Ambassadors for Africa: Bridging the Gap

by Ebele Ifedigbo

 A version of this post originally appeared on Africa.com under its "My Journey, My Africa" section.

My Journey with Africa started as one of deep confusion and chronic discord. Like most African children born and raised in the United States, I struggled with my Nigerian status. Growing up, I was particularly perplexed as to why my parents chose to curse my life with such a weird name as ‘Ebele’- didn’t they know that people would continually butcher the pronunciation or, worse, give in to the temptation of calling me incredibly stupid nicknames like ‘Belly’?

Being the hybrid product of a Nigerian father and a black American mother only compounded my African identity struggle. It seemed like I never really fit in on either side: Africans saw me as essentially black and they tended to see blacks as lazy and uncultured; blacks saw me as essentially African and they tended to see Africa as a place full of naked tree-swinging tribes and starving babies.

Of course I had my family there to keep me grounded in Nigerian culture and values but, given the fact that I was actually raised in a black American community, I felt a lot further removed from my African identity than from my black American identity. As I got older and the desire to truly know myself set in, I became increasingly curious to learn more about Africa: I got my Nigerian cousins to teach me Igbo, I started listening to music artists like Flavour and 9ice to complement the Bob Marley and 2pac collections that had long flooded my iPod, and I took so many Africa-focused electives in college that I ended up qualifying for a minor in African Studies. But just knowing about Nigeria and Africa wasn’t enough for me. Deep down, I really wanted to understand more about the intersection of the African and black American experiences: How might we learn to find strength in our similarities while still proudly celebrating our differences? And, most importantly, how could I use my inter-sectional positioning to help bridge the deep cultural divide I’ve unfortunately had to navigate my entire life?

My passionate drive to unite my bifurcated communities has led me to create a new organization called Ambassadors for Africa (AFA). Founded in February 2012 by me and my partner Shirley Torho, AFA brings together black American youth ages 7-24 from all walks of life for a program designed to develop their global leadership capacity while preparing them for a life as advocates for meaningful and sustainable African development. At the core of AFA’s program model is our abiding belief that the black American community has been a sorely overlooked ally in the ongoing struggle for lasting African prosperity. Furthermore, we believe that exposure to the African cultural and socioeconomic milieu will empower black youth with a more complete perception of their personal identity and equip them with a more dynamic understanding of the pressing issues facing Africa-descendant communities, both in America and abroad.

After completing a curriculum rooted in responsible volunteerism & cultural exchange, social entrepreneurship, and Black & African Studies, youth participate in service trips to Africa, where they form sustainable relationships with African youth & community partners in key sectors. Upon their return to the United States, participants complete collaborative social action projects to effect change in the areas of African development most meaningful to them. Long term, AFA will serve as a critical facilitating link between AFA alumni and continental African communities and organizations, fueling and facilitating their contributions to the continent over time.

While my personal Journey with Africa has been a decidedly rocky one involving years of inner-conflict, discovery, growth, and self-acceptance, I am forever grateful because the challenging journey has led me to a place of unwavering appreciation and genuine empowerment through my African identity. Best of all, my Journey has led me to what I believe is my true life purpose. Through Ambassadors for Africa, I have the invaluable opportunity to use my bi-cultural life experience as a platform for creating a powerful and mutually-beneficial cross-continental exchange of ideas, resources, and support. The prospect of strengthening and unifying both sides of my Africa-descendant community brings me immense joy and satisfaction and I am quite excited to see where this Journey will take me next.

To learn more about Ambassadors for Africa and to join our nascent movement, please visit and 'like' our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/Ambassadors4Africa or email us at: ambassadors4africa@gmail.com.

If you would like to help us with funding (and you definitely should!), you can contribute to our Indiegogo campaign at: www.indiegogo.com/AmbassadorsForAfrica.

Ebele is a budding social entrepreneur whose foremost passion in life is the pursuit of lasting social and economic empowerment for the black community worldwide.


