Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Council on Black Minnesotans Summit Ended Today

The Power of Unity Summit, organized by the Council on Black Minnesotans concluded today with a picnic. From around noon, people came, at their own time, and stayed as long as they wished. This was a great opportunity to meet informally and network. continue the kind of conversations inaugurated during the summit, and network.

I arrived at around 1:30. There were many people there, and there was plenty of food. There was storytelling by Nothando Zulu, drumming, and music by the Les Exodus band featured in the photo above.

In the course of a little over two hours, I had wonderful conversations with a number of people. One of these was Edward McDonald, Executive Director of the Council on Black Minnesotans. We talked about the artist panel that he moderated yesterday, and I said I enjoyed the panel very much and wanted to make a contribution to the discussion from the perspective of folklore. The traditions of folklore remind of where artists came from and how they functioned in non-literate, non-capitalist societies.

I also spoke with Tene Wells, a key Summit organizer, whom I have gotten to know in the course of the last few weeks after she sought me out and asked me to participate in the Summit. I also talked with Jamela Pettiford, the sister who played the role of Harriet Tubman in yesterday's dramatic rendition of the Underground Railroad.

I also spoke with author Amoke Kubat whose book, Missing Mama, I bought yesterday. I told her I had started reading the book and like it. I was humbled to hear her say that she bought three of my books, in order to explore more the perspective I articulated on Friday during my panel discussion with Professor Mahmoud el Kati.

As I was on my way out of the building, Atum Azzahir called me. She was with her husband, Ahmad Azzahir, and we had a great conversation around issues such as traditional African philosophy. Upon learning that I am Tanzanian, Ahmed told me he is a faithful disciple of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. I told them that I had known about them and their work for many years, and that I acquired Ahmed's book, Time Dimensions and Community Development, many years ago.

 I look forward to continuing the conversations with all these remarkable people, who do great things for the community.

Once again, I think the Council on Black Minnesotans deserves a lot of praise for planning and executing the Power of Unity Summit, which has been a very successful event. exxxxrummung

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Power of Unity Summit: Council on Black Minnesotans

Yesterday the Power of Unity Summit organized by the Council on Black Minnesotans, started in St. Paul. It continued today, and will end tomorrow. A few days ago, I mentioned this Summit.

What a memorable weekend this is, filled with discussions, displays, and performances around the experiences, struggles, and achievements of people of African descent.

Among the highlights of yesterday's events was a showing of a documentary recorded specifically for this Summit. It features a number African Americans talking about the history of the Black experience in Minnesota and ends with testimonies of a number of recent African immigrants.

The organizers made a wise and commendable decision to provide space for the expression of both the African and the African-American experience and viewpoint. This was evident right from the beginning of the Summit yesterday. The first plenary session was a conversation between Professor Mahmoud el-Kati (an African-American) and me (a Tanzanian).

The two of us, guided by moderator Adrian Mack's questions, were able to describe and discuss not only the commonalities but also the differences in the historical and contemporary experience of people of African descent. We sought to get the audience to think about the global African experience, in Africa, the Americans, the Middle East and beyond.

We highlighted, as well, the fact that there are differences, and also tensions, among people of African descent. The dispersal of people from Africa to different parts of the world led to different experiences and challenges, which have created different mindsets.

I attended several events today, including a reenactment of the story of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, seen in the photo at the top of this page, with Jamela Pettiford as Harriet Tubman and Joyce Marrie as Sojourner Truth. In the course of the Harriet Tubman story, Fredrick Douglass made an appearance. As soon as I saw the actress approaching, I knew she was playing Fredrick Douglass. We all played the role of slaves escaping from a plantation through dangerous landscapes.

The other event I want to mention is an artists' panel, seen in the photo on the left, which addressed the following issues:

What do artists need to do to build stronger relations within communities?
How can you make a living as an artist in Minnesota?
How can we increase the value of the arts in Minnesota?
Share your most enterprising idea and what you have done to make it real.
How could the State increase the value proposition for our art?

 The Summit has been a rich and varied experience, and here I am only mentioning parts of it, the parts I attended. I must reiterate, however, that I am truly pleased by the incorporation of both Africans and African Americans in the composition of discussion panels, performances, and other activities as well as the food served to participants.

The photo on the left is of Anuak dancers from the border region of South Western Ethiopian and South Sudan.

 I am grateful to be participating in this Summit. I have gained a better understanding of the Council on Black Minnesotans and discovered the Minnesota History Center which is hosting the Summit on its premises. As part of its contribution to the Summit, the Historical Society Museum decided to feature, in its bookstore, the books of writers participating in the Summit. I am one of those writers.