Black History Month: Reflections from AAI’s President

Dear Friends of AAI,

Last February, I was asked to give remarks for the Lauder Institute’s inaugural Africa Symposium, which was to take place at the University of Pennsylvania in March 2020. I wrote a speech about my upbringing as a third-culture kid. I was born in Ghana, but I spent the majority of my formative years in England and, later, the United States. The event was cancelled due to COVID-19, but writing the speech led me to think about the various contexts in which I came to learn about the worldwide African Diaspora. 

At Wesleyan, I met African descendants from Africa and the Caribbean as well as those with roots in the United States. I became aware that although these groups readily identified with Africa, differences in culture, language, and history could and should not be overlooked. I came to realize that these stories represent a larger narrative indicative of the diversity and richness that exists within Africa and the African Diaspora.

This realization, coupled with what many are calling a racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, led me and AAI President Emerita, Mora McLean –whose immediate roots are in both the Caribbean and Midatlantic USA—to rethink AAI’s role in educating Americans about Africa. As a result, last November, at our 6th annual State of Education on Africa conference (SOE) AAI virtually convened under the theme “Teaching Africa in K-12 Education.” During the conference, we laid the foundation for launching a new set of programs with two main goals: 1) teaching K-12 students, especially those who are Black, about Africa’s central role in the creation of the modern world, while also 2) helping them to excel as independent learners.

As Black History Month draws to a close, I reflect on the lives of African descendants, those who are native born and those who, like myself, grew up as third culture kids. In fact, much like Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Issa Rae—the award-winning writer and producer upon whom we bestowed AAI’s 2020 Africa Illuminated Leadership in Arts and Culture Award—increasing numbers of African-Americans are products of multicultural experiences within and beyond the borders of mainland USA. 

Imagine how enriched we would be if we enlarged our perspective of Black history to encompass the full spectrum of African and African Diasporic experiences. If we were to focus on the few well-known individuals mentioned here alone that would mean broadening the lens to include Kenya, Jamaica, India, Sénégal, and the United States. We look forward to sharing more in the upcoming months about this exciting work to illuminate the true histories of Africa and the worldwide African Diaspora in K-12 schools.  

Yours in Partnership,

Kofi Appenteng  

President

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