Sunday, January 02, 2011

Black Education for Human Freedom
The African Renaissance and the History That Is in the Present

Joyce E. King, PhD
Georgia State University
3rd World Festival of Black Arts & Cultures
Dakar, Senegal
December 10-31, 2010

Books by Joyce E. King

•  Black Education
•  Preparing Teachers for Cultural Diversity
•  Teaching Diverse Populations
•  Black Mothers to Sons: Juxtaposing African American Literature with Social Practice.


This document is intended to provide a concise summary of the paper on “Black Education” that was the basis of two presentations at the Forum on the African Diaspora on December 11, 2010. It captures important parts of the “spoken” presentation, including these key points:

1. Diaspora Africans have experienced a dislocation of self, not a loss of self.

2. The African Renaissance must be centered in African (not European) realities, including, for example, African languages.

3. What and how we teach about Africa and people of African descent, in the Diaspora and on the Motherland, needs to be changed to reflect our Pan African priorities.

4. We do not start our story with slavery but with human history in Africa.

5. Establishing Standards for Contextualized Teaching and Learning about Africa and People of African Descent worldwide is essential for relevant and progressive education as the foundation for a true African Renaissance.

* * * * *
Following the content of the paper/presentations are Recommendations for Action that were submitted to the President of the Festival’s Scientific Committee, Dr. Iba Der Thiam.

The concluding section is a brief Commentary following by a list of references. At their request, this document has been transmitted to Dr. Iba Der Thiam and Dr. Djibril Diallo Co-ordinator of the U.S. Committee for the World Festival of Black Arts & Cultures and Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UNAIDS, for the consideration of President Abdoulaye Wade, who will make his report regarding Festival activities and follow-up actions in the Diaspora to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2011.

This document was prepared and is being disseminated in the spirit of President Abdoulaye Wade’s appointment of the U.S. Delegation to the Festival as “Goodwill Ambassadors to the African Renaissance leading to the formation of the United States of Africa and the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.”

I. Black Education for Human Freedom

The only question that concerns us here is whether these educated persons are actually equipped to face the ordeal before them or unconsciously contribute to their own undoing by perpetuating the regime of the oppressor.
—Carter G. Woodson, Mis-Education of the Negro

It is still quite common to hear assertions (by scholars) that as a result of our enslavement and brutal separation from our African origins, Black peoples in the Diaspora have experienced a “loss of self” and, therefore, any identification with Africa, African values, and cultural practices has been obliterated. Rather than a social fact, this school of thought persists, misinformed by certain Euro-centered scholarship as well as the popular imagination nurtured by white supremacy ideology. African-centered scholarship and the discipline of Black Studies provide substantial evidence to the contrary and demonstrate that what Africans in the Diaspora have experienced is not self-loss but dislocation. Carter G. Woodson attributed the cause to our mis-education. Thus, the educational task is to uncover and restore hidden connections to correct distortions and omissions that can aid in the recuperation and healing our African minds, identity, and spirit. This educational task rests on four premises:

First Premise: Truthful, equitable, and culturally appropriate education is understood to be a basic human right, and not only as a condition of Black people’s individual dignity and collective survival, but is also fundamental to civilization and human freedom irrespective of race and culture.

Second Premise: People of African descent share broad cultural continuities and our survival as an ethnic family. Our quintessential peoplehood is at stake in educational and socialization processes.

Third Premise: Black education has been over-studied from deficit (e.g., “loss of self”) perspectives that negatively influence various educational practices, including current tests and standards. These represent and betray the very same “sin of omission” that characterizes literature and perspectives that deem contemporary Africans—both in the Diaspora and on the Continent—as relatively insignificant in human history until the advent of western slavery.

Fourth Premise: Formal education has been structured around ideological pedagogical knowledge for the purposes of mis-education in order to elevate and maintain the control and power of dominants groups.

