Managing the process of a historical figure moving from enigma to tangible, teachable presence in one’s life is full of glorious surprises.
I consider myself blessed that Black History was an everyday practice in my family and home, not just some rote designation for 28 days out of each year in my school classrooms. My mother, a fifth grade teacher, maintained a vast library that could be accessed in virtually every room of the house, even on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. So, as a child, I often found myself grabbing a reference material of some sort and picking a section to browse through after my homework had been completed. W.E.B. DuBois was one name that became quite familiar over the years because of his role in founding the NAACP and my tribe’s persistent belief that we had community responsibilities to uphold as members of the “Talented Tenth.” I thought DuBois struck a rather dashing figure with his sharp goatee and formal suits. He was intriguing to me, in equal doses of intellectual curiosity and image.
When I applied to college, one of the selling points of Penn was that I could actually live in the DuBois College House. The Blackest of Black dorms available on campus. My home away from home. Aside from the for-credit academics I was engaged in, DuBois House was also where I found a sense of belonging and purpose. I was able to learn more about the richness of a diverse Black consciousness and presence, embrace the concept of pan-Africanism, and get validation that I could enter the adult world as I chose. This would eventually lead to me giving up eating red meat and cutting the chemical processing out of my hair. Literally, going back to my roots. And I imagined that Brother DuBois would approve with a knowing nod.
During our media delegation to Ghana, the one must-do landmark for me was to visit the DuBois Cultural Center and burial site. After learning so much about DuBois’ brotherhood with Nkrumah, the intercontinental fight for independence shared by both leaders, their commitment to intellectual enrichment, and DuBois’ eventual expatriate life in Ghana, I had to feel the residual spiritual energy present in his former home.
Many of us born and raised in the US joke about leaving the familiar discrimination and oppression behind to make a home elsewhere in the world, but comparatively few of us take the necessary steps to do so. The DuBois Center was a vivid symbol that such a life is indeed possible and, perhaps, preferable. It was a modest home, not palatial, but with plenty of room to entertain and engage. It is difficult to stand in what once was the living room and not imagine hearing whispers of the political and cultural debates that must have occurred in that space, where dignitaries and everyday Ghanaians would be welcome to discuss strategies on empowerment, economic development and Black consciousness. And, just off of the living room was the library. As it should be, if personal history has taught me anything.
Ghana showed me a lot in a few short days. I have been chosen to be a citizen of the world, and every passport stamp and conversation allow me a deeper opportunity to connect dots across thousands of miles, languages, socioeconomic strata, faiths and political beliefs. If Israel and Ghana can move beyond assumptions and perceptions to be humanitarian partners in a myriad of tangible ways, there is still hope for those of us who can set aside historical distrust to find common ground in other parts of the globe. To work, together. To live, together. To build, together. And to feel welcome, regardless of the location of the soil.
“Cause I gotta roam…and anyplace I hang my hat is home.”