Reflection on a thank-you from Lesotho

When I received the request to help build a water pump in the Lesotho village where a young woman I’ve mentored, a woman who is now my friend, is working, I didn’t hesitate. Her name is Jennifer Jiggetts, and she is a journalist. But first, she is a great human being. And she is spending some time as a member of the Peace Corps, teaching and building in Africa.

I didn’t hesitate. It was Jennifer, and it was needed.

I didn’t ask why I should spend money on a water project in Africa when there are people without water in Detroit.

I didn’t ask how spending the money would fit into my budget.

I didn’t think: If I respond to every young person I’ve mentored, I’ll be responding to hundreds of requests.

I decided instantly to help a friend who is helping make lives better for some children. I decided instantly, that no matter how bad things are in some places here, they are always worse where she is.

So I donated. And a month later, I received an envelope from Lesotho. get-attachment-11

It contained a beautiful handmade necklace and matching earrings. It also was filled drawings and a handmade thank you card card decorated with crayoned red stars and blue hearts and green leaves. The card read:

Thank you so much for contributing to our water pump project.

We are forever grateful for your support. Enjoy your goodies! 

Sincerely,

Tsoaing Primary School

The card was touching, but it was the individual messages from the children that took my breath away. Some were in English, some in Sesotho, their mother tongue.  Some were simple, some meticulous, all drawn in the global colors of life. Each child drew him or herself, what they see in their minds when they think of themselves. Some stood near the pump; others pumped water. Some told me their names. Others made sure I knew their gender.

Each reminded me that when the right thing to do comes along, you don’t hesitate. You don’t question. You just do it. You try to change a life, or change a school or change a village. And when you do, hands might just reach across the world to touch you and to change your life. Continue Reading

Out of Africa: What connects us and what we must learn

MIGORI, Kenya _ Had anyone told me 10 years ago that I would be on a compound outside this small town in southwestern Kenya, I would have laughed. Ten years ago, I had never been to Africa.

As a columnist since 1996, I would laugh at the occasional racist who would tell me to go back to Africa because I was writing about what we sometimes refer to a “black” issue. I could not go back to where I’d never been.

But two years ago, I visited Dakar, Senegal. And I was forever changed. I stood on the banks of the Atlantic facing an ocean that, for me, had meant camping not far from the Outer Banks and running the dunes at Kill Devil Hills. Yet, two years ago, in that moment, I stood on the other side looking in the direction of an America built by the ancestors of people I had met: rice farmers whose ancestors’ expertise helped raise South Carolina; builders whose expertise raised Virginia.

What a conversation we should have been having – my hosts and I – about what Africa did for America’s East Coast, what it contributed to America’s founding. But instead, we talked about poverty and the challenges Senegal shares with America.

Two years later, I am on my third visit, this time to a place where the poverty is so overwhelming, it chokes you. I watch people walk everywhere carrying heavy physical and emotional loads. I see want and need in the eyes of children who know nothing else, but who recognize that strangers may have possible answers. I see armed guards protecting the few who have wealth.

I will be writing about my adventures in Kenya, in a compound seven hours west of Nairobi, adventures tied to an assignment for the newspaper. But for a moment, for me,I thought about where I was and where I might have been had my ancestors not been given away or taken away to America. I hate that I don’t know.

But I know this. As I stood in a tiny compound near a tiny town in a vast country famous for lions and coffee and watched children play at an orphanage where they are loved and renewed, I renewed my pledge to go to Africa, to some country, for more learning, every year. Continue Reading

Going home . . . .

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. Continue Reading