The education struggle in the U.S. since the 1960s has included establishing Black Studies and Africana Studies departments in colleges and universities and spearheading research, knowledge production, and the development of corrective and inclusive curriculum materials for schools at all levels. The implementation of a high-stakes testing regime—for students and teachers under the banner of “quality” education has sidelined these educational contributions. My colleagues and I have produced ground breaking research and scholarship on Black education (King, 2005), including (19) “Criterion Standards for Contextualized Teaching and Learning about People of African Descent” (Goodwin & King, 2010) that we have determined are foundational for education for human freedom.

These “Criterion Standards,” such as the eight examples presented below, can be used in teacher preparation, parent education, curriculum and textbook development as well as (standards-based) instruction in classrooms and community settings:

—African humanity and civilization are anterior in the recorded history of the world. Classical Africa was a primary influence on European growth, development, and civilization. (#1)

—African Diasporan histories begin in Africa with human history, not with the period of enslavement. (#2)

—African people’s heritage includes the African presence in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, including Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America. An accurate history of the experience of people of African descent includes interactions with other groups. (#3)

—African descent people are one people, continental and Diasporic. There is a cultural unity across Diasporan communities as a common experience of domination, disenfranchisement, and social/political/economic inequalities. (#5)

—The Transatlantic “slave trade” is the foundational base for European and American growth and economic development. The enslavement of African peoples and the exploitation of their labor, socio-economic knowledge, and technical expertise were as important to the economic wealth in the Northern colonies and states as in the American South. (#7)

—The appropriation of African and Diasporic forms of cultural expression is the basis of much of what has created a distinguishing U.S. cultural character (e.g., art and architecture, cuisine, music, dance, design, invention, education reforms, language, fashion, etc.). (#8)

—African people have resisted domination and oppression from the earliest period of enslavement. Resistance by African descent people to racism and oppression continues and has taken many social, political, economic and cultural forms, including self-determination, spiritual resilience, and agency in education, cultural expression, and community building (e.g., mutual aid societies, benevolent associations, social movements, fraternal lodges, Freedom schools, Kwanzaa, Rites of Passage, etc.). (#9)

—The indigenous African worldview is embedded in African language, which is the key needed to unlock the stranglehold of external interpretations of African people’s history and culture. The stranglehold includes interpretations of African domestic systems of servitude, spirituality, and governance. (#11)

II. African Languages and the African Renaissance

If anything, Négritude is more necessary today than ever. It has moral and ethical implications that should concern everyone. It must be valid for the whole Negro world.—Aimé Césaire, First World Festival of Negro Arts (Kennedy, 1968)

African languages are foundational in the reclamation of African identity and consciousness. We have been victimized by concepts and ideas about the inferiority of “blackness,” Africa, and our heritage and the superiority of all that is European (and white). For example, in English and other European languages the idea of “blackness” is fundamentally negative (e.g., “black sheep,” “black-listed,” “black balled,” etc.), as compared to what “whiteness” usually means (e.g., pure, goodness, not bad, a “white lie”). In the Songhay language (Songhay-Senni) “blackness” is fundamentally positive (e.g., “wayne bibi”—“black sun”—when the sun reaches reaches its fullest expansion and highest point of the day; or “hari bibi”—“black water”—the most potable, cleanest water in the deepest area of the Niger river that is far from the shore). Thus, language provides access to a people’s culture and worldview perspective.

African languages are foundational for contextualized teaching and learning about people of African descent. Using the indigenous Songhay language term makes it possible to interpret and distinguish the African practice of domestic servitude from the institution of chattel slavery. In Songhay-Senni “barnya” means “slave,” –or “the one who does not even have a mother,” to be more precise. Prior to the arrival of Europeans (or Arabs), lineage-based domestic servitude existed on the African continent. People who had lost their “freedom” as a result of being taken captive in war or as punishment for a crime generally no longer had the protection of their clan or lineage—their mother’s people (Maiga, 2010).

