Come along with me…

IMG_0736Traveling provides the opportunity to meet and engage with diverse people, learn about different cultures and practices, experience historical sites, understand geography first-hand, and broaden your horizons. I love the ease and ability to travel – to plan and book a trip, throw my stuff in a bag and in a matter of hours land in a totally different environment and begin a new adventure! The world has become “smaller” as globalization is easily available via the use of technology or travel accessibility. Yet, I recognize many people have the desire to travel, see images of  and learn about different places, and due to a myriad of reasons are unable to make trips. In this blog, I will show  you through my eyes an up-close look at cultural journeys from near and far. Come along and travel with me…



The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (Montgomery, Alabama)

Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” – Fannie Lou Hamer

Walking in the footsteps of my ancestors

This graphic below is a good visual timeline of exactly how long Blacks have had to fight for rights in this country. Black people were brought to this country in 1619 to Virginia (although some scholars list earlier dates), enslaved legally for 246 years (longer in Texas and parts of the south) and discriminated against legally for 89 years – and today despite last that should protect our rights, today we still face discrimination in all areas, including housing, education, employment, criminal justice, and more

Timeline of African/Blacks in the United States of America

Here’s a peek of what I experienced in Montgomery, Alabama from my eyes. Keep in mind, I’m a northern girl/woman… born and raised 5 minutes from NYC – (ahh, the greatest city in the world & yes I’m biased), and I think like a northerner… people say we are fast paced, expect speedy service, quick at the tongue, witty, impatient, don’t take no stuff, and have no time for foolishness. Some of that may be true but the rest of it is just who I am. Nevertheless,  I relocated to the south almost 2 years ago… to Charlotte, NC  & it kinda feels real southern to me… getting used to different accents, expressions, people, locations and a really slow pace has been an adjustment, but a welcome one at this stage in my life and I’m getting used to it… now I’m becoming a Southern Girl- don’t you know.  

Growing up as a child, I never traveled to the south and can count a few trips in my adulthood to Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina all on one hand. There were some states I had no desire to go to ever based on the generational history of violence against Blacks, including some states in the Deep South and the Midwest. Alabama was definitely one of those states. Yet, I learned of the “Lynching Museum” in Alabama several years ago and wanted to see it and experience it in person. My daughter informed me of a Restorative Justice conference in Montgomery, Alabama  so here were are… 

This state and city are of particular importance in the history of the enslavement of Blacks and there is too much for me to to share in one blog entry, so I will be devoting several entries to my trip to Montgomery. My daughter and I were attending a Reproductive Justice conference: The Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey Second Annual Day of Reckoning Conference and it focused on how to change the narrative in race in healthcare disparities. https://www.anarchalucybetsey.org/2023-conference 

In my next blog entries I will write about the Legacy Museum, the conference, The Mothers of Gynecology Memorial & The More Up Campus. There are numerous landmarks and sites throughout Montgomery, Alabama that were significant in the history of the enslavement of Blacks and in the Civil Rights Movement. At Montgomery Court Square, there is a circular monument at the foot of the historic Dexter Avenue, which was the site of the “Slave Market” where “imported” Africans & generationally enslaved Blacks were bought and sold in both the Transatlantic & Domestic slave trade. 

Visionary artist, sculptor, community activist, historian & tour guide Michelle Browder orchestrated the painting of a Black Lives Matter mural around the site to mark the legacy of the history.  Browder, said “I just thought it was important because enslaved Black lives mattered.” 


Black Lives Matter Mural

I am touching the prints and walking in the steps of  those who paved the way… 

Michelle Browder, Visionary Artist and Creator of Mothers of Gynecology monument

Michelle informed us of the historic nature of this site and noted that we were standing on hallowed ground, on the very street that our ancestors were marched down shackled, and on the square where they were bought and sold. We exist because of the faith they had, sacrifices they made and the unrelenting determination they put forth. Ase’

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks

On that corner of Dexter Avenue is a statue of Rosa Parks on a square marking the exact spot where she got on the bus, which was the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. On the square is also the spot where the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March ended in 1965. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is down the street less than a block away.

At the opposite end of the street is the Alabama State Capitol and other state government buildings. 

 “The Confederacy began in the senate chamber when delegates from southern states voted to establish a new nation in February 1861. A brass star on the west portico marks the location where Jefferson Davis stood to be inaugurated as the first and only president of the Confederacy. A little more than a century later in the spring of 1965 the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights culminated at the capitol steps, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made one of his greatest speeches to an estimated 25,000 people.” https://ahc.alabama.gov/alabama-state-capitol.aspx

Our tour guide pointed out that all of the state buildings are ironically White in color.  

The National Memorial for Peace & Justice (Also known as The Lynching Museum)

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is located in Montgomery, Alabama. It really consists of two memorials, an outdoor monument with plaques, sculptures and pillars informally known as The Lynching Museum) and an indoor monument entitled The Legacy Museum. There was so much to take in at both monuments visually and emotionally and I will share my experiences in separate blog posts.  

“The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial 

Upon arriving at the memorial grounds, I felt a deep pain in the pit of my stomach knowing I was here to witness a monument dedicated to the victims that were murdered in the most heinous way, publicly hung to death on southern (and sometimes northern) trees or burned alive at the stake in a country that declares itself the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.” Terror, torture and lynching are direct components of the legacy of slavery that has permeated this country from its onset to the present day. I knew this would be a very emotional but necessary experience.

There was an eerie silence upon entering the doorway of the outdoor exhibit. 

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension it is the presence of justice.” – Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

I immediately noticed the massive manicured hill that appeared like a smooth blanket of green carpet. The monument sits at the top of a six-acre site overlooking the city of Montgomery. This space is a national memorial and sacred space for telling the truth about US history and the legacy of racial terror and lynching in America.  In the distance I could see the massive pillars hanging under the overhead structure & I began weeping knowing those pillars  represented Blacks who had been lynched. 

What greeted me first were the numerous plaques describing in depth various aspects of the Transatlantic and domestic slave trade in the US throughout many centuries.

There was a very powerful monument of chained, enslaved Black people, entitled The Nkinkyim Installation, a sculpture by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. The craftsmanship of the artist and the sculpture was amazing. It stands at the entrance of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and depicts the trauma of enslavement and racial violence. The vivid details and expressions on each of their faces gives a glimpse into the horrors of their story.  Their faces told me the depth of their story was unspeakable to them, yet it must be told so everyone will know and their sacrifices will be the fuel that feeds generations to come.  They were all linked by visible chains that were used throughout our enslavement to keep Black people in physical bondage… These descriptive images touched my soul deeply. 

I could feel the pain and anguish on the faces of my people… I felt deep in my core the horrors they were subjected to… I understood the suffering they felt, the inhumanity and indecency they experienced, the humiliation of being shackled and chained like animals. I cried for the fears of the sister holding her new baby and the reality of that child’s future as an enslaved human that even the parents couldn’t protect or even necessarily keep. I wept for the hurt and shame of the strong Black men who came from a long line of proud men, who now couldn’t protect themselves or their women and children. I was “shook” visualizing the experiences of my people being bought and sold as chattel property, and treated less than the animals of the White people that enslaved them.

I saw the faces of my great great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers who were enslaved on tobacco plantations throughout Virginia and North Carolina. I felt the hope of their children (my great grandparents Adam and Maria), Willie and Maude who were just one generation removed from legal enslavement, not knowing the terror of Jim Crow they would have to face in the newly freed south. I understood the uncertainty my grandparents (Junius Sr. and Frances) felt when they left the south in 1925 during the Great Migration and headed north in search of a better place to raise their children. I felt the disrespect my parents experienced growing up in the segregated north and breaking barriers by being the first “Negro” (as they were called) in different jobs/positions…

I could feel their pain because they are me and I am them… 

I will always tell their stories because their stories are my story and this is US history.

We must tell the truth. There more things change, the more they remain the same…I recently heard a presenter say, “Jim Crow is now James Crow Esquire, III.” In the words of Audrey Lord: “There’s nothing new under the sun but we can create new suns.” My work and purpose is to disrupt dominant, inaccurate and biased narratives and create new narratives.

