan-African Summit, affirming the need to keep working towards this event. We even set a date for it, October 9, 2010. That is an important commitment, and we are excited about the prospect of bringing Africans and African-Americans together, as we did two years ago, to explore their differences and other matters of mutual interest.
After discussing the Pan-African summit, we went to the major item on the agenda, a talk by me on "Africans, African-Americans, and Education."
I had decided to address this topic following the presentation by Eugene Dix on suspensions in the school system. As an educator, I wanted to share my views on the meaning of education in the experience of Africans and African-Americans.
I quickly went through the following issues: definition(s) of education, traditional African practices before European intervention, European/colonial practices in Africa, neo-colonial practices, the African-American experience from slavery to the present, education for critical consciousness and liberation. I based my remarks on the ideas of Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Malcolm X, Julius Nyerere, and Walter Rodney. I stressed the need to ask whether going to school means being educated. We need to think about Mark Twain's famous saying, "I have never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education."
A spirited and informative discussion followed my talk, with questions and comments. We explored the benefits and limitations of school education.
As parents, we talked about what we need to do to ensure that our children get a real education, despite what they might be learning in schools. We agreed that we need to complement what they learn in school with knowledge of life as we know it.

These monthly breakfast meetings are designed to sustain the spirit manifested during the first Pan African Summit, and to build the momentum for the forthcoming Summit. For more information, contact Edmund Ocansey:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I joined "twitter"

I joined "twitter," a few days ago, and am now learning the ropes. I welcome the readers of this blog to follow me there. For my "twitter" address, click here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

RBC Wealth Management Confronts Cultural Diversity

I visited the RBC Wealth Management premises in Minneapolis earlier today, to share ideas about cross-cultural issues at the workplace and in the world as such. With operations and offices around the world, RBC Wealth Management knows the challenges and opportunities of cultural diversity in the global village.

I have visited RBC Wealth Management several times in the past few years, to share my experience as a cultural consultant. I greatly appreciate the warmth and hospitality I have always experienced there.

My interactions with leaders and employees have broadened and sharpened my awareness of what a company with a multinational workforce deals with, in terms of workforce relationships and management. I seek to enhance my understanding of these matters all the time, so that I can be a better and better as a consultant. My goal is that simple and clear.

Many employees of RBC Wealth Managenemt have read my Africans and Americans book, and I am always humbled to encounter them as I move around the Company premises. At their reguest, my talk today was based on this book.

We ranged widely, covering not only issues of relationships at work, but also hiring and promotion, and beyond the specific goals of enhancing company productivity, we talked about the broader issue of promoting mutual understanding for a better future for all in the global village.

I wish to thank Wanda Brackins, Director of Diversity at RBC Wealth Management, for arranging all my visits and for sharing with me her wide and deep knowledge of cultural diversity in the modern corporate setting.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Americans Going to Malawi

Yesterday I went to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, about 123 miles from Northfield, to speak with a group of people going to Malawi to conduct eye clinics. I had been invited by Diane Kaufmann, seen in the photo above, to my left. She has visited Malawi a number of times in her capacity as coordinator of the companion synod relationship between the Northwest Wisconsin Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) and Malawi. She has led mission trips to Malawi, under the auspices of this partnership, and she and I have run retreats at Luther Point.
The trip is scheduled for April, and the destination is Chitipa and Karonga. Some of the people have visited Malawi before, and others are going for the first time.
Diane had invited me to talk with them about issues I raise in my book, Africans and Americans. She told me they would all have read it in preparation for my visit. This is the ideal arrangement, since it creates the opportunity of focusing on problematical or outstanding issues.
I enjoyed meeting these people. I felt as if I were in the company of people who knew me well through what I say in the book. There was no need to worry about breaking the ice or establishing rapport. In my remarks, I just stressed several basic lessons I have learned about living in a different culture and writing about cultural differences. I confessed that the greatest challenge of writing my book was discovering my own biases and fighting against them.
Because these people were going on a medical mission, we dwelt a little bit on the cultural issues relating to medical work. I have said a few things about this in my book, and I have also been learning much from my involvement in orientation activities for college students going on health-related study abroad in Tanzania.

Some of the people had studied at St. Olaf College, and they regaled me with their Ole memories and folklore. One doctor had a copy of my Matengo Folktales and started a conversation with me on it. She noted, for example, the different ways Hare is portrayed in Matengo folklore compared to the American traditions such as the Easter Bunny. I was delighted, as I had never thought about these comparisons. Diane even mentioned my Notes on Achebe's Things Apart. I felt I was in the midst of people who really want to be well informed prior to traveling abroad. Being an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin, I enjoyed this visit in other ways as well, since it brought back memories of my graduate school days in the Badger state.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Memories of Augustana College

Yesterday I returned from a memorable visit to Augustana College, Illinois. The main purpose of my visit was to talk with students going on a study trip to Ghana and Senegal. This is part of the work and vision of the Africana Studies program.

In the evening of January 30, I spoke with a group of professors on cultural issues in the global village and related topics. We dwelt in particular on preparing students for life in the world they will live in.Professor John Tawiah Boateng, standing with me above, on the right, had communicated with me over a two year period about plans at Augustana College to develop the African Studies program. He has said that my visit would help that process. On January 31, I spoke with the people going to Ghana and Senegal, about 40 of them. They had all read my Africans and Americans book, and I had been invited to talk about it.
Above, Dr. Tawiah Boateng, the director of the Africana Studies program is seen introducing me to the audience, flanked by Dr. Kim Tunicliff director of International Studies. Dr. Tunicliff and I had worked together for some years in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). While he was the ACM Vice President, I was a member of the board for the Zimbabwe and Tanzania progams. I am still a member of the ACM board dealing with the Tanzania and Botswana programs. It was good to be with Dr. Tunicliff again. It was during Dr. Tunicliff's tenure as ACM Vice President that I wrote my Africans and Americans book, to help us in offering cultural orientation for students and faculty going to Africa. I have mentioned this in the book. Introducing me, Dr. Tawiah Boateng described my work in teaching, research, writing, and study abroad programs. I spoke about my experience of preparing students for study in Africa, with a focus on the cultural dimension. I described my own experience with American culture, growing as person as I went along. I explained how writing my book made me discover my own biases and how, subsequently, I fought against those biases in order to produce the book they were reading. The greatest challenge, I said, is to overcome the idea that the norms of our culture are the standard other people should follow. That bias is like a trap into which we all fall, more or less. An hour and a half later, our session ended and we went out for dinner and still continued our conversations
It is certainly gratifying for a writer to know that people are actually reading his or her writings. I was touched, as usual, to be in a room with over forty people who had read my book asking incisive questions.

A small band of students stayed on, after dinner, to continue the conversation. I signed copies of the book and we took one more photo, which reflects the strength of the human spirit in the face of the kind of rigours we had put ourselves through.