The historian Basil Davidson compared this system of lineage-based domestic servitude in Africa with the forms of un-freedom that existed in medieval Europe. He suggested that more research is needed to understand the African experience of “slavery” from the point of view of the African mindset (King, 1992). Might our ancestors who had been kidnapped and made chattel slaves have retained this cultural memory when they sang the spiritual: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a l-o-o-o-n-g way from home”? That there is no indigenous word for “prison” in the Songhay language (and other languages of West Africa) is also instructive.

photo: Joyce King and Leonard Jeffries

This kind of deciphering analysis and interpretation of African people’s experience is possible when continental and Diaspora Africans work together to examine and reconnect our lived experiences—within the terms of our own cultural reality.

Thus, there is a potential for dislocation we use the European “Renaissance” (French for “re-birth”) uncritically as a reference point and model to inspire and revive the formation of the United States of Africa envisioned by great PanAfricanists like Nkrumah, Sekou Touré, Modibo Keita, Cheikh Anta Diop, and Marcus Garvey. Rather than citing the achievements of the Medici family and Leonardo da Vinci in 14th century Italy as models of cultural excellence, or the emergence of Western European humanism based on the “stolen legacies” of ancient Greek and Rome and which Aimé Césaire rightly critiqued, the Pan African challenge might be better understood within our own African terms and concepts.

For example, “Wehem mesut” (the “repetition of births”) refers to the Renaissance Era of ancient Egypt (Kemet). (Thanks to Tony Browder and Mario Beatty with the U.S. delegation for this translation.) Another relevant concept is Alasaal-Tarey in the Songhay language: “the process through which we understand our origins as human beings in order to serve humanity” (Maiga, 2010). For Diaspora Africans, of course, the 1920s Harlem Renaissance and the Négritude movement it helped to inspire exemplify our tradition of reconnecting with our great heritage for African unity. The ancient Nubian Renaissance as well as the restoration of the Kushite presence in Kemet (“the Black Land”) are other examples. I am inspired by the words of Hatshepsut (“Foremost of Noble Women”), the 5th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, who said:

I have raised up that which was in ruins.

I have restored that which was destroyed.
—Inscription on the walls of Djeser-Djeseru, Nile Valley

We are indeed the “first civilizers” of humanity. For the benefit of Africa’s people in all Six Regions (North, South, East, West, Central and the Diaspora), we turn our attention to the centrality of culture and the role of cultural diversity in our development, which African humanism—“ a true humanism. . .made to the measure of the world”—has long recognized (Césaire, 1972/2000). This “Criterion Standard” offers a relevant perspective:

Africa’s known mineral wealth and other natural resources place it among the world’s richest continents. This remains so, in spite of successive periods of foreign occupation, imperialism, enslavement, and colonialism spanning millennia. The corresponding disconnect between African peoples and their resources is a key contributing factor to the continuing poverty and disempowerment experienced by African nations and African descent people in other countries. And the disconnect of Africa’s human and natural resources from Diasporic human and economic resources obstructs the self-actualization of each, while enriching the architects of this separation. Access to and control of African resources is central to foreign and domestic policy agendas of the world’s industrial nations and is a major factor in limiting Africa’s ability to achieve economic and political independence. (#19)

Therefore, what and how we teach about Africa and people of African descent, in the Diaspora and on the Motherland, needs to be changed to reflect our PanAfrican priorities.

* * * * *

III. Lest We Forget: The History That Is in the Present

Our ancestors did not wade through rivers of blood so that we might surrender the interpretation of their lives into the hands of others.—Vincent Harding, There Is A River

Following the opening Forum on the Diaspora the other conference themes were the evidence of Egypt’s African heritage, African people’s permanent resistance, African achievements in science and technology, and Africa’s contributions to democracy and freedom. Convened under the auspices of President Abdoulaye Wade with the support of other African Union Heads of State, the Festival embraced the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: End poverty and hunger; Universal education; Gender equality; Child health; Maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS; Environmental sustainability; and Global partnerships.