“We can’t heal until we tell the truth.” _Nikole Hannah-Jones

When we entered the monument I was completely overcome with uncontrollable emotion. Seeing the pillars from a distance did not prepare me for what I was going to witness. 

There are over 4,400 names engraved on these massive pillars representing Black people who have been lynched in this country. The names are listed by county, state and date of lynching. Sadly, those 4,400 names only represent 1% of the lynchings that occurred throughout the US. They names listed are accounts of lynchings in which they were able to find two documents detailing the lynchings (newspaper ads, postcards, legal records, etc). Some of the lynchings were actually advertised in the newspaper, and had crowds in the tens of thousands who gathered to witness the lynchings, and made postcards with photographs of the murdered victims and audience posing next to there bodies.

There are no words to describe these horrors, it is something you really have to experience firsthand to understand the magnitude of the hatred and violence that Black people were (and still are) subjected to in this country at the hands of White people just because of the color of our skin. I was left completely speechless!!

I will let the names of the lynched victims and their stories speak for themselves.

The names seem to go on forever and ever. There are pillars representing counties all over the south. You will find names of families (men, women and children) lynched on the same day. On one pillar it lists over 229 men that were lynched over a period of 7 days in 1919. The reason beyond this group lynching is because those Black men were planning on collectively buying 1,000 acres of land to develop a self-sustaining Black community and business hub (with houses, businesses and schools) similar to what was later known as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. To prevent their land purchase they were all hanged.

The stories of why Black people were lynched touched even deeper.

Lynch mobs of up to 15,000 people gathered to participate in and/or witness public lynchings. It is hard to share these images of horrific murders knowing large audiences gathered to witness, and not interject my personal thoughts and feelings but I want to let the images, words and stories speak for themselves as much as possible. 

Men, women and children were lynched, including entire families

People were burned alive at the stake before they were hung…

The names and stories continued and continued… each one was worse than the previous one. 

We saw stories of children as young as 15 and 16 years old burned alive by a White mob.

Upon walking through the exhibit the song Strange Fruit (as song by Billie Holiday) came to my mind.

Strange Fruit 

by Billie Holiday 

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop

May their souls forever rest in peace! 

Mother and daughter after reading the names and stories of black people who were lynched. 

These horrific and vile murders and public lynchings are a testament to racial hatred that was so vicious that Whites would actually advertise the lynching of Black men, women and children in the newspaper, and crowds would gather to witness and celebrate the murder by hanging someone from a tree or burning them alive at a stake or both. What does it mean to live in a country that can do anything to a human being? What does it say about the people who not only participated in lynchings, but also gathered with their families to watch? How does that affect the mindset of people who watched these murders and saw them as normalized and justified?  Many of them are still alive today. Who are their descendants and what do they currently believe? How do we change minds and racist beliefs and practices that have been internalized for generations?

Today, we have states pushing against teaching US history from a more inclusive perspective. What do they fear? We must teach the truth so that it can never be repeated. We will never heal as a nation until America apologizes for the legacy of slavery and provides reparations to Blacks (as a token) for building this country under chattel slavery for over 12 generations. America can never truly repay Blacks for the trauma, suffering and multiple generational enslavement we have endured in this country.

Racism and discrimination against Blacks has never really went away in this country. In some sectors it has changed uniforms from the white robes and white hoods of the KKK to the white shirts and black ties on men (and women) who sit in corporate boardrooms, to police uniforms and badges on officers who still feel justified in killing an unarmed Black person (even when it is recorded on tape), to judges who hand out uneven convictions and extremely biased race-based sentencing, to prison guards who treat Black inmates as modern day slavery.  Slavery didn’t end – it evolved. The 13th Amendment did not abolish slavery – it modified the terms. Now if you are duly convicted of a crime (in the biased criminal justice system) you can be treated as a slave or involuntary servant.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” _The 13th Amendment

We have seen too many examples of the New Jim Crow – “James Crow Esquire, II” in this day and time. We have seen videos of Black men, women and children murdered by police and their bodies left uncovered on public display for hours – reminiscent of lynchings where bodies were left hanging on trees for days. We have work to do in this country and it is time that all people and citizens of America regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion or background wake up and accept the truth of US history. 

“If there was no 1619 there would be no 1620 Mayflower.” Nikole Hannah- Jones

When I saw this sculpture what immediately came to my mind was the familiar chant recited in marches for justice after unjustified and often unarmed police murders of Blacks all over the country in the 2000’s…
 “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”

Some communities acknowledge the lynchings that have occurred. As a nation that acknowledgment, along with reparations should be one of the main priorities in an attempt to right the wrong – generational dehumanizing and inhumane practices Blacks have suffered at the hands of racist White supremacists.

Sister with her hands uplifted in prayer (not sure if this was the artists intent – but open hands outstretched in that manner is how prayers are offered in Islam), sporting the image of a “Sankofa” on her chest (a word in the Twi language from Ghana meaning “go back and get it” and feathers (Native symbol) on her ears… 

We pray for Black people who suffered the unspeakable horrors and indignity of multi-generational enslavement, those who bore the scars of the whip on their bodies, those women who were raped and forced to carry the baby of their enslavers, those men who were raped by White men as a means of “buck-breaking”,  those babies & children who were murdered before they had a chance to experience life, those men, women and children who were snatched by mobs, tied to a stake and burned alive, those who were hung on trees with their bodies left to rot, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and those who lived with the daily terror, fear, degradation and humiliation of being Black in America… 

We pray your souls are at peace.

This was a powerful memorial to experience as a mother and daughter. There is a lot of history in Alabama and in the next couple of blog posts, I will share our experiences  at The Legacy Museum and the Mothers of Gynecology monument and conference.

These 24 names listed below represent men and women who were killed in racially motivated attacks in the 1950’s.

… I will always be a truth teller for my people. 

Their stories are the wind beneath my wind. 

Santa Fe, New Mexico- Sights, Sounds and Surrounding Areas…

Santa Fe, New Mexico – The Land of Enchantment

This blog post is a long time coming – it culminates my summer trip to visit my daughter and her family in New Mexico. Santa Fe is high desert with an altitude of 7,500 feet above sea level and I am very sensitive to the altitude. When I first started traveling there years ago, I got headaches and felt very faint the first 3-4 days. Now, I take liquid Chlor-Oxygen daily beginning several weeks before I go to NM until I return home to NJ. I also drink close to a gallon of water a day – because the hydration helps tremendously with the altitude. I still get winded extremely quickly and it forces me to slow down – which is just what I needed to do. I debated on making an appointment at an “oxygen bar” where you can sit in a relaxing environment and get a blast of oxygen – for a fee of course, but after drinking the extra water, and slowing down considerably I was able to manage on my own.

I go to Santa Fe, New Mexico annually to spend time with my daughter and her family – and the time of year I go varies each year. This time I decided to spend three weeks there in July because the weather is beautiful and in the summer there are many outdoor art festivals and cultural activities. I spent my first few days engaging with 5 of my grandchildren (ages 15, 12, 9, 7, 3 )- playing Memory (an advanced version in which they won each time and enjoyed beating their grandmother), reading stories, watching them play on their land, observing them feeding their chickens, shopping, and simply marveling at their growth and development. My little granddaughter, that I call “Ladybug” is the only girl of the bunch (I can’t post pictures of her at this time due to spiritual reasons), but she is a feisty little mama who holds her own around her 4 brothers. They are all smart, creative and sweet, and the 3-year old baby boy, (the youngest of my 11 grandchildren), whom we affectionately call “Juicy” thinks he is as big as the rest of them, and tries to keep up with everyone.

Santa Fe is truly an art lover’s paradise. Art is everywhere… the buses are a beautiful turquoise color, the bus stops have mosaics or wrought iron designs. Large sculptures are often found on the sides of the road, up in the mountains and in front of buildings. Santa Fe has tons of art galleries, museums and public art installations. Santa Fe is the home of the Museum of International Folk Art which has the largest collection of folk art in the world. The International Folk Art Market, held in July is the largest market of its kind and attracts people from all over the world. I was actually in NM during the market, and had originally planned on attending, but I didn’t feel like dealing with the massive crowds on this trip.