Love is Stronger than Pride, but Boundaries Must Abide

By Brittany and Candace

One of the hardest things in life is realizing there are boundaries, or limitations, on what we can accomplish, how we can act, or what we can do. Sometimes these boundaries are arbitrary, or socially conceived based on the schema and expectations external forces have for us. Other times they are tangible rules and regulations imposed by people we despise, revere, or respect. It’s true that “the sky is the limit” to what we may conceive, and possibly achieve, but in our dealings with others we must adhere to norms. We are not programmed to consider boundaries in the “emotional” sense, however, until it is often “too late.”

Setting boundaries for ourselves is often the reaction to someone carelessly treading over and through our sacred places, rather than the pre-meditation.  This seems counter-intuitive but we are a society that romanticizes the act of “falling” in love and favors notions of kismet, vulnerability, and the delicious randomness of that time. We walk around dazed and ill prepared for the ways lack of consideration and drama (that is independent of you and even indiscriminate) can wreck our inherent fragility. Like virgins that may be new to the act of sex, but may be familiar with intimacy we believe that our previous experiences with hurt can prepare us for the shameful realization that our essence, our goodness was diminished (even temporarily) for intentions that were not our own.

But as with anything subject to time, we heal and we learn from our mistakes. One of the biggest lessons is that boundaries do not necessarily “restrict” you from love.  They do not bar positivity and light from coming in, they slow down baggage, weight, material (anything that is not light). In healing, many of us may identify the boundaries that need to be set either with the one that hurt us or (even better) with the ones that may love us in the future. Slowly we celebrate our new-found certainty and restored sanctity. We regain our confidence and hope. We become happier and, because of this, our light shines brighter.

This light inevitably attracts those broken ones that hurt us. They come back for validation that you are still prone to their magic, or for reassurance.  They are entranced by this new facet or they cannot bear the thought that you have found something they seek. And because this energy is selfish it rocks the foundation you just built. What are you supposed to do and why is this new glitch so devastating?

We've all had the dreaded encounter of seeing your ex for the first time after your breakup. You go from being the reasonably composed, socially adjusted, emotionally mature woman you've been working on getting back to being, to a wreck in ten seconds flat. For those of you who have watched countless episodes of 'Sex in the City' like me, this is basically the Carrie-and-Big-effect. Its how a sophisticated, educated and dazzling woman can morph into a cast member of ‘Basketball Wives’ at the speed-of-light.

"The Carrie-and-Big-effect." Photo from annawalker1992.blogspot.com
But what happens when you move past this stage? When you are no longer emotionally overwrought but merely indifferent to the presence of your former flame? You wish them no ill-will and in fact you genuinely desire their happiness, but that is where it ends. You're not interested in re-opening the lines for mutual friends, participating in group hangouts or even getting together to reminisce about the highlights of your failed relationship. While your heart has been mended, it seems as though your ex is still seeking closure. The young man who appeared so callous as you cried about the ending of a love you thought was forever is suddenly distraught by the notion that his all-access pass to your mind, body and soul has been revoked. And why? After all of this time why now?

My best-friend Morgan, who is a sage when it comes to dynamics between men and women, best explains it as this, “Women are more fluid than men. To picture it we are more linear while they are cyclical. A woman begins to mourn a relationship the moment it's over, while a man may not process his emotions about the same event until months or even years later.” Those months or years of emotional delay can be filled with seeming happiness and maybe a new girlfriend or two, but his day of mourning will still come, and he will be on your doorstep, the other end of your line, or showing up in the mentions of your Twitter feed looking for closure.

So what are you supposed to do? What is your obligation to this person whom you only have the best wishes for, but who you do not wish to have as a part of your life?

The short answer: Do whatever feels right to you.

Too often as women we are herded into archaic notions of gender roles that serve only to our detriment. I am reminded of my well-intentioned mother telling me to still be nice to my ex, even after he had hop-scotched all over my heart and blew in and out of my life leaving destruction in his wake. And I realized my mother meant well, but she was of a different time. A time when women were praised for their politeness and compliance. And a time where “causing a scene” was a heinous offense. But ladies it's 2012 and we live in a world where we are truly free to do whatever the hell we want. YOLO anyone?

