For more than a century, the diverse ethnicities, communities, cultures and people that encompass the African Diaspora have united around a common lineage and shared struggle against the anti-Black forces that continue to impose their will to this day and by various means.
As seen at a recent event hosted by the D.C. Mayor’s Office on African-American Affairs (MOAAA) and other local government agencies, people of African descent have also embraced the custom of starting events later than what had been formally announced — what a panelist described as a form of rebellion against European domination.
“The idea for African people is that we don’t start until everyone gets here. The party doesn’t start until everyone gets there, but that keeps us at our core and center, and forever evolving as African people and connecting across space and time,” Amy Yeboah, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Howard University, told audience members at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center on Thursday during “Communities in Conversation across the African Diaspora.”
Though the three-hour event — sponsored by MOAAA, the Mayor’s Office on African Affairs, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, and other entities — had been scheduled to start at 6 p.m., guests continued to roll into the lobby of the Reeves Center at 6:30 p.m. where they spoke among one another, enjoyed a catered meal and listened to the sounds of the East of the River Steelband.
By 7 p.m., more than 70 people had been immersed in a nascent panel discussion that included Yeboah, a native New Yorker of Ghanaian descent, her Howard colleague Mohamed Camara, Ayana Lara Rockett, an Afro-Latina who works in the D.C. Office of the City Administrator, and Doreen Thompson, a onetime member of the first African-Caribbean Commission under D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
During that portion of the program, Yeboah touted her ancestral homeland as one of the ideal places for Africans of the diaspora to embrace their roots.
“Ghana becomes one of the spaces where you can be unapologetically African,” she said. “They’re just busting out of the seams with pride because of what Kwame Nkrumah did with Pan-Africanism. With language, people and legacy, it becomes a good place to go with students.”
Since the turn of the century, the District’s Black population has become increasingly diverse — with representation increasing among Haitians, Jamaicans, Nigerians and Ethiopians — many of whom come through the visa lottery or familial connections.
By 2015, nearly one out of five Black people in the D.C. metropolitan region had been foreign-born. A significant number of Black immigrants — credentialed with degrees from their home country that the U.S. education system doesn’t recognize — count among the District’s underemployed, often taking blue-collar and service-sector jobs to make ends meet in an increasingly expensive city.
During “Communities in Conversation,” MOAAA Executive Director Ashley Emerson, who served as moderator of the panel, pivoted the discussion toward fostering a cross-cultural understanding between people in the African Diaspora, defining Blackness, and the importance of 2020 census participation among Black Americans and Black immigrants.
In their responses, each panelist relied on personal experiences that informed their knowledge about Blackness. Kamara, a Guinean who has spent a significant portion of his life in the U.S., said the nuclear family structure doesn’t suffice in describing the depths of African people’s communal ties.
“The community defines the values of the individual,” he said. “Being in America and learning from the Afro-American [and] Caribbean community, [I learned] that Blackness shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s an evolving set of values that I’m still learning at Howard, the mecca of African-American intellect.”
For Thompson, a Jamaican attorney amid a campaign to launch the D.C. Office of Caribbean Affairs, unification of Black people must start locally — with the support of Black-owned businesses, regardless of the owner’s nationality.
“We have to spend our dollars with Black businesses and consciously make that decision,” Thompson told audience members on the evening of Feb. 27. “[It means] asking yourself when you’re going out to eat, who are you spending your money with. Black Restaurant Week takes place in D.C. [This isn’t] to exclude, but to be conscious about what it takes. We can talk about gentrification and the changes, but we have to support each other.”