Many old Western movies have been filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Bonanza Creek Ranch. As a result of the name, I assumed the TV show Bonanza had been filmed there, but it was actually filmed in Nevada.

My 3 older grandsons and I took a day trip to Madrid, NM (pronounced MAD-rid). Madrid is located on the Turquoise Trail which is a 50 mile scenic drive along Highway 14, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The drive along the Turquoise Trail is absolutely beautiful, with random art installations on the side of the road or on the mountain cliffs, and it takes you back in history through the old mining towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos.

Madrid was founded in 1891 and was once a historic coal mining town, with several thousand residents. Then it became a ghost town, and it was re-established in 1970 as an artist haven. Today it is a thriving mountain community of about 300 people, an artists colony and a popular tourist destination. Madrid is a creative community with many eclectic shops, galleries (both indoor and outdoor), a park, a few restaurants, and a variety of other businesses. Most of the shop owners, and residents are not from this area – however, many of the owners said once they visited the area, they fell in love with it and relocated.

Madrid is one long winding dusty mountain road, an uphill climb with shops on either side of the street. We walked and walked and walked… Everything is artistic… from the fences made of old mattress box springs to the random sculptures on the side of the road and in front of local shops. I enjoyed talking to the shop owners to learn about their crafts and stories – where they are from and how they came to Madrid. We spent time at the local park – and I am thankful my grandsons still like to run, play and enjoy the outdoors.

We ate lunch at The Hollar – and it is always challenging finding good choices for vegetarians/pescatarians! The fried green tomatoes, fried okra, vegetarian burritos and beer battered fish and chips were delicious. As we were eating, a man walked in “wearing” many parrots on both arms, and he gave the boys a chance to hold the parrots and of course Grammie was on the spot with the camera to capture these precious moments.

I was blessed to have a poetry reading while I was in Santa Fe at Teatro Paraguas. It is always a great feeling to share my writings in a new environment. The audience, which included a friend and some of my family, was small, yet receptive to my pieces.

My daughter, grandson, long time friend Nona and I were fortunate to the part in a tie-dye indigo workshop with a world renown artist, Gasali Adeyemo at Meow Wolf. Gasali Adeyemo is a Yoruba from Nigeria and a traditionally trained batik and tie-dye, indigo master.

Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is an immersive, permanent art installation featuring an amazing non-traditional form of storytelling. This unique and exploratory space was originally a bowling alley and was redesigned into a new age, indoor odyssey! Meow Wolf was formed from a collaboration of over 100 artists, resulting in a very creative, imaginative and interactive experience. They also host workshops and events at the space.

Santa Fe, New Mexico is known as a food lover’s paradise. It is home to many diverse restaurants, award winning chefs and incredibly tasty southwestern cuisines. In addition to traditional Mexican dishes, you can find cuisine from many diverse cultures, including African, Asian, French, Middle Eastern and Italian. Spicy food is common and the number one question in NM when it comes to food is do you want “red or green chili” and I love them both depending on what type of dish it is. My grandsons wanted go to an Asian restaurant, so we went to Jinja Bar & Bistro in Santa Fe. The food was absolutely delicious and I was amazed at how well my grands ate with chopsticks, whereas Grammie used her knife and fork – lol.

My friend Nona – whose friendship started at Lincoln University many moons ago, came to visit and we explored art galleries on the historic Canyon Road, and dined at several restaurants, including Jambo Cafe, Counter Culture, Caffe Greco (right in the heart of Canyon Road), Cowgirls, Bumblebee’s and a few others.

In the next blog post, I will take you on my journey to northern New Mexico and the cities of Chimayo and Dixon…

Hanging on the Harriet Tubman Tour

Harriet Tubman has always been one of my “Shero’s”… she was determined, proud, courageous, fearless and committed to the liberation of her family and people! Sister Harriet is a woman true to my own heart…her story has always resonated with me and I know her spirit and energy runs through my veins. img_2902I remember years ago teaching my 4 children and the Prekindergarten and Kindergarten students in my classes about Harriet Tubman. I used to beam as I listened to them proudly recite the words: “Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff and wasn’t scared of nothing either” from the poem by the beloved late and great children’s book author, Eloise Greenfield, in her book: Honey, I Love. So, when Rasheeda Bey – a sister friend, phenomenal doll maker, quilter and artist, mentioned that her quilting circle – Sankofa Sistah Quilting Circle was sponsoring a one-day trip, The Harriet Tubman Tour, to Cambridge, Maryland, I was immediately interested in going. Typically, if I am not the planner of a trip, I usually ask questions to get clarity on the specifics, especially if it involves a flight or is an international trip, but this was a bus trip to Cambridge, Maryland, so I decided to go with the flow. I wasn’t sure what to expect – if we were going to a physical museum, or a tour of historic sites, but either way I was eager to go and so glad I did. In this blog post I will give you a closer look at the life and legacy of sister Harriet Tubman and the environment where she was born, enslaved, toiled, escaped from and returned numerous times to help free many others.

harriet tubman tour

The trip consisted of a comfortable bus ride, with a bunch of chatty and friendly people (mostly women, although there were a few men in our midst), a group tour with sight-seeing of the environment/geography, local sites and historic landmarks: including the wharf, plantations, slave dwellings, fields, courthouse, general store,   and a stop at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center. The tour was led and curated by a local brother Alex Green. Alex and his wife Lisa are owners of   HarrietTubmanTours.com  A delicious home-cooked lunch was provided by his wife at a local historic church and we also had the opportunity to hear from and chat with some of the elders from their historic community.


We embarked on the Half-Day Tubman Tour, considering our drive down from Philadelphia took close to 3 hours. This tour introduced us to the environment where she lived and stopped at a number of significant places in her life. The Full-Day Tour is more expansive in the sites visited. There is also a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Tour that follows one of the routes she took north, connecting sites where she rescued others, found assistance, or reached safety at stops on the Underground Railroad.  The Byway tour encompasses 45 sites and travels through Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The tour has an accompanying map, downloadable or streaming audio guide, and a mobile app. One day in the near future, I intend to take a scenic drive and conduct this full tour using the interpretive markers, audio tour stops, exhibits and historical places.

Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1822. She was the fifth of nine children born to her parents Ben and Rit Ross, and upon her entry to the world she was marked by the label of “slave“. From an early age she also had to face separation trauma as three of her sisters were sold away to masters with plantations in the deep south. Then at the tender age of 6-years old, she was taken from her mother and hired out to cruel slave masters, who inflicted tremendous physical and mental abuse and suffering.

img_2862She not only endured the separation from her family, but she also suffered the lash and later survived a near fatal head injury that left her with permanent medical issues.



The Cambridge, Maryland landscape – Fall, 2018

Driving along the empty highway in Cambridge, Maryland on a sunny day in October 2018,  I  was struck by how rural the landscape still is today. Few cars or vehicles passed us on the road, and it was largely undeveloped as far as the eye could see. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to escape from a plantation there in 1849, the year Harriet Tubman escaped and eventually found her way through Delaware to freedom in Philadelphia. We passed the land where Brodess Farm used to exist, which was owned by Edward Brodess, the slave master who “owned” Harriet’s family.  Harriet was enslaved on this farm and spent her early years there. Brodess hired Harriet out to work (as a young child) for neighboring farmers, which caused emotional trauma, physical separation issues and even greater abuse for Harriet and her siblings.img_2875

Although half of the Black community in Dorchester County was free at the time of Harriet’s birth, her family was not free. She had a burning desire for freedom, justice and equality for not only herself, but also her family and her people. Harriet worked tirelessly toward that goal her entire life.


