Roots Public Charter School in northwest D.C. (Courtesy photo)
Roots Public Charter School in northwest D.C. (Courtesy photo)

For the first time since the pandemic, children at Roots Public Charter School in Northwest will once again participate in community service activities. The latest gathering, scheduled for this weekend, counts as part of a global movement taking place in parts of the United States, the United Kingdom and Africa. 

On Nov. 12, Roots PCS will participate in the Black Star Action Network International’s (BSANI) Be Clean campaign, an annual event that has roots in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Throughout much of the morning, young people and adults will engage in dialogue about health and the environment before walking through Manor Park and Brightwood Park in Northwest to pick up trash. 

Bernida Thompson, founder of Roots PCS, said the Be Clean campaign aligns with her school’s values. 

“We work with children to raise their awareness and help them [fulfill] their political and economic community responsibilities,” Thompson said. 

“A part of our mission is to encourage success leading to self-reliance, economic, social and political contributions to society,” she added.

Organizations partnering for this endeavor include the Universal Negro Improvement Association Reconciliatory Committee 2020 and the Pan-African Federalist Movement of North America, 

The World Health Organization connects diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, intestinal worm infections and polio to unclean water, and the lack of sanitation. Experts say that nearly half of the people living on the African continent will face these conditions during their lifetime. 

BSANI launched the Be Clean campaign in the fall of 2017, months after the Mount Sugarloaf mudslide claimed hundreds of lives in Freetown, Sierra Leone and threatened to exacerbate the spread of disease. 

In the aftermath of the mudslide, organizers gathered children from the community and cleaned up marketplaces to address concerns about a cholera outbreak. BSANI members didn’t want Sierra Leone’s then-presidential candidates involved in the program, except for Pan-Africanist Karim Bah. Still, the clean ups attracted their attention. 

It even inspired similar movements in the West African country, and later a mandate by Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio who required residents clean up public areas once a month for more than a year. Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Bio’s political rival, also coordinated similar projects. 

Five years later, BSANI’s Be Clean campaign not only has a presence in Sierra Leone, but other countries adopted the program, as well, including Monrovia, Liberia; Lagos, Nigeria; and Gunjar, Gambia. Partnering organizations are located throughout the U.S. in D.C, New York, Detroit, Jacksonville, Florida, and Oakland and San Diego, California, as well as in Birmingham, United Kingdom. 

In an era where cholera, Ebola and COVID have ravaged portions of the African continent, the Be Clean campaign’s educational component has become even more essential. BSANI members tour schools and other venues to distribute cleaning products and conduct workshops about proper handwashing and sanitation. 

A young woman within their ranks has also created feminine products. 

The group raised hundreds of dollars through a crowdfunding campaign to carry out these efforts without government assistance. 

BSANI founder and head organizer Chief Mansa Foday Ajamu Mansaray said that the Be Clean campaign speaks to the power of Universal African Nationalism, as articulated by Marcus Mosiah Garvey. He said that BSANI will work to institutionalize these events so that disaffected youth on the African continent and around the world will continue to receive compensation for their good deeds. 

“We can have teams in D.C., Detroit, and Monrovia to combat and fight against gentrification, and promote volunteerism and Pan-Africanism,” said Mansaray, a repatriate from Pennsylvania who has lived in Sierra Leone for a decade. 

“The Be Clean campaign is one of those things that would be similar to the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program. It took the Black Panthers to organize the parents in the same way. No one can deny that everywhere Africans live, we can be clean — not only in our environment but our private lives.” 

“It’s important for our children to focus on the school community, environment and health because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. That’s the bottom line. Our environment is directly related to our health,” emphasized Thompson.

For more information about BSANI’s Be Clean Campaign, go to BSANI.org.

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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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