Image from Creative Commons
By Alianna Kendall-Brooks and Senait Richmond
The trans-Atlantic slave trade scattered a continent’s people, history and culture throughout the Western world. As African descendants fought to restore what European colonialism and slavery took from them, a global movement of unity, decolonization and Black power was born – Pan-Africanism. In honor of NC State’s 52nd annual Pan-Afrikan Week, join us as we explore the unique history of Pan-Africanism across the world.
Long before it became a named political and cultural movement, the roots of Pan-Africanism existed within the African continent. In the pre-colonial era, Africa’s rich cultural heritage centered around the ancient African philosophy “Ubuntu,” meaning ‘humanity to others,’ encapsulating the phrase ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’ Similar to Pan-Africanism, the philosophy of Ubuntu encourages equality, humanity and collectivism over individualism between the people of Africa.
However, Ubuntu and Pan-Africanism do not imply that Africa and its cultures are a monolith. From the peaks of the Ethiopian highlands, across the vast Sahara Desert and down the Nile River; Africa’s geographical construction lays the foundation for the diverse languages, traditions and cultures found across the continent. Africa is currently made up of over 50 countries, each with its own rich cultural heritage and is the second-largest continent in the world spanning 20 percent of Earth’s land area.
The African Diaspora, defined as the collection of global communities of Africans and people of African descent, began with the forced “cultural dislocation” and migration of African people. The diaspora populations include African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Arabs, Black Canadians, Africans and so many more.
According to Dr. John Henrik Clarke, a Pan-Africanist scholar and pioneer of Africana studies, “Pan-Africanism, often thought of as a movement conceived and developed by Africans living outside Africa, was, in fact, a worldwide movement, affecting Africans in every part of the world.”
From the Ashanti Wars in modern-day Ghana to the success of the Haitian Revolution, the prolonged struggle for independence among diaspora populations paved the way for the emergence of Pan-Africanism. In 1900, Henry Sylvester-Williams, a West Indian Barrister, organized the first Pan-African conference to gather political and civil activists of African descent from across the world. Among the attendees was African American scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois, who proposed the formation of a Pan-African Congress. First held in Paris in 1919, five Pan-African congresses were held throughout the 20th century as Pan-Africanism entered the global lexicon.
Attendees included African leaders, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya. Nkrumah is among the key figures of Pan-Africanism alongside W.E.B. Du Bois, Patrice Lumumba, Haile Selassie and many others. Nkrumah became the first Prime Minister of Ghana in 1952 and the first president in 1960 after leading the fight for Ghanaian independence in the 1950s.
At its core, Pan-Africanism is a global resistance to European colonization and slavery in Africa and across the diaspora. At every corner of the world, African people are unified in their fight to reclaim their culture, history and national identity.
In America, Pan-Africanism manifested as a political movement during the Civil Rights Movement, specifically among Black Nationalists such as Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and Frantz Fanon. These leaders were Pan-Africanist advocates and believed the African diaspora, specifically African Americans, needed to politically and culturally return to Africa.
Socially, Pan-Africanism represents the unification of the collective, yet diverse, ancestry and identities of the African Diaspora. At NC State, “Pan-Afrikan” week is annually held to foster unity and community between Black students. The celebration began 52 years ago as a festival lasting from March 21 – April 2, 1971. Sponsored by the Black Students Board (BSB), Pan-Afrikan week is described as a “weeklong celebration of Pan-Africanism, a worldwide intellectual movement aiming to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent.”
In 2023, Pan-Afrikan week will feature an array of exciting events hosted by BSB, the Caribbean Student Association and the African Student Union.
The Nubian Message had an opportunity to interview the leadership of Black Student Board to understand how Pan-Afrikan week came to fruition.
Nubian Message: What has the planning process for Pan-Af week been like?
(Second-year, Events Coordinator, She/Her)
“The planning process has been fun. The anticipation of seeing your event come to light has been exciting. Although it’s been a lot of work, I know it will all be worth it. I think what many people don’t know is that the planning for Pan-Af has been going on in the background of our regular programming.”
NM: How has the history of Pan-Af week inspired this year’s events?
(Third-year, Events Coordinator, She/Her/Hers)
“The goal of Pan-Afrikan week has always been to celebrate the uniqueness and diversity within the Black diaspora. Keeping these values, this year’s theme “Black Undefined” aims to host events that are inclusive and represent all within our community.”
NM: What are some of the must-see events happening at Pan-Af week?
(Fourth-year, Assistant Director, She/Her/Hers)
“I’d say that all of the events we have planned are must-see events! But some of our major events that you shouldn’t miss include Roll Bounce Roller Skating, Thee Drag Ball, Soul Social and Sneaker Ball! Roll Bounce Roller Skating is a roller skating event based on the movie Roll Bounce. We suggest that attendees wear their best 70s fit and there will be concessions provided as well! Thee Drag Ball is one I’m particularly excited about because I’ve never seen drag queens perform before! There will also be time for a Q&A and food will be provided. Soul Social is all about feeding the soul in a variety of ways. We have a yoga instructor, a DJ, two food trucks, a plant bar, a scrub bar and vision board and embroidery activities! Last but not least is Sneaker Ball. Sneaker Ball is a formal event in which we suggest guests dress formally in addition to wearing their favorite pair of sneakers! Dinner will be provided and there will be a red carpet for guests to walk through!”
NM: What does Pan-Afrikan Week mean to you?
(Third-year, Marketing Coordinator, She/Her/Hers)
“Pan-Afrikan Week to me means a way for people from the African Diaspora to express themselves and be authentically them. It’s a way for a community of people who are so different and have so many varying ideologies, backgrounds, beliefs, goals and experiences to come together and create a community here at NC State. That’s why our theme for this year is Black Undefined. Since there is no set criteria for Blackness. We are who we are and we should be proud of that.”