We saw the Dorchester County Courthouse where enslaved blacks were bought and sold on the auction block as chattel. In a desperate attempt to avoid being sold away from her family, Harriet Tubman’s niece, Kessiah and her two children escaped from that very auction block in 1850 with the help of Kessiah’s husband, John Bowley (a free Black ship carpenter). He deceived the buyers and transported them by boat to Baltimore, where Harriet met them and took them to freedom in Philadelphia. Courthouse Square is where they held captured runaway slaves, conductors and agents on the Underground Railroad.

Dorchester County Courthouse and Courthouse Square



This city of Cambridge, Maryland later became known as the “Black Wall Street” on the eastern shore of Maryland. There was a thriving Black community on Pine Street and nearby neighborhoods of homes, businesses, art, culture and churches that thrived until the turbulent protests of the 60’s and a major fire that destroyed much of Pine Street. Today, Pine Street still holds a place of importance for Black life and culture in the Cambridge community and houses significant churches and organizations.


The Bucktown General Village Store is the site where Harriet Tubman was hit in the head with a two-pound iron weight hurled by an angry overseer which almost killed her.  The incident disabled her and left her with severe life-long side effects, including migraines and debilitating seizures. Yet, Harriet didn’t let any of that stop her or hinder her quest for freedom. She truly had her mind on freedom – she was a fighter for justice, a warrior sister-  true to my own heart!

bucktown general store
Bucktown General Village Store

Intersection where the store is located

The Stanley Institute

The Stanley Institute began as the Rock School and it was moved to this site in 1867. It was built and run as a one room school-house by the local Black community, demonstrating the determination of the Black community to educate their children in the era of segregation. The school was used until the 1960’s.

As soon as I entered the doorway of the one-room school-house, it took me back in time. I was immediately lost in my thoughts… I always had a dream of teaching in a one-room school-house, with a big old fireplace and wooden floors with oak paneled walls. When my family and I used to drive to the Poconos to visit my parents, there was a one-room schoolhouse on the way – which was also a historic site. We used to stop and explore the schoolhouse, my sons always had to “use” the outhouse and we would drink the cold water from the well. I still imagine what it would be like to teach in a school building like that.  I envision a cozy reading area in the corner of the room with a large recliner with a big pillow – where all the children of different ages would gather for story time… and I would read a chapter book of adventures or tales from far away… I could visualize the little ones laying on their blankets enjoying the stories and eventually drifting off to sleep – with the older ones becoming more engaged in the stories… oh, the dreams of a lifetime educator...




Wood-framed chalkboard

As I looked at the old oak framed chalk board, I was reminded of days gone by, and I reflected on the early days of my parents’ schooling. My mother also attended a tiny one room school-house for her early grades in Bennettsville, South Carolina and her recollection of that school mirrored this one. I thought of all the lessons that had been written and countless children who had written their letters, words and schoolwork on that chalkboard. Today visitors sign their names on the chalkboard as a record of their visitation to the school.


I too left my name “Helen T was here” inscribed on that chalkboard as hundreds or maybe even thousands of people before me have done.

img_1352I wrote my name as a testament to the power of the human spirit…a testament that I too, a daughter of enslaved Africans, with great-grandparents from 4 continents, also walked through the doors of this one-room school-house and sat in those same desks that were used over 100 years ago. Yes, the people continue…and I was strengthened as a truth-teller and an advocate for justice. I am blessed to continue to tell our story, the story of a people taken from their homeland and their plight to survive and thrive throughout the diaspora among unbelievable odds.

Christ Rock United Methodist Church

Christ Rock United Methodist Church is a historic church located in Dorchester County, Maryland, directly across the street from the Stanley Institute. It was built in 1875, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture displays the distinctive characteristics and craftsmanship of the time period from 1875-1911. The initial congregation consisted of Blacks who relocated to that area after the end of the Civil War. The church was traditionally used for church and funerary services, and a cemetery is adjacent on a wooded 1 1/2 acre lot on the grounds.  The church was used until the late 1990’s. In 2011, Friends of Stanley Institute conducted a renovation to reuse the church as a public historical site and museum.

We visited a local church for lunch and Alex and Lisa provided us with a home-cooked soul food meal…fried trout (delicious), fried chicken and Swedish meatballs (for the meat eaters), macaroni and cheese, greens, salad and homemade pound cake. During our lunch we were fortunate to hear from some of the elders of the community who told us stories from their upbringing as well as stories passed down from the early days of Dorchester County. I love to hear their stories! Rasheeda unveiled her beautiful Harriet Tubman quilt – which displays Harriet Tubman holding a whittled wooden rifle, surrounded by images from her life.


Our last stop on the trip was to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park & Visitor Center. The center has a permanent exhibit detailing Harriet Tubman’s early years in Maryland, her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and her latter life. There were numerous exhibits featuring images, stories and informative panels. Our time was short at this stop, yet we could have easily spent hours here learning more specific information about her life.




First taste of FREEDOM 

This is a life-size sculpture of Harriet Tubman. She was barely 5 feet tall, yet she was truly a larger than life warrior!


A huge thank you to Sister Rasheeda Bey, the Sankofa Sistah Quilting Circle for making this trip possible, and to Harriet Tubman Tours for your informative tour detailing the rich history of Harriet Tubman and Black folks in Dorchester, Maryland.

Acknowledgments to The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park & Visitor Center Welcome Guide and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Driving Tour Guide for the detailed, and researched information about Harriet’s life and legacy.

Journey through Elmina Slave Castle/Dungeon

Greetings to my readers… It has been about a month since my last post when I shared my experiences at Cape Coast Slave Castle/Dungeon. To be honest, it takes a tremendous amount out of me emotionally to continue writing after re-living that experience. It is a very dark story of an atrocious time in our history when humans were treated worse than animals and deprived of all dignity, humanity and sense of regard. It is an ugly history and viewing the pictures I took and describing the experience took me back to that dreadful place reeking of centuries of torture, abuse and the fight for survival. In this my final post about my first trip to Africa – to Ghana, I want to share a few experiences and pictures of yet another slave castle/dungeon – then move on to my final reflections.


Elmira Castle/Dungeon is one of the oldest slave castle/dungeons on the coast of West Africa. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and was under Portuguese rule for 155 years. The Dutch ruled next for 235 years, followed by British rule for 85 years. Ghana gained control over the castle just 55 years ago. Standing with your back to the door of the Portuguese Church you are facing the male and female slave dungeons which housed 600 enslaved males and 400 enslaved females. so every-time the enslavers/colonizers came out of their “church” door, their immediate view and reality was the horrors of the slave dungeons… the cries for mercy and deliverance, the hollering from pain, deprivation and inhumane suffering, the smells from 1000’s of bodies forced to lie in human waste wafting in the air, yet the faith, will and strength of African people to live and  believe in a better day.

What kind of people can inflict this upon human beings? Where was their sense of humanity? What God did they serve? What happened to the mindset of the descendants of those people who brutalized and dehumanized us for 480 years? What do they carry in their DNA and psyche? What do we as African people carry in our DNA and psyche? Trauma is real and healing is needed for all. The short and long-term effects of this type of generational enslavement, genocide and institutionalized racism cannot be eliminated by “simply getting over it”; instead,  holistic rituals, prayers, drumming, offerings, therapy, financial restitution and formal apologies are all necessary to bring healing and a realistic attempt to rectify these generational wrongs and bring closure to this horrific chapter in the history of man.

Walking through the hallways of the castle down to the dungeons was a horrific experience. The hallways slanted down and the deeper down we went, the darker and drearier it was, with a pungent odor permeating the air…the scent of generational death and despair…

Our tour guide explained to us the horrors that both male & female enslaved Africans were subjected to! The enslavers would routinely pick the woman/women they wanted to rape! After months of lying naked in human waste (urine, feces, vomit & menstrual blood) these women were dragged to the courtyard for the enslaver to make his choice of which one he wanted to abuse & then the “chosen” ones  were scrubbed in the open for all of the public to view…another level of sheer humiliation before being raped! When the African women got pregnant they were housed in “stone houses” in the village below the castles. Once they delivered they were either thrown back into the dungeons or kept as an enslaved concubine!

