by Ebele Ifedigbo
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.