The U.S. delegation received certificates appointing us as “Goodwill Ambassadors” for the African Renaissance toward the formation of the United States of Africa and the achievement of these development goals. We must recognize, however, that none of us is truly “developed” unless we are all freed from what degrades African people and denies our humanity. In that regard, mis-education, particularly when it comes to teaching and learning about “slavery,” has been most harmful.

We do not start our story with slavery but with human history in Africa and our humanity as African people. This is what my teacher and friend, the great scholar Asa G. Hilliard III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II) insisted is paramount in our work as educators. At the same time, we do have to remember what slavery was in order to know the truth about what has happened to us and where we go from here. There can be no true African Renaissance without this understanding.
I am a daughter of those enslaved Africans who were kidnapped and brought to the Americas. I remember the stories told in my family about slavery. But for the most part, we experience ourselves, our history and our identity, through lies told to us and about us that make us feel ashamed. Meanwhile those who perpetrated and benefited from these crimes against us go about feeling superior with their heads held high. In addition to the evidence of humanity’s origins in Africa, another magnificent truth we experienced at this conference is that African people are “one big family.” However, that reality is undermined by one of the most pernicious ways that our history has been used to divide African people: what our textbooks teach us about “slavery.” In school we learn that there never would have been any enslavement if “Africans had not sold their own brothers and sisters into slavery.”

This has left a gaping wound in our souls. Who among us would want to be African when we are taught that is what has been done to us?

Our response as Black intellectuals and Black Studies scholars has been to develop contextualized teaching materials that provide a truthful analysis of this historical dynamic. The point is to examine the indigenous African experience of servitude and enslavement before, during and after Arab and European slavery from the perspective of the African mindset as well as the enslavers and colonizers (King, 1992, 2005).

Let me share an experience I had in East Africa—in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985 when I attended the UN Decade of Women’s conference. In Nairobi I met a student who was attending a play at the university with his aunt—who was about my age. They invited me home with them to meet the rest of the family. After several evenings at their home, they also invited me to go with them to visit their grandfather in Pumwani—one of the poorest sections of the city. When we entered the Elder’s home, he greeted everyone and he thought I was from somewhere right there in Kenya. The family quickly told him that I was from the United States.

Now, this elderly grandfather, living in the biggest so-called “slum” in the city, who had no formal education, and who had not studied African history or Black history, started to weep. Through tears, the old grandfather looked directly at me as said, “Thank God! One of our daughters has come home.” He explained how happy he was that one of the “lost ones” has come home. “You should feel proud,” he said. “Don’t ever feel ashamed of what has happened to you because you have a home here.”

“One of our daughters has come home.” With this simple declaration this ordinary African elder, living among the poorest, most downtrodden, “uneducated” people in the great city of Nairobi, expressed the essence of African people’s humanity: the uninterrupted, unqualified, and profound importance of our family feeling, the importance of children down through the generations, and an utterly spontaneous affirmation that wherever we have ended up, we are still at home in Africa—where we still belong as African people.

What, on the other hand was slavery, that has made us feel so ashamed in the world Europeans created and brought us to in the Diaspora? In The Spirituals and the Blues, the theologian James Cone tells us slavery:

. . . meant being snatched from your homeland in a stinking ship . . . being regarded as property . . . working fifteen to twenty hours a day and being beaten for showing fatigue . . . It meant being whipped for crying over a fellow slave who had been killed for trying to escape . . .

We have endured the slave ship that was our ancestors’ floating prison, the incarceration of generations in the cotton, rice, tobacco, and indigo fields that produced the wealth of Europe and the Americas, and the 21st century modern slave ship the New Orleans Superdome became for our people who were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina (Rediker, 2007). In the U.S. today a cradle-to-prison mass incarceration policy imprisons a greater proportion of this society’s population than any other nation and the rate of imprisonment for Black women is higher than any other group (Perkinson, 2010).