So when you get that random text from your ex, or see a friend request from a familiar-but-forgotten-face remember the progress you've made and the work you put in to move on from the situation you shared with that person. And don't let anyone cross your personal boundary and ruin your state of peace in an effort to find themselves. They have their journey and you should remain firmly planted in your own.

Brittany is a regular contributor; you can read her bio here. Candace is an NYU and Spelman-educated journalist currently completing a fellowship at the Village Voice in New York City.

When the Wicked Witch is brown: Teaching race and gender politics to kids

Once upon a time, I babysat to make ends meet. I had a handful of families on constant rotation covering their child care as a personal summer camp counselor, the date night savior, and watchful eyes so mommy & daddy can get some work done. When I wasn't sitting, I was teaching movement to small children. There were days when I rarely spoke to anyone over the age of 5. My vocabulary became very basic. As I communicated with little people often, I found myself as a liaison between their world and the grown up world.

Recently I babysat two of my faves for the first time in a long while. We were reading bedtime stories, and the younger of two sisters insisted we read Captain Underpants. To be brief, this book is disgusting. It's a children's book yes, but built entirely around potty humor. The more I read, the more I was grossed out and the older sister agreed. Then she remarked, "This book is for boys! Gross, disgusting boys who play in toilets!" I was struck by how this 6 year old had gendered a story without a gender. I shot back to her, "But your sister likes it! And she's not a boy. Being disgusting is not a girl versus boy thing," I explained. "It's just a disgusting thing." She wasn't convinced. To her, gross humor = boy. I guess her sister just didn't count. How sad, I thought.

I pondered how she had gotten to that equation in her head. What clues and cues had she picked up on to lead her to that inference? Or had someone just said it to her outright? Boys will be boys. Boys have cooties. Boys are dirty. Boys are gross.

The next day we held an informal sharing and celebration for my children's dance classes at the YMCA. The ballet class of four 5 & 6 year old girls danced Sleeping Beauty and in the very fair world of Pre-K and K, they were all the princess, each crowned with a tiara... and they chose their favorite boy from school to be a kiss blowing prince... and Ms. Sydnie to be the evil witch who casts the sleeping spell.

Even at 5 years old, these girls were all about costumes and props. They decided I should wear an evil witch outfit and I needed a magic wand. As I pondered what I should wear as my "evil" outfit, the first thing to come to mind was my burgundy dress & brown shrug. Burgundy is the antithesis to their light pink leotards, skirts and tights. Burgundy is dark. I am dark.

I got nervous and stopped myself as I searched through my closet for the dress. It bugged me to equate dark to evil. I didn't like that I was teaching and reinforcing light as right, and dark as wrong. Am I teaching my ballerinas (who happen to be caucasian and asian) that to wear dark colors (or just to look dark) signifies evil? Will this carry over subtly into all their psyche so that they will always associate dark with wrong?

Maybe the inner monologue was a little over the top, but not far fetched when just the day before I witnessed another child of the same age and relatively similar upbringing and exposure come to an oversimplified conclusion about an entire gender. 

*standing on soap box*

We have to start teaching children to take people on an individual basis. Of course, that would require adults to do the same, myself included. How many times today have you said some version of "Men are...," "Women are...," "Black people are...," "White people are...," etc.? Kids pick up on everything, and the first thing they do is repeat what they have seen and heard. I want the children I teach, babysit, and raise, to understand gender norms and racial stereotypes in our culture. But I also want them to be able to understand themselves as a human being who may or may not ascribe to these notions. Then, do unto others, as they do unto themselves.

It is an individual's actions that reveal their character, and each person regardless of gender and race may choose what those actions are. Because guess what? Gender and race are just some made up social constructs anyway! (Sidebar: I remember my sophomore year in college when Professor Glover wrote on the board - Race is a social construct. It's not real. - BLEW. MY. MIND.) 

*steps down off soap box*

Right before the performance one of the ballerinas asked, "Where is your evil costume?" I was wearing the burgundy dress. I pointed to it. "That's not evil!" She exclaimed. I was relieved.

"Well it's not the dress that makes me evil," I told her. "Really, it's what I do with my magic wand." I waved my sparkling wand in circles and squiggles above her head, and she giggled until she turned pink.

