DAKAR, Senegal _ If you are a black man or woman in America, chances are that you’ve imagined that first moment and what feels like the second you touch African soil.
I’ve had people to tell me that they knelt and kissed the ground. I’ve had others tell me that they wept. My experience was different, though I’m sure shared by others.
As I set foot in Africa for the first time, I thought immediately of my grandfather and his grandfather, whose father was a slave named Bailum. I haven’t discovered and may never known from which country Bailum was shipped to North Carolina to eventually wind up in the bend of the Tar River. But I do know this: Senegal is the closest African country to America. It holds one of three major departure sites for thousands of slaves who were forced onto ships and taken to America to become farm animals and construction equipment.
Now gone for 10 years, my grandfather would have found great wonder and felt great pride in my return to Africa. You see, whether we pay attention or not, whether we honor it or not, whether we ache for it or not, we are part of The Lost. We are the descendants of those who were stolen.
And this week, they welcomed some of us home.
Moreover, in a series of seminars and discussions, some leaders hope to make clear that, now more than ever, Africans must forge better ties with each other and with their American cousins as officials mount campaigns to do everything from develop a greater, more structured role for the Diaspora in African politics and geo-economics – to create the United States of Africa.
I am here in Dakar as part of a delegation traveling under the sponsorship of the United Nations, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Conference of Black Mayors. We are learning about the African Renaissance, learning about our relationships to those whose ancestors watched ours go. We are finding ways to help ensure that the African story is not lost even so many in America try to diminish the African-American story.
We are here to continue to forge connections once lost, but increasingly becoming bonds.
I am here, where it all began. And as the days pass and I soon visit Goree Island, which wasn’t the largest but is the most famous center memorializing the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, I know what I will feel.
As I set foot on that island that is only 3,000 feet long and 1,100 feet wide, as I enter the House of Slaves., the Maison des Esclaves, and stand at the Door of No Return, I will remember those in my family who came before, those whose stories were stolen even as they were stolen.
I did not kiss the dirt at Leoopold Airport. I did not kiss strangers who might look like me. But when I visit Goree in a few days, I will stand before the answer to questions I’ve asked all my life. It is then that I expect to look skyward and thank my grandfather and his grandfather and his grandfather – for surviving, for making a way for me.
Visiting where it began is something every African descendant should take – if only to remember and to make sure no one else ever forgets.