Will it require a United States of Africa to undo our dispossession and end our oppression?

IV. Recommendations for Action

In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed.—Ella J. Baker, Educator and Black Freedom Struggle Activist

Dr. Iba Der Thiam organized a Working Group to develop recommendations and a concluding statement regarding the Festival’s conference program to be presented to President Wade for his report to the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January, 2011. Runoko Rashidi, Hassimi Maiga, Wade Nobles, Leonard Jeffries, Rosalind Jeffries, Ruth Love, and I were members of this Working Group, to which I submitted the following Recommendations for Action:

The African Union should organize and fund a Commission to oversee and establish teaching and learning standards for African education worldwide—giving particular attention, for example, to how “slavery “ is taught and the world’s debt to Africa.

Translate/publish key scholarly texts in multiple languages, including selected African languages, with keen attention to the meanings and etymologies that are rooted in indigenous concepts and worldviews common to Africans.

Produce “Best practices” research focused on the Content and Methods of Black education worldwide, including instruction in African languages on the Motherland and in the Diaspora.

Engage youth, artists, and the Internet in popular and creative education and development campaigns that make broad cross-national use of the above resources, especially via new communications technologies and forums such as blogs, podcasts, and satellite conferencing and provide recognition and appropriate awards and prizes.

The Working Group also agreed to recommend that representatives of Africa’s Sixth Region—the Diaspora—should be appointed to participate in the deliberations of the African Union.

Finally, in various sessions and meetings, President Wade announced his own plans for action. He intends to establish a translation program in partnership with a publisher in the Diaspora, a Chair of Diaspora Studies at the University, and a film production studio. President Wade has already appointed a Minister for Diaspora Affairs. In addition, members of the U.S. delegation were appointed to serve as “Goodwill Ambassadors for the African Renaissance toward the formation of the United States of Africa”—a central premise of the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.

V. Commentary and Reflections

. . .I am my mother’s daughter and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.—Mary McLeod Bethune, Educator

Beginning with the Forum on the Diaspora on Friday, December 10, the conferences brought together some of the most brilliant and dedicated thinkers, educators, artists, and activists across the African world—in one place—exchanging thoughts, path-breaking research findings, documentation and personal experiences with each other and with the audience from all parts of Africa and the Diaspora. Each day’s conference theme was amplified in an informative, visually stunning gallery display of documents and photos. We were comfortable in the expansive Le Méridien Hotel and Conference Center, built by the Saudis. The daily conference program (from 9:30 am past 6 pm) was so intense that the organizers had to interrupt the sessions because the translators, who were providing simultaneous translation through headphones in French, English, Portuguese, Arabic, and Spanish, literally could not continue the pace of these dense, scholarly presentations beyond their normal working hours. The quality and breadth of the scholarly presentations as well as supporting documentation and visual displays, like the dramatic, high-tech cultural extravaganza that opened the Festival was breathtaking .

I was very pleased to have been invited to present the key points from my paper on “Black Education” (summarized above) as part of the Diaspora Forum. I was both surprised and honored when Dr. Iba Der Thiam, President of the Scientific Committee in charge of the Structuring Conference program, and Dr. Djibril Diallo, Co-ordinator of the U.S. Festival Committee, called me from the audience to stand on the receiving line with Chief Benny Wenda of West Papua New Guinea and Dr. Theophile Obenga to welcome President Wade, and to join them on the dais to make another presentation. President Wade, an esteemed scholar in his own right, who participated actively in the conference program, chaired this session.

In the brief time allotted, I continued to discuss the problem of slavery from an educational standpoint. In my experience, this is a sensitive topic in “mixed company” (with Africans from the Motherland and the Diaspora) even among scholars. As during my previous presentation, however, the auditorium again erupted several times with humbling ovations. Later, when so many different people across the spectrum of participants sought me out to thank me or to congratulate me (or to say “I just need to take you to my village”), the sociologist in me became quite curious to know what exactly I had said that generated such seemingly unanimous enthusiasm among this diverse audience of Africans—from the U.S., the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, various African nations, Mexico, and Brazil as well as Turkey, and West Papua New Guinea!

