“For Africa to me… is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.”
The late Dr. Maya Angelou, author and poet, eloquently expressed how many people, especially those of Black descent, can feel when relating to the Motherland.
With roughly 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent who live in the Americas and millions scattered around the world outside of the African continent there is a lot of love to go around in relating to fellow melanated brothers and sisters, the un.org reports.
That familial love has not always been the case.
Back to the Motherland
“For a very long time in the twentieth century, during the Jim Crow years, in particular, African Americans were encouraged to shun the idea of a connection to Africa, to think poorly of Africa—to celebrate traits in themselves, which supposedly distanced themselves from Africa, in other words, to think of themselves as more cultured, more Christian, more white, more civilized than Africans and therefore to look at ‘Africanness’ as a matter of shame or a kind of taint that needed to be avoided,” Howard W. French, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, told the daily.jstor.org.
Building the cross-cultural divide is one done with respect and intentionality that many in Detroit are not new to.
The Wright’s 39th African World Festival was recently celebrated in mid-July with its return to Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit.
Though the beloved festival, Detroit’s largest celebration of the African diaspora, has passed, the mission to open minds and change lives through the exploration and celebration of African American history and culture lives on.
Njia Kai, one of Detroit’s primary arts and culture ambassadors, told the Michigan Chronicle that for her, celebrating African culture as a Black American is something she is proud of.
“I’m a product of Detroit and [from a] very rich African American history and legacy of the community here and I’m grateful to be in a position to support this effort in not only reflecting the African American story here in Detroit but to give a glimpse into the African world.”
Kai added that it’s important for all people to connect with their African roots.
International Day for People of African Descent is observed on August 31 annually, according to nationaltoday.com. The holiday was developed by the United Nations to recognize the diverse heritage and culture and contributions of people of African descent.
Suggestions on how to observe the national day:
- Visit local and area museums and memorials and learn about the culture.
- Find African artists ranging from literature and music to paintings and other creative elements.
- Read about the rich history of African culture and the African diaspora.
Beautiful Things from Home
Celebrating the African diaspora includes acknowledging all elements of the African diaspora including Haitian culture.
The Haitian Network Group of Detroit (HNGD) is