In the centuries after the end of Maafa — the worldwide separation of African people via the Transatlantic Slave Trade — people of African descent have struggled to foster a collective consciousness under a global system that favors everything European.
Brainwashed by the Western world’s portrayal of the African continent as a land devoid of history and culture, many African-Americans continue to shun their stolen past. Meanwhile, Africans on the Motherland, many of whom suffer under conditions brought on by former colonizers, clamor to enjoy the trappings of the so-called First World at any cost.
Earlier this month, I found a common understanding of the “black struggle” with my Ethiopian brethren during the Third International Conference on Ethiopia and Its Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Roots. During this trip, I along with five other African-American youth from the D.C. chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF) joined a group of elders on a journey to unearth the African origins of Biblical history and highlight a history of congenial relations between Ethiopians and African-Americans.
“We’re the continuation of a strong legacy. On this trip, we wanted to pick up the pieces and build on the foundation our ancestors left for the 21st century” said Kamau Grimes, chair of NBUF’s international affairs committee and key organizer of the trip. “Understanding our history allows us to transcend our petty differences. We have an unprecedented opportunity to travel, communicate and have the shared experience of our ancestors.”
In the months leading up to the trip, Grimes recruited members of our group and hosted Ethiopia study sessions. We prepared heavily for this excursion, meeting weekly in Sankofa Video Books & Café on Georgia Avenue in D.C. and reading scores of books about the origins of Christianity in Ethiopia and the achievements of Menelik II and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. In Ethiopia, Grimes hosted a lecture about the early beginnings of the African- American-Ethiopian relationship at the height of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. Much of that information came to life as we walked through the bustling streets of Addis Ababa, trekked through the hills and valleys of Lalibela, laid our sights on the Obelisks in Axum, and affirmed our commitment to total repatriation during a visit to Shashamene.
However, nothing proved more important to me than learning about contemporary Ethiopia through the experiences of the people I had the pleasure of meeting. Our two-day stay in Lalibela would provide me with ample opportunity to see how folks really lived. During that time, our group visited the Church of Saint George and St. Mary’s Church of Zion – a location of the Ark of the Covenant.
Getting to these sites required driving in a van along a meandering dirt path up hills and valleys before taking a walk up high altitudes – a feat that ultimately strengthened my American lungs. Our tour guide likened our journey to that often taken by priests. The more I interacted with the people along the way, the more I believed him.
Often time, men, women and children either had their hands out for change or tried to sell custom wares. I quickly learned that making eye contact would be a mistake, especially if you had no intention of purchasing their items. The persistence of the young boys in Lalibela could put the wealthiest American business executive to shame. When it came to making money, these fellas proved to be relentless, continuously making pleas for attention and walking with their newfound friends for miles at a time.
Though many of the Ethiopians I encountered were “impoverished” by Western standards, they didn’t have poverty of the soul. Unlike most of the homeless folk I came across the in the states, the brothers of Lalibela – many of whom called me “rasta” because of my freeform locs — had a genuine interest in my life. They also had a thirst for knowledge and educational advancement.
Take Abrhams, a 16-year-old captain of the St. George Football Team, for instance. Back-to-back championships meant nothing to him without a college degree. He spoke of his plans to pursue engineering as a career before asking to have a pen – a request students commonly make of their foreign visitors. Since my return to the states, we’ve exchanged emails a couple times. The young brother proved to be more gracious than I initially thought, often wishing many blessings for my family and friends.
I would forge a similar relationship with a young brother by the name of Ras Robin while touring Axum. Like other Ethiopians I met, he called me Rasta but his reverence for the Rasta lifestyle intrigued me. Robin, who recently turned 20, too had dreams of attaining an advanced degree, so much so that he cut his locs before entering school. That decision, he said, didn’t diminish his adherence to its ethical code. Robin always contended that Rasta was in his heart. That type of mindset extended to his studies, He revealed that he hoped to become one of Ethiopia’s best engineers.
For the time being, however, he would become an informal AllEyesOnDC ambassador and lifelong friend. On the last evening of my stay in Axum, I gave him a fresh AllEyesOnDC shirt upon his request for clothing. Soon after, we took a photo together holding up the diamond- like hand sign known as a salutation of peace. My spiritual journey culminated on this stretch of the journey.
In learning about my Ethiopian brothers and sisters’ experiences, I gained a deeper appreciation for entrepreneurship, crafting, and a life without an attachment to material things. Allured by my hosts’ calm demeanor, I became more enamored with what the Motherland had to offer. I know now more than ever that African-Americans – regardless of how far removed genealogically from the Motherland – should take similar steps to reconcile those differences. For me, there are several ways to go from here. I plan to travel to the West Africa and connect with my Liberian brethren. I also have visions of revisiting Ethiopia and taking up Amharic.
As a member of the Diaspora, the possibilities are endless so why wait? The collective future of the African race very well depends on this commitment to nation building.
This article originally appeared on AllEyesOnDC.com.