During the next several days, when someone offered such appreciative comments, I asked politely if they could recall precisely what had touched them so deeply. Rich conversations usually followed. I spoke with the Senegalese sisters who have been living and working in the U.S., and who were part of our delegation, other African women and men leaders, professors, students, diplomats, researchers, and the African American contingent, including artists, journalists and politicians—as well as a persistently congenial bookseller from the Niger Republic, who claimed me as a cousin, at least in part, because of the Songhay jewelry I was wearing. (I claimed him as well because he looked exactly like my uncles—my grandmother’s brothers.)

Before sharing a few of their comments, which underscore the importance of the above Recommendations for Action, let me begin with President Wade’s response to my presentation, and in particular to my observations about “Africans selling their own brothers and sisters.” It was actually quite gratifying that President Wade’s remarks echoed what I have written previously in various publications regarding textbook content and teaching about slavery—which I had no time to delve into during the presentation (King, 1992, 1996, 2006). Moreover, as Sylvia Wynter (1990) has noted, technically, there were “no Africans then”—rather the peoples whom the Europeans encountered and kidnapped belonged to various African nations and clans—the Ashanti, Ewe, Fon, Wolof, Congo, for example.

Notwithstanding the cultural unity of the African continent, they did not identify themselves as “Africans” any more than the French, Dutch, Portuguese, or British embraced a common identity as “Europeans” who identified with that continent.

So, to claim that “Africans” were selling their own “brothers and sisters,” in the contemporary sense that we, as historically conscious Africans, use these terms today, functions as a particularly hurtful kind of (ideological) slander that is not grounded in an accurate reading of history. This in part and parcel of the intellectual warfare that denigrates everything that is African and elevates whatever is European (Carruthers, 1999). But there was no time for these details at the podium.

President Wade considered the issues of sufficient important that he took the time to address the topic of slavery head-on—which was also the subject of the presentation Benin’s former President Soglo had also just addressed quite dramatically—with large illustrations of the atrocities. President Wade said, “We must tell the truth.” Africans were involved in the “slave trade” and their involvement was morally wrong. But they were not the main reason for slavery nor would there have been a market without the pressure the Europeans exerted and the business enterprises they organized and financed and from which they derived great profit. Importantly, President Wade also emphasized the need to change what is taught in schools—all the way up to the universities—as did other presenters and participants.

Now, for the result of my informal audience queries: Generally, continental Africans who talked with me seemed to have been moved most deeply by my story about the elder grandfather in Nairobi who welcomed me home. Their comments expressed some degree of emotional relief, saying that I “spoke the truth” and “said what needed to be said.” That an African elder had spoken such healing words for the pain of what has happened also seemed to offer added cultural validation—or even vindication—for them.

On a slightly different but also emotional note, one of the Senegalese sisters traveling with us from New York told me of her pain as a mother raising her daughter in the U.S. She said Black American youngsters used to beat up her daughter in school—traumatizing her with the taunt: “Go back to the jungle.” She thanked me for calling attention to the need to educate our children.

Another sister, a former African Ambassador in Europe, who thanked me for my presentation was also very eager to tell me about the annual “Zomachi” ceremony of “Repentance” organized by people in Benin, to acknowledge their part in the “slave routes.” Although we were speaking in English, when I mentioned how Black children in the U.S. have been made to feel ashamed of being African and are called names like “jungle bunnies,” unlike the Senegalese sister, this world-traveled diplomat had absolutely no clue about what these words meant.

African American colleagues in the delegation thanked me for representing “us” so well regarding such sensitive issues, with passion, but also in such a well-organized, scholarly, and concise presentation including specific recommendations for action given the intense pressure of limited time that we all experienced.

