In 1996, Constance Tallaha Ekon visited Ghana for the first time. She was mesmerized by the country’s beauty and the friendliness of its people. But disappointment took over after she witnessed rural Africa’s daily challenges.
In the remote eastern village of Asiakwa, the former Miami-Dade County social worker was shocked by the sight of boys and girls bringing home buckets filled with water on their heads, the faltering electricity, the lack of toilets and health facilities that were miles away.
Ekon decided to give her vacation a new purpose — she extended her stay and partnered with the Water for Children Africa organization, helping with efforts such as the digging of bore holes to help get water up from the ground at the village.
Back home, she founded two non-profit agencies to raise funds for the village’s development — Adopt a Village and Rising Son & Star Sisters Human Growth and Development. And she kept on going back, month after month, each time her visit a celebration to the villagers, as she took with her gifts, supplies, toys and even street lights to help the people she came to regard as a family.
A year later, in recognition of her contributions, Asiakwa’s village chiefs conferred an honorary environmental queen mother status on Ekon under the title of Nana Boatenmaa.
Earlier this month, Boatenmaa and four other women were honored at the Miami Dade College north campus, in observance of Women’s History Month.
The March 1 event marked the first appointment of queen mothers in South Florida. In the best African tradition, the honor was celebrated as a cultural and social event, which brought together families, scholars, and community leaders.
During the ceremony, Boatenmaa, Delma Jackson, Iya Orite Olasowo–Adefunmi, and Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, received beaded bracelets, plaques, flowers, and had poems dedicated to them.
Actress, singer and dancer Sandrell Rivers was honored posthumously for her contribution to the arts.
Joseph McNair, a professor of education Miami-Dade, said that the enstoolment was representative of the “aspiration to a worldview that elevates the African traditions to the awareness of the African-derived population.”
An “Africanist” who lived in Nigeria for many years, he said that South Florida is home to more exponents of African religion than anywhere else in the U.S.
“One of the ways to unite the black community together is bring these people together and establish dialogue,” he said.
“After all, we are one African seed spread across the Americas, we might now know which tribe we come from, but we’re all one.”
Chief Nathaniel B. Styles “Nana Kwaku Ankobeahene II,” who conferred the titles, said that following tradition, the five queen mothers represent the elders of the black community in South Florida, the people to go to for matters of holistic health, civil rights, religion, and involvement with arts and culture.
“The passing on of traditions solidifies my work within the community,” said Olasowo–Adefunmi, the wife of the late founder of the first African village in the U.S. “It lets the community know I’m here.”
The queen mothers’ duties will also involve promoting the African Caribbean Cultural Arts Corridor and Osun’s Village initiatives.
The projects seek to revitalize sections of Miami – the area between NW 36th through 79th street along NW 7th avenue in Liberty City, and the five blocks between NW 54th and 60th street, respectively – with building facades and cultural programming honoring African-American and Caribbean culture, cuisine and merchandise.
“We want to stimulate people to not just drive through the inner city, but stay,” said Chief Styles, who is a partner in the two projects. “This revival will stimulate development through tourism and create a cultural bridge within our multicultural community.”
Democratic Ghana’s dualist legal nature – part modern, part traditional – recognizes and guarantees the existence of the institution of “chieftaincy,” where men and women lack legal power, but play equal role in leadership and affairs of the community.
This is particularly true in the rural areas, where women assist with economic, spiritual and domestic matters.
Boatenmaa said that helping weave the fabric of village life in Africa gave her a new reason for being and that extending it to the local community only adds to her experience.
“I feel that I have a divine mission to help change the world,” she says. “I find myself daily looking for ways to help people.”
To contribute to Queen Mother Boatenmaa’s work in Africa, log onto www.queenmotherafrica.com, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org