Sydnie L. Mosley is a dancer, choreographer and teaching artist who loves to write. Read more of her musings on race, gender, dance and life on Love Stutter.


West African Dance for the Soul

'Welcome to Black River' Conference 2012, photo by Damel Dieng
With blistered feet and throbbing limbs, we jumped into each movement line by line as if following Mama Kadiatou into battle. Our arms circled, propelled by a mixture of muscular strength, centrifugal force and pure will as we heeded to the beckoning drums ahead. Bodies flew. Necks rolled. I closed my eyes and enjoyed losing myself in the movement. 

In spite of the dozen or so drummers and Mama Kadiatou’s constant reminders, it is actually very hard for me to find these moments of mental suspension. Dance classes and workshops often feature audiences and mirrors, and my mind finds many points to linger on. Is the way Kya moves her hands the right way or the way Linsey does it? Daaang, my back is hurting right now. I hope this doesn’t end too late cause I have to do laundry and I still haven’t finished that assignment….. The list goes on. But in those rare occasions when I plunge into a movement that my body has come to own and the live drumming takes over, my heart soars and my mind empties out and all I can do is breathe and dance

Over the years I’ve taken West African dance classes sporadically here and there. There was the college class, the free community classes on 114th between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem and of course dancing in front of the TV and at parties in Dakar. I’ve come to appreciate the art form, not just for its aesthetic beauty and high energy or the fact that it will literally whip you into shape, but also for the more subtle lessons on living it bestows on the communities it brings together. 

Mama Kadiatou Conte-Forte, the 58-year-old founder and artistic director of Balafon West African Dance Ensemble, comes off as a stern character upon first encounter. She routinely lectures her pupils, prefers to face-off drummers dancing with a powerful warrior-like expression and can certainly out dance most twenty-somethings. She is fierce. She has been in the U.S. since the early 80’s teaching dances from her home Guinea and neighboring Senegal, cooking and making deliciously spicy ginger juice for her many students or ‘children’ as she calls us, and preaching the values that she lives by, which are a mix of her traditional values about community from home, her womanist insistence on the strength and power of black women, and many nuggets of wisdom about business and health that she has picked up on her own journey. Every class or workshop is an opportunity to share these lessons; the dance is simply a part of the whole package. 

Last week Balafon hosted its first West African dance and drumming conference, ‘Welcome to Black River.’ Mama Kadiatou’s children or former students came to Pittsburgh from as far as Texas to participate in the three days of workshops and the performance. The guest of honor, Papa Assane Konte, a Senegalese dancer and founder of DC-based KanKouran West African Dance Company, also taught workshops and performed. Papa Assane Konte, at age 61, is a truly regal figure. He, like Mama, has a loyal following and at the end of each workshop would sit on a chair and have us gather round on the floor like kindergartners at story time to impart his wisdom. We eagerly obliged, for in these communities there is an implicit understanding that this dance is not just art or exercise, it’s a way of life that both Mama Kadiatou and Papa Assane Konte have mastered.

Their advice ranges from the simple, ‘if your bathroom and kitchen are nasty, you’re gonna get sick,’ to the profound, ‘if you have a grandmother, call her, love her, appreciate her. She reached through your parent to make you.’ Both teach to all age groups and encourage families to come together. Mama insists that parents teach their children how to tie their lapas properly, interact with adults and follow the lessons as part of their socialization process within a larger community. Papa encourages parents to let their children run free within dance community settings where, as in the proverbial African village or ‘back in the day’ in Brooklyn or Harlem, any adult can teach or admonish anyone’s child. Both are strong and healthy, advising us to be conscious consumers and maintain active lifestyles. They epitomize the beauty, power, confidence and strength that sometimes was, sometimes is, and can be an inclusive, safe and loving black community at its best. 

Sometimes things are more than what they seem. It has taken me time to realize what this activity and community mean to me. I know now that I need West African dance and the community that surrounds it to maintain some balance in my hectic life; I need it to consistently remind me of a deeper and slower path in which greetings and family time are necessities and conversations are full and relationships are wealth; and I need it to clear my head and unleash my spirit. It is art and exercise, but also a form of prayer and praise, love of community and love of self.