Their mixed race babies, with their lighter skinned complexions, light eyes and straighter hair were the product of the rapes of African women, by their White enslavers! Their European features distinguished them from pure bred Africans! These bi-racial children were elevated above the enslaved Africans! These children who were given the names of their European rapist fathers, were forcibly taken from their mothers & raised on the “top” of the castle by the “Whites in power.” Some were sent to European countries, educated & returned to work as slavers themselves! This was another example of the divide & conquer methodology which was employed as a means of control by European colonizers throughout the world! The descendants of these children in Ghana still carry the surnames of their enslavers, such as: VanDykes, Bartels, Jacksons, Robinsons, just as we do in the Americas!! The horrible legacy of slavery still divides us by name, skin color, hair texture & experience! Yet we are one!

I walked into one of the female dungeons, the opening entrance had huge steel bars – I stood behind those bars, clutching them, and trying to envision  the anguish, pain, suffering, torture, rape, abuse and even death my grandmothers, and aunties saw, felt and experienced for generations right here in these same dungeons, on these same floors. I felt their spirit implanted here in this place – and SUDDENLY – I was no longer just me – no longer just Helen! I have always been open to ancestral connections and in that moment, the spirits of my ancestors linked with the “me that is me” and a spiritual entity, fusion, collective energy manifested through my body – I became a vessel and I was aware of it. I felt a surge of energy move through me, and I felt the weight of a thousand people and hundreds of years!  I started sobbing hysterically as I felt the magnitude of this moment. I recognize the depth of these ancestral connections, and the awesome power and energy that had consumed me.

I understand spirit and the way my ancestors guide me in my life. It may be hard to explain to those who believe in religious dogma, or a logical sequence of events, but I know what I experienced. I believe at the moment of conception a “spirit” is formed, and that spirit develops into a physical body -“shell” to interact with others on a physical level. However, when that physical body -“shell” dies – I believe the spirit lives on – just not on a physical level. I know what I have experienced with those who have transitioned. My ancestors guide, warm and protect me. I  also recognized the potential for the ancestral spiritual connections that had attached to me to go in one of two directions – it could manifest as a negative energy that pulls me into recurrent sadness or darkness; or a positive force to motivate me on my journey to continue telling our story.

I must admit I was shook after this experience. I had very explicit dreams that took place inside of Elmina Castle for close to a month after I returned to the US. I finally honored my ancestors again, lit my white candles, gave food & light to my ancestors, prayed for their spirits to be at rest, and vowed to continue to learn and share my people’s stories.

Never forget – “We are the children of those who chose to survive” (Julie Dash  from Daughters of the Dash)

I was born to do this work – I am a keeper of the culture!

I wil never forget! I will seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, and I will always tell our stories!

I am honored that I a daughter, sister, auntie, granddaughter of Mother Africa was blessed to return to the shores of Ghana, West Africa and the slave castle dungeons of Cape Coast and Elmina and stand in the same place where my ancestors stood and summoned enough faith to propel our family forward for many generations. I draw my strength from their stories and experiences. If they could carry on in the face of unbelievable horrors with no known awareness of what the future would hold – then surely I can live my life on life’s terms. I vow to be the keeper of the culture always. Stay tuned for more cultural journeys.


Spiritual Connections – Cape Coast Slave Castle/Dungeon

Greetings folks: The next two blog posts will culminate my experiences on my trip to Ghana and our tours of two slave castle dungeons. It will be followed by a final post –  sharing my thoughts and reflections on this trip (which was truly life-changing for me). I encourage you – my readers – to join the blog via WordPress or email and/or also share your thoughts, feelings, wonderings, ideas and questions that came up for you while reading this blog – because I want to learn from and with you, and provide a means for my readers to “come along and travel with me”– and experience some of my journeys vicariously through my lens – and converse about it. I also want to be able to inspire others to step out, travel and see the world while visiting new lands, creating new experiences and engaging with diverse people.

After spending several days in Accra and surrounding areas visiting various historical, cultural and artistic sites, we packed our bags to begin the two and a half hour trip to Cape Coast, the former capital of the British colonial administration and embark on tours of both the Elmina and Cape Coast Castles/Dungeons. I was eager to see another geographical area of Ghana, and to fulfill a many decades desire to visit the slave castles/dungeons, which I knew was a necessary part on my journey to connect with my ancestral roots. I had read about the castle/dungeons through historical books and reference materials, documented accounts, realistic fiction and novels. I had viewed movies, documentaries and photos of others’ trips to the castle/dungeons on the coast of West Africa. I knew the painful history (to a point) and felt fairly knowledgeable and prepared to embark on this tour. As we drove through the countryside we passed miles of beautiful natural landscape – a kaleidoscope of trees and grasses – dotted with huge ant hills towering 10 to 20 feet in the air, small villages and storefront shops offering goods and services, and finally a densely populated fishing village with lots of people, business, and traffic on the street.

As we rode through bends and turns in the road – this huge white castle emerged in the distance up on the hill – overlooking the village and villagers. I immediately felt chills run up and down my body. As we embarked from the bus – an eery feeling came over me and I almost felt nauseated. Everyday was a different adventure in Africa and I was open to new experiences, but this was a completely negative feeling – it felt like a dark cloud was hovering above. My senses were on heightened alert as we walked our way across a small bridge, through the wide gates and into the courtyard of Cape Coast Slave Castle/Dungeon to meet our tour guide. We were standing before a towering castle – with a roof top fortress surrounded with cannons –  evoking images of castles from childhood story-books, yet in those childhood story-books there was always a prince or princess in those castles. This castle felt like a dark, dreary place with a deadly history. It reeked of the foul smell of death; and the feeling of generational despair hung heavily in the air.

Cape Coast Castle/Dungeon was first constructed as a fort by the Portuguese in 1653, then taken over by the British and developed it into the status of a castle in 1665. It changed hands several times between the Swedish, Dutch, and British. The Cape Coast Castle/dungeon remained controlled by the British until July 1, 1960 when Ghana became a Republic, with Kwame Nkrumah (my fellow Lincoln University alumni) as its first President. In the entrance way was a plaque that stood out prominently – and as I read it I became completely overcome with emotion. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable explaining to us the initial building of the castle/dungeon and the various groups that occupied and controlled it over the years.


 Means of Capture: We learned from our knowledgeable tour guide of the various ways and approaches that Africans were captured. There were several methods used to acquire African captives for the purpose of enslaving them. There were ongoing kidnapping and raiding of villages by Europeans who had far more powerful and sophisticated weapons in the form of guns, compared to the bows and arrows of the Africans. They would often set fire to a village and capture those who survived and ran at gun point. There were forced captures used for trade in the Caribbean. Later on Europeans influenced some of the powerful African leaders with gifts to capture and trade some of their own. It is important to point out that before the European invasion into Africa there was a system of “bartering” that existed in Africa – called pawning –  in which Africans acquired people of different ethnic groups through tributes, warfare and wars of expansion. Sometimes the people were considered security for money borrowed, or a debt owed and they typically worked until the debt was paid off. In other cases as a result of warfare they remained in servitude.

However, the concept of slavery in African society was entirely different from the European concept of slavery, which was implemented for hundreds of years through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In the African concept of pawning – the individual was somewhat of an indentured servant – who could work, build a home, marry, have a family and attain status among their so-called enslavers. Therefore, when people mention that Africans were directly involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade – clearly those who did participate, at least in the early generations of slavery, had no idea of the multi-generational horrors they were subjecting their people to with the deception of Europeans bringing gifts. Enslaved Africans, regardless of how they were captured, did not go to the slave castles or get on the slave ships and return to tell their people of their experiences. So, in general Africans participated in what they thought was a somewhat familiar practice with unknown, unfamiliar, dire consequences that changed the face of Africa and the world forever.

