“Yesterday, we were at the ‘door of no return’ on Goree Island, where captives last set foot on Africa’s shores before sailing to the Americas in chains, never to return,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said on April 3 in Dakar, Senegal at the dedication of the towering monument (150 feet high) to the African Renaissance.
“But we have returned,” Jackson continued: “We return as doctors, lawyers, skilled workers, mayors, governors and as president — our beloved brother Barack Obama. We have returned.” I was honored to be in the NAACP contingent, the largest in the invited delegation from the United States, as guests of President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and their celebration of 50 years of independence.
The statue is of a man, woman and child, head unbowed, arm outstretched, facing a new future where, as President Wade said, the old triangular trade of slavery must be replaced by mutual reciprocal interactions between Europe, the Americas and Africa.
Before the speakers began to talk, there was a three-way filmed dialogue symbolic of this relationship. It featured President Wade in front of the new monument, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous before the Statue of Liberty, and Alain Jakubowicz, president of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Earlier that day, an African Renaissance and Pan African colloquium attended by 500 scholars and writers was organized by Professor Iba Der Thiam, an esteemed historian. The president of the African Union spoke.
Dr. Sheila Walker, former head of African-American Studies at the University of Texas, represented the Diaspora. President Wade not only spoke, highlighting his book, The Destiny of Africa, he also stayed through the entire event, interacting with the speakers!
The 21st century can be Africa’s century as it is the last frontier in the world for growth. That night featured a state dinner with numerous African presidents in attendance.
The next day, the Independence Day Parade took place. As the French military contingent marched by, I could not help but recognize the achievement this year of the closing of the French military base on Sengalese soil.
On the night before we flew to New York, the delegation had an audience with the president, where NAACP National Board Chair Roslyn Brock not only expressed our appreciation for the weekend, but also pledged the NAACP with its heritage of W.E.B. DuBois, a father of Pan Africanism, to work for the future of the vision that President Wade had expressed for a prosperous, united Africa.
In my next column, I will address some of the criticisms of the monument that readers may have seen. I see those criticisms in Senegal as a sign of a healthy, vigorous democracy. The entire trip was an intellectual and emotional high.
Our delegation carried its own living history by including Abassador Dudley Thompson from Jamaica, 93. Thompson was at the 1945 Pan African Conference with Dubois; Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and later president of Ghana; Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister and president of Kenya; and other key independence leaders.
“We have returned,” as Jackson said, and I am convinced that the 21st century will be the African Renaissance century.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.