This past summer I had a life-changing experience; I traveled to Africa, specifically, the country of Ghana. Traveling to Ghana was a once in a lifetime experience as it was almost a mythical journey full of ups downs and everything in between.
As I kept uncovering the layers of Ghana I suddenly realized I was peeling back layers of myself. I studied abroad to study Ghana, which I did, but along the way, I also left with new knowledge of myself which did not bring me happiness, but peace and harmony.
2019 was the year of the return, something I did not know until I touched down into the country. The Year of The Return was a call for African people from all over the diaspora to come back to Ghana 400 years later from slavery.
When I found this out I truly believed God placed me here for a specific purpose — the timing was too perfect. And what a return it was. Walking through the streets of the capital city of Accra, I felt an ease that I have never felt before. Yes, I still had my initial anxiety, but they quickly melted away when I realized I am a thousand miles away from all the drama, pettiness and greed of the United States. I could just be me amongst my people with no limitations.
I could interact with people who knew who they were — who embraced themselves and their culture, unapologetically. I didn’t have to hide who I am. I could be me: express myself however I wanted to, no weird looks or anxious energy, I was just a brother.
Knowing who you are and the values you embrace is a type of freedom that is hard to put into words. When I gained such intimate knowledge of myself, I felt less anxious and more complete. I felt after all the sacrifices the ancestors made, the world is my oyster. There is a peace that comes after a tragedy that is strange to explain.
It is like I should be furious about the treatment of my ancestors, but there’s a tinge of a feeling of gratitude and acceptance that washes that anger away I feel like I have to be the best person I can be — not for myself but for the legacy of people who came before me, and that notion within itself brings me peace.
Peace in that I know, I know who I am and I know what it took to bring me to this point in my life. I lost the existential crises that come with the ‘who am I?’ question. With losing that I can make more space for love, community and gratitude.
Being Black in America is weird. It is confusing and it is often dangerous. All those things and even more, but it’s really weird. See being Black in America you, as an individual, are constantly defined by how other people define what that is across the board. It’s not just white people — other Black people who do not even have a strong identity will dictate what Blackness is to other people.
I learned that being Black in Ghana is different — it is a point of pride and it is not something anyone has a monopoly over. You can be poor and Black, rich and Black, a king or a queen, and anything else. Being Black is a point of pride and — I say this very considerately and carefully — it is not everything that you are you can be you and that is the ultimate type of freedom.
Another aspect of being Black in Ghana is valuing community. Here in America, we have the loosely based concept of association that we call the “Black community” — a community in which all Black people are supposed to be included, but are not, and some people do not even want to associate themselves with.
The Black community in America, just like the rest of America, is facing a crisis of intimacy. People are not close with each other and there is much pain and distrust. Alongside that pain is a lack of forgiveness and, honestly, that perpetuates community pains.
In Ghana, I learned community comes from a place of love, a love that does not hold grudges or keep tabs on past wrongs. It comes from a place of intimacy. Families eat together, they share what they can without a second thought. Families live together without stigma or belittlement.
I learned many lessons in Ghana, but the biggest lesson is that there is nothing like knowing exactly who you are — the strength of identity is powerful. Also, community is an important part of learning who you are, and being in community with people has to come from a place of love. Lastly, love is forgiving honest and intimate.