I felt the spirit, energy and pain of all my ancestors who suffered in this here place for hundreds of years – yes hundreds of years. I was saddened, broken-hearted, and deeply wounded as our guide continued walking us deeper into the interior of this structure! At the same time, I felt angry and enraged over knowing European people did this to MY people! I kept thinking how could ANYONE do this to another human!!  My mission and purpose became further clarified in that very moment. I was given the charge to tell the stories of my family and my people… to document the rich history, to use poetic language to express their experiences, to creatively show images that reveal their journey, to dig deep and uncover the lessons in their stories, and to share their determination and perseverance so that the next generation of youth, young people and adults will be strengthened and fortified recognizing the shoulders that they stand on.  Moving onward with the tour guide and our group of 11 women I was even more focused, knowing this tour was more than just a guided tour of a historical site. This was a return to a true hell-hole, yet sacred land – where  my ancestors suffered and died for centuries.

Our tour guide described the life of the original slavers on the top of the castle, followed by the other European occupiers of the castle over the hundreds of years. We saw well-appointed sleeping quarters, large dining quarters, kitchen facilities, meeting rooms, and even a church area and prayer rooms for the Europeans. I can’t imagine what god or religion anyone could profess to believe in that engaged in this type of dehumanizing torture, abuse and systematic destruction to a people!

Then we began our descent into the pits of hell…Nothing can describe the smell, feel, sound and aura of the slave castle/dungeons. The air was cold and clammy as we walked down hallways pitched towards the lower levels, or the bowels of the building. There was a foul, damp smell of filth, decay and mildew, with the pungent stench of death permeating the air! It was absolutely horrible as we were walking into these deep dark underground dungeons. I was consciously aware that I was walking on the same concrete surfaces that my ancestors walked on… dirty, hungry, naked and shackled to other Africans from their village and from all over the western and interior part of the continent. I was walking on that same ground they walked on, following the same path into the belly of the beast, not knowing what to expect next. I was walking on this land some 500 years later – and I had returned. Yes…I was blessed to return! So through me, my ancestors live!!! All praises due to the Most High!

The dungeons were deep caverns with very high ceilings and one small window at the top for light and ventilation. The male dungeons held 600 males and the female dungeons held 400 females at one time. Children were not counted and often died from disease and the horrid, unsanitary conditions. The enslaved and naked Africans had no choice but to release their waste – urine, feces, vomit and blood (for the women) on the concrete floor where they were forced to lay – for months at a time….year after year…century after century. The “floor” of one male dungeon was excavated 3 years ago, and 18 inches of solidified human waste was chiseled away, and they found the original drainage ditches in the floors, which had been covered up with human waste for centuries. One in four Africans died in the dungeons. The survivors would be sold and put on a slave ship, which would make room for another 1000 enslaved Africans in the dungeons.  As bad as the conditions were in the dungeons, it was far worse on the slave ships – where only 2 in 4 Africans survived. Yet, ironically, as long as 1 in 4 Africans survived the slavers still made a profit on their “cargo” of enslaved Africans.

As our group went into different rooms, following our guide and hearing more tragic accounts of life in the slave/castle dungeons, I lingered behind in one of the Female Dungeons. I needed to have a moment alone in these death holes. These dungeons were also sacred chambers where my ancestors had to somehow draw strength and faith to carry on for the possibility of a better world!  I laid my head against the concrete walls and began praying to the Creator for strength and guidance. I said to my ancestors in a low whisper that I felt their pain and suffering and I would never forget them, their strength and suffering, and that I would always tell their stories. Suddenly, a spiritual force overpowered me, engulfed me and kind of consumed me... I felt the energy of hundreds of grandmothers surrounding me, crying to me, begging to me and pleading with me to help them. I saw their faces – covered in dirt, dust, ash and tears…with the look of helplessness burned in their eyes – I saw and felt the anguish of young girls lying in fetal positions dying on the cold filthy floors…I was transported back in time and I was one with my ancestors. I was shaking from head to toe and crying and sobbing uncontrollably.

Despite what people say – about death being the end – I personally know differently.  I know death is another level or stage of life… we have the unborn, the living and the ancestors and we are all spiritually linked and connected! I have been open to spiritual connections since my childhood, and recognize that people who are spiritually  open – sometimes have more out-of-body experiences and/or connections to those who are no longer here on the physical plane. I also know that spirits can attach themselves to you – and all spirits do not carry good energy. So I gave thanks to the ancestors for making their presence known to me. I  recognized I was going to need to do a spiritual cleansing (bath, candles, offering) to not carry the spiritual presence or energy intertwined with any darkness that could negatively or adversely affect me. I knew the ancestral energy was present in the castle/dungeons, and it was strong and it was real. So I began taking deep breaths to not lose all focus. Then a slight panic set in. By now the others in our group had went ahead, and a flash came across my mind of being lost and left behind in here – so I hurried out of the room to find our tour guide and group.

In several of the dungeons there was an art installation “In Memorian of the Middle Passage” by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo consisting of hundreds of sculptured heads. The features and hairstyles on the faces of the sculptures was designed to reflect the diverse ethnic groups that were captured and enslaved at Cape Coast castle/dungeon. Some of the heads had blinders over their eyes (showing the conditions we were subjected to were beyond what any human should ever see), and  facial expressions that depicted the horrors and anguish on the captives faces…

Our tour guide showed us some of the particularities of this place…

A windowless and airless room next to one room in the dungeon where rebellious Africans were put to suffocate to death.

There was a well for washing  the African women who were chosen by the Swedish, Dutch, or British rulers as their latest sexual victim. The ruling officers stood on a ledge overlooking a courtyard outside the female dungeon, and African women would be dragged out of the dungeon and put on display. The officer would choose the African woman or women they wanted to rape. The woman would be scrubbed down with water from this large well, then forcibly  taken upstairs, raped and then thrown back into the dungeon when he was finished with her. The rebellious ones were chained to a ball and chain in an open courtyard with extreme sun bearing down on them and would be left there until thirst, hunger or extreme heat forced submission, or  death overtook them.IMG_6872

Again, and again the anger was burning inside of me, the pain was radiating through my chest, the tears were flowing down my face as I shuddered in agony, envisioning my ancestors – my long ago grandma’s and grandpa’s suffering at the hands of these captors. The depth of the emotion that was brought to the surface in me needs to be expressed over and over in a myriad of art and literary forms to acknowledge the ancestors, release the pain, transform the energy, and poignantly tell the story that must be told and retold until each generation is connected to it and strengthened from it.

The Door of No Return – This is the door that enslaved Africans were forced through into the hulls of slave ships – leaving behind their country, families, language, religion and everything they had even known. They were transported to unknown lands with foreign people traveling on a journey known as the Middle Passage. This trip took months, and they suffered unrelenting torture, abuse, inhumane conditions, and 2 out of 4 enslaved Africans died on the ships from disease and sickness… those who survived were subjected to generational enslavement…

An altar was set up to honor the spirits and ancestors who lived, suffered, perished and survived in this castle… and to ensure that we their descendants carry on their legacy to ensure the story continues and that we can all be strengthened and fortified from it. I left an offering at the altar along with a prayer, and filled a small bottle with some of the remains on the floor – sand, dirt and graveyard dust to represent the connection between me and those who walked through these doors and chambers many generations ago.

My ancestors were taken from this dungeon on these shores and put in ships with the thought that they would never return again – but I their daughter, sister, and descendant returned in the year 2017. As I stood in front of “The Door of Return” with 10 other Black sisters who hail from different cities in the United States, I knew I had indeed returned… after generations of separation from Africa and I still have much work to do.IMG_6909Stay tuned to journey with me through Ghana’s Slave Castle/Dungeon…

Ghana chronicles…

Greetings – I am anxious to finish this blog about Ghana – because I have been on more journeys, and have additional places and experiences to share with you – my readers!

Kakum National Park: Kakum National Park is a nature lovers paradise. It is located about 12 miles north of Cape Coast and covers over 220+ miles of Ghana’s undisturbed rainforest – which unfortunately is rapidly disappearing. It is largely a moist evergreen rainforest with tall hardwood trees that reach over 100-200 feet in height. For more detailed information about the park, species of plants and wildlife check out: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/tourism/kakum.php


I initially said I wasn’t interested in going to Kakum National Park in Ghana, because I had heard about the Canopy Walkway which is a series of  rope bridges over the tree tops at 100 feet high.  I have few fears, but height is one of them. I’ve lived in a high-rise, duplex on the 11th floor and was able to somewhat comfortably use my 12th floor wrap-around terrace. I’ve worked on the 59th floor, and practiced roof top fire drills, and in my youth I even walked across the George Washington Bridge…but that was all with a solid surface underneath…this was a rope bridge with a narrow plank to walk on.  At any rate, at the encouragement from my sister friend Sherry I decided to face and overcome my fears. For me this trip was about connecting with my ancestral roots, taking risks, stepping out on faith and letting go!