Finally, my new “cousin,” the Fulani bookseller from the Niger Republic, and I had a heartfelt exchange in the hotel lobby just before our delegation left to get the plane home. He had been in the auditorium each day. Pointing to his ear first then to his chest, he said my words went directly from the ear to the heart. When I asked why, he said, “Your voice”. What about my voice? He said, it’s not often that Africans have a chance to hear a woman speak aloud so forcefully and with such confidence and conviction. “Women are sometimes shy around men and do not speak up” (his opinion). I told him my mother always said when you are speaking to people, make sure that your voice really carries. His parting advice: “Keep doing what your mother said.” He thanked me again and I thanked him as we said good-bye.

Clearly, the audience responded to different “registers” of my presentations. More time was required for deeper conversations and further explorations. My point in sharing these reflections is that educators need opportunities to give concerted attention to teaching and writing about these sensitive and historically complex issues. This is actually the focus of much of my research and scholarship in collaboration with colleagues in the U.S., Mali (Maiga, 2005), Brazil (King, Gonçalves e Silva et al., in press), Senegal (Seck, 2005), and other Diaspora contexts. Do we even know the words to use to unlock the stranglehold of the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and historical division and dispossession on our identities and consciousness in our various social/historical contexts (e.g., Mexico, Turkey, Canada, Jamaica, the UK, etc.)?

How do we address these issues effectively with our children, “other people’s children,” teachers, parents, the broader public, civic leaders, or policy makers—to convey what is wrong with our education and what we need to do to fix it? Can we employ a tone and tenor of conscientious accountability for our own wrongs and the paths toward healing first ourselves while we design enough spiritual and psycho-social space for setting right the wrongs done against us through white supremacy racism and colonization? The challenge becomes even more complex across national borders and cultural contexts even among African descent people within our “one big family.”

African American scholars and scholarship have a certain advantage to offer with regard to this Pan African agenda and challenge. Both President Wade and Dr. Thiam acknowledged and expressed their deep appreciation for the significant contributions to the Festival conference program made by the U.S. delegation scholars and activists—including Runoko Rashidi, Sheila Walker, Julius Garvey, Tony Browder, Mario Beatty, Shelby Lewis, Wade Nobles, Vera Nobles, Leonard Jeffries, Rosalind Jeffries, Hassimi Maiga, Frederic Bertley, Elsie Scott, Ron Daniels, and Ruth Love, among others.

In each session Diaspora panelists included these members of our delegation. One highlight of the Festival experience for me was being able to hear and talk with folks about their remarkable presentations. Another benefit was making new connections and reconnecting with other African and Diaspora colleagues and friends.

Also, the perspectives of the artists in the U.S. delegation like Ron Himes and Michael Simanga, as well as elected officials, journalists, veteran community activists, and leaders of our important cultural institutions, including Johnnetta B. Cole, John W. Franklin, and Howard Dodson, further enriched this experience.

This historic gathering gave the participants a rare opportunity to engage in long overdue dialogue about matters of great scholarly as well as social, cultural, economic, and political significance. For example, members of the audience repeatedly called for educational transformation via the incorporation of African languages in African education and the information presented in the conference program. Presentations of the evidence of the Africanity of ancient Egypt—Diop’s work that Theophile Obenga eloquently contextualized—were elegant and overwhelming. Mario Beatty noted that a new generation of researchers, who like him, can actually read the texts, needs no longer to depend on the (mis)interpretations of others. Anthony Browder’s dramatic presentation of the ASA Restoration Project—the discovery and preservation of the 25th Dynasty tomb of Karakhamun, the ancient priest of Karnak Temple—reinforced his point. Shelby Lewis addressed ongoing scholarship uncovering the hidden resistance of those enslaved in Louisiana; others shed new light on the massacre of the returning World War II Senegalese soldiers (les tirailleurs –the “shooters”).