The Canopy Walk opened on Earth Day in 1995, and consists of a series of suspension bridges with over 1,000 feet of walkway that hang from the trees over 130 feet above the ground. We doused ourselves in insect repellent with DEET, and some of us even wore coiled repellent bracelets on our ankles and wrists and began the trek up the hill. There was a long, steep climb to get to the canopy walk. We started as a group and gradually branched out into different groupings… At first it was a brisk, and stimulating hike up the hills, and even the sisters who needed canes or assistance were joining us. Then after a while the path became much steeper. Several  sisters dropped off and went back down to the ground level. Yours truly kept on… I felt like a mountain climber in training for the Olympics. My sister/friend Bernadette grabbed a stick to use as a walking stick and I did the same. I truly felt like I was on a journey. It was hot, humid, and with sweat mixed with insect repellent – I felt sticky and icky – needless to say, I was literally a hot mess. But, I kept on pushing forward. There were two rest stops along the way – small wooden structures where you could sit and catch your breath. At one of those stops – there were two young African brothers looking very cool and refreshed – checking us out sweating, panting and ready to drop. When we finally got to the top it felt like such a victory – until I saw those bridges in front of me. Panic set in and I thought I CAN’T do this!!! As folks were walking on the bridge it was swaying from side to side. I thought about walking back down, but I remembered  I came here with the intent of conquering my fear of height – so I knew without a shadow of a doubt, I had to do it.

There was a choice of paths – there was one main bridge and then if you turned left at the end of the first bridge you went across 3 bridges, and if you turned right you went across 7 bridges. I chose the shortest route – 3 bridges.  I thought we would go across one person at a time, but multiple people were on the bridge with you making it move even more. As soon as I put one foot on the bridge I was practically in tears – I started praying out loud “OH Allah” …everybody said “DON’T LOOK DOWN!!!” What – I had to look down… I had to know/see firsthand how high I was and what I was actually walking over… OMG!! The fear, panic and anxiety were real. My girl Sherry was up ahead of me doing acrobatic poses and I was yelling – “please keep going”. I pulled myself forward with my arms as my feet somehow managed to move in front of me one step at a time…My fear propelled me – plus I couldn’t go back – there were sisters behind me – so little by little I crossed bridge after bridge and trust me I was thrilled when I saw the last step and then and only then I put my hands up in the air!! FYI: After my Canopy Walk experience, I learned although the bridges appear as though they are constructed like a traditional rope bridge, the spans are made of wire rope, aluminum, and wooden planks, with safety netting to protect people from falls.

Village of Atonkwa: Naming Ceremony & School Visit: En route to the village of Atonkwa where we were scheduled to participate in a traditional naming ceremony we had a “stuck in the mud experience.” It had rained heavily the day before, and the dirt road was full of ditches and muddy water. As our van bounced along on the bumpy dirt road we eventually got stuck in the mud. We saw local villagers – brothers walking alone and sisters with babies on their back and bundles on their head walk straight on thru red, muddy water up to their shins.

It was a lesson in patience, as our driver and tour guide called for help and eventually a pick-up truck with brothers came and helped us along our way… including a nice brother named Jerome, wearing a t-shirt  I loved – with the phrase “Black since 1966”, who gifted me with a handmade bracelet. They pulled us out of the mud and we were on our way to the village to meet the Council of Elders…

The Council of Elders consisted of 12 members including the Chief. However, since we were so late due to our “stuck in the mud” experience – the Chief had to leave, and we were welcomed by the Assistant Chief and 10 additional elders. There was a large section chairs set up for the women of the village, and they arrived in varying African garb from young to older. A section of chairs was also set up for us the guests and we walked in and took a seat, only to be told that we were unknowingly rude – and we were not to be seated until we First greeted the elders. We all stood up immediately, walked over to the elders and shook their right hand, while holding our left hand behind our back. I shook the hands of the brothers, and hugged my sisters – and called then my Auntie’s. It was a very emotional moment for me. The Assistant Chief asked us individually why we were here and I thought of my ancestors who were forcibly captured and taken from their/our homeland, and I replied as tears streamed down my cheeks – “I wanted to come HOME.” I felt every step of this trip as though I had truly come full circle. This was a necessary trip for my personal growth and development. In fact, it was overdue. The villagers welcome us with traditional drumming, while 2 brothers danced in ceremonial attire. One of the brothers was also a fire-eater and incorporated many aspects of fire in his dance.

After the dancing and drumming, a small table was set-up for the traditional Akan naming ceremony. Names have great significance in African culture and society. In Ghana your first name is based on your gender and the day of the week you were born. Each of us were called up one by one, and an Akan – Fante name was bestowed upon us. A wisdom leaf was dipped in some type of alcohol (whiskey, I think). We were instructed to open our mouth, and  as the brother held the leaf over our mouth and the alcohol dropped onto our tongue, our FANTE name was pronounced and we repeated it. Then the elders clapped and hollered out traditional chants… The name given to me was Efua Nkrumah. Efua means girl born on Friday, and Nkrumah means wisdom – and is also the name of Ghana’s first Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah. This name was extra special to me and has also great meaning to me, because Kwame Nkrumah is also my Lincoln University brother – which is the first University I attended.

In 1975 I chose an Arabic name “Habeebatullah Shaheed” which many people still know me by – however; in my growth after learning about the role of  the Arab colonization and enslavement in Africa, I generally stopped using that name. I felt that I should have an indigenous African name to represent who I am and what I believe in. Efua Nkrumah does just that for me. I am not sure if I will undergo the official name change again – but it is affirming to me knowing an African chief in a traditional village bestowed upon me an indigenous name which honors my birth and one of their greatest leaders. Afterwards we greeted our sisters and took pictures and prepared to visit the village school. It was such a heart-warming experience to meet and greet the elders and feel and share the love and warmth.

Atunkwa Village School: A short distance away was the village school. The educational system in Ghana has levels beginning with grades: Kinder 3, 4, & 5, then Primary class 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5, followed by Jr High class 6, 7, & 8,  followed by College – which is the equivalent of High School in the US. However, when talking to a Ghanaian brother who lives and works in the US, he informed me that their college is typically far more advanced and rigorous than high school in the US. Most government jobs in Ghana require graduation from college; while those students who complete “college” are bound for the University.

Many of us on this trip brought a variety of books, pencils, and other school supplies to supplement their school library and provide basic supplies to the children. Marlene, our trip organizer informed us that their library could use a boost so we wanted to help! As a life-long educator, and lover of children I was very excited to visit the school, see the classrooms and meet the children. English is the common language taught in the schools so I looked forward to conversing with the children. We divided our supplies so that we could all personally give some out to the children in their classrooms, along with candy or lollipops, since candy is a universal treat.

We began with a talk by the Head Mistress of the school, who shared their current water dilemma (there was no running water at the time in the school) and asked us to help them financially with they current water crisis. After we clarified our purpose, and mission we presented the school with a large array of books to supplement their scanty library. We were mindful to donate books that were culturally reflective of the children themselves. Yet, I saw a number of children’s picture books on the library shelves  with White characters, with red hair or blue eyes and I wondered what cultural connection the Ghanaian children could possibly make to those images. The key is balance – providing many books that are culturally reflective, and others that expose the students to diverse places, people and cultures. The library was organized numerically and the books were perfectly aligned on the shelves in clusters – appearing  as if the books were there more for decoration than use. It reminded me of the many classrooms I visit in the US where teachers are “hoarders” of books and school materials and they are more for display than student use. I wasn’t sure if the children had free access to these books here either. Hmm, it made me wonder is this an international phenomenon?

When we entered the classrooms I was struck by how sparse they were. I spent most of my time in the classrooms for the younger students, and there were minimal materials compared to our standards in the US. Each classroom had a chalk board, a few charts on the wall, a small amount of paper, a few pens and crayons, along with a teacher’s desk and tables and chairs. We were informed that their school system was based on the British system, one of their former colonizers. This particular school was a Catholic school, which is common throughout the country. There didn’t appear to be any hands-on materials for exploring, manipulation, or role-playing; which are commonly found in my prior experiences.  I would love to spend time with their administration and teachers to first understand their system, curriculum, activities and then work with them to enhance their program. We can truly learn from one another. Additionally,  I would love to create an international  educational project  that assists others in constructing a culturally reflective, developmentally appropriate, early childhood curriculum that incorporates their local artisans, crafts-people, celebrations and cultural traditions.

The children were loving, sweet-natured and friendly. The tradition is for the girls to  have their hair cut very short to attend public school so that there is no jealousy or envy over who has a better or prettier hairstyle. The natural beauty shines through the sun-kissed faces of the girls and boys. I had hundreds of pencils to distribute – and in the classrooms in an orderly fashion, every child got both a yellow and a pretty pencil. After leaving the classrooms with an arm full of pencils – I was almost “mobbed” – not in a hurtful way, but I was surrounded by about a hundred children – pleading, and grabbing for pencils. I started handing them out as hands reached for them – only to find out some children were getting many and others were getting none. The uniforms, short hair cuts and crowd blinded me as to who had already received. Eventually, I had to stop completely to gain control of the situation. It was not a good feeling –  I felt like a missionary distributing goods to the locals. In the future, I would rather come empty-handed FIRST to spend time with the children, read to them, engage with them without the dynamics of materialism. Then afterwards, I would rather leave materials with them.  It would feel more genuine and personal than like a charitable mission!

When we returned to the van we were all reflecting on the day and sharing our experiences. One of the sisters Bernadette told us the day had been life-changing for her and she had discussed how she could support one student in particular. She had already received information on this particular student and what she could provide to help. This sparked an interest in many of us to help out with specific children. We shared with our tour guide and the Head of the School our interests and the ages and possible genders of children we could help. Arrangements were made and families who could use a little extra help or support came to meet us with the head Master of the school. It felt like a extended family sponsor/adoption day.

When we asked the cost to support a child’s education it was so minimal to us, based on salaries and costs and  in the US. It’s all relative. It costs about $85 per year (US dollars) to have 3 uniforms made and purchase all exercise books and textbooks. At that rate,  I decided to take on the responsibility for more than one child.  I became a “Mama” to 3 more girls – My girls are Efua (5 years old and my Akan name sake), her sister Aba (8 years old) and another girl Perpetual (who is 17 years old). The combined cost for all three girls was only $250.00 a year. I feel blessed to be able to help, and pray the connection with these girls and families grows over the years into a life-long, supportive and mutually affirming relationship. We all can learn and grow from our diverse interactions and connections! Now onto another school…

Esbina Educational Centre; Malam, Accra

This is an independent school run by a beautiful, dedicated sister named Esther Amankwa. She is a positive, visionary who wanted to make a difference for the local children. She started this school with her own funds for children from the local village who were not in school or couldn’t afford to buy uniforms or pay fees for school. She began with 3 children and now has over 60 children enrolled. This school is 100% free to the families, and Sister Esther supplies the uniforms and all exercise and text books.

Sister Esther is a traditionally trained Batik artist and she conducts workshops, classes and sells batik fabric to raise money to support her school. We were so fortunate for her to provide us with a full afternoon learning the art and craft of Batik. She talked about the history of Batik, the traditional materials used, and the intricate patterns and designs, including Adinkra symbols. We all created beautiful batiks on cotton fabric squares, as well as on garments we brought with us. For our demonstration workshop, we  only used a few colors, but Batiks can be created with unlimited colors through blending and mixing different colored dyes.

After this wonderful lesson and experience with Batik, we visited the classrooms of her school. The students and teachers were anxious and excited to meet us. There was a positive, upbeat energy that permeated the classrooms. It reminded me of the zest that exists when a new school or program opens and everyone is on board and positively charged and energized. The students recited poems, verses and sang multiple songs with movement for us. We were all touched by their performance and the amount of hard work and preparation that went into their presentations. You could see the feeling of pride on their faces and it touched my heart!

I applaud Sister Esther Amankwa for having the vision, fortitude and determination to open and run this school. Although the 3 girls I am sponsoring attend another school and I will certainly continue to support them, I also want to do whatever is in my power to help Sister Esther with her school. If you are interested in providing books, resources or other support to Esbina Educational Centre, please contact me directly for her information.

In my final post on Ghana – I will take you up close and personal to 2 slave castle/dungeons: Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle.

More sights and experiences in Ghana

IMG_6775Greetings to my readers:  I’m BACK…

I began 2018 with an extended weekend trip to Chicago to see my Mom, sister and family followed by a longer trip to Santa Fe to spend time with my daughter, son-in-law and some of my grands.  Interestingly, when I was growing up 3 generations of my family, including both sides of my grandparents,  all resided in the same town – and while I loved it, I also took it for granted, because it was all I knew. Now my family is spread out all over the US. When I travel I try to spend all my time engaging with family and/or friends to the maximum, and I planned on resuming this blog when I returned. However, life has a way of taking us on unexpected twists and turns and so it has been for me. My back went out on the first day of my vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico with 5 grandchildren eager to rip and run up and down the mountain roads… My body said “Hold up – not this trip” – lol. So, instead I honored my body, slowed down immensely, received some holistic and spiritual treatments, and enjoyed my family in a more laid back fashion. After a few weeks of taking care of me, I am ready to resume this blog… In fact, I am eager to finish sharing my experiences in Africa so I can begin writing about more travels…(my trips and experiences are overlapping!)

Ghana – is so full of life, culture and art in the everyday fabric of the people. Everywhere we went we met crafts-people, including:  wood carvers, brass sculptors, weavers, bead makers, and seamstresses. Yet, in the US many of these art forms have either been lost or certainly not been cultivated in the masses. In fact, we call the few who keep the arts alive “artists.” In Ghana, it is just a way of life. We were headed to Jamestown, when the traffic was halted by a funeral procession – a massive procession, with folks marching, dancing, and chanting along with trucks blaring music –  for a rather long time. The funeral procession was for a young elected official, and they believed he was poisoned because he sat down and drank with someone and then he died. There are funeral traditions pertaining to clothing – red and white colors are worn for a younger person, and black and white colors are worn for an older person.  The Honorable Elijah Muhammad always said certain colors (red and black) had specific  meaning in African society that Blacks in the US no longer understood the significance of. In Ghana there is also a particular manner in which the funeral and celebration of the person’s life is conducted.  There is an initial small-scale celebration that takes place immediately – then the burial and final big celebration takes place at a later date. It usually takes 1-2 months before a person is buried, because the community (all that the person has ties to) has to be notified and contribute  money to bury the person, and feed all the guests to give a proper burial and ceremony. After a lengthy, high-energy funeral procession, with hundreds of people  – we continued on to our destination – Jamestown.

Jamestown is a large fishing village of 5,000 people. Accra began with the Ga people and the original name of Jamestown was Ga Matse’ (pronounced Ga Mashe). The village is part of the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM). I was told there is some negative history associated with the term AWAM – so today if you display westernized behavior, you are called AWAM – which has a derogatory connotation. When the timber marker opened, it took away “the shine” from the Ga people. Fishing is the life of the people of Jamestown. The boat maker is a master carpenter and if you want a boat made you have to pay this specialist to make your boat, and 1-2 months later you get your boat. This is the only way to get a boat in Jamestown. Huge logs are carved to make the boats, and they are pretty sizable – I measured one boat (using a non-standard measurement tool – “my foot”) at over 40 feet long. Although fishing is their life – they observe a “No Fishing” rule on Tuesday.