Cultural resistance in folklore and music was examined—accompanied by a Bob Marley song that energized the room. Ron Daniels’s update on the Haiti Support Project also highlighted the contributions of the Haitian Revolution to freedom and democracy. The role of women was evident in every conference theme. Another focus was repairing the wounds and depredations of slavery and colonialism, of particular concern to both Wade and Vera Nobles whose research documents the practice and psychology of African healing traditions. Rosalind Jeffries’s paper illuminated and brought to life the symbolism and deep significance of African art understood as spiritually informed cultural practice. A recurring theme each day was how African people can recover our consciousness and use our knowledge—on our own cultural terms—to build the United States of Africa together.
 In conclusion, during this historic conference we affirmed our similarities and shared common concerns in myriad ways, while we also explored important differences in our experiences. Perhaps this gathering is reflected in the Ghanaian Ashanti/Adrinka symbol for unity in diversity, “Funtummireku Denkyemmirreku”—the two-headed crocodile that fights for food eventually going to the same stomach. The Festival revealed our collective history and destiny that are in this present moment and not only our future and but human freedom also hang in the precarious balance. President Abdoulaye Wade has called us to action!


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Carruthers, J. H. (1999). Intellectual warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.

Goodwin, S. & King, J. (2010). Criterion Standards for Contextualized Teaching & Learning about People of African Descent. Rochester: Rochester Teacher Center, NY / Atlanta, GA: Academy for Diaspora Literacy, Inc.

Kennedy, E.C. (1968). Aimé Césaire (An Interview). Negro Digest, pp. 53-61.

King, J. (1992). Diaspora literacy and consciousness in the struggle against miseducation in the Black community. Journal of Negro Education, 61 (3), 1992: 317-340.

King, J. (1996). The Middle Passage revisited: Education for human freedom and the Black Studies epistemological critique. In L. H. Da Silva et al. (Eds.), Novos mapas culturais: Novas perspectivas educacionais (pp. 75-101). Porto Alegre, Brazil: Editor Sulina. (New cultural maps: New education perspectives).

King, J. (Ed.). (2005). Black education: A transformative research and action agenda for the new century. New York: Routledge.

King, J. (2006). “If justice is our objective”: Diaspora literacy, heritage knowledge and the praxis of critical studyin’ for human freedom. In A. Ball (Ed.), With more deliberate speed: Achieving equity and excellence in education—Realizing the full potential of Brown v. Board of Education (pp. 337-360). National Society for the Study of Education 105th Yearbook, Part 2. New York: Ballenger.

King, J., Gonçalves, P.B.G., et al. Engaged research/ers, transformative curriculum and diversity policy for teacher education in the Americas: The U.S., Brazil and Belize. In B. Lindsay & W. Blanchard (Eds.), Universities and global diversity: Preparing educators for tomorrow. New York: Routledge. (in press)

Maiga, H. (2005). When the language of education is not the language of culture: The epistemology of systems of knowledge and pedagogy. In J. King (Ed.), Black education: A transformative research and action agenda for the new century (pp. 159-182). New York: Routledge.

Maiga, H. (2010). Balancing written history with oral tradition: The legacy of the Songhay people. New York. Routledge.

Perkinson, R. (2010). Texas tough: The rise of America’s prison empire. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Rediker, M. (2007). The slave ship: A human history. New York: Penguin.

Seck, I. (2005). Worldwide conspiracy against Black culture and education. In J. King (Ed.), Black education: A transformative research and action agenda for the new century (pp. 285-290). New York: Routledge.

Wynter, S. (1990). Do not call us Negroes: How Multicultural Textbooks Perpetuate Racism. San Francisco, CA: Aspire Books.

Joyce E. King, PhD., holds the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She served as a member of U.S. FESMAN planning Committee (chaired by Dr. Molefi Asante) and the planning committee for the Diaspora Forum (President Runoko Rashidi, Vice-President, Sheila Walker). She is the Editor, Black Education: A Transformative Research and Action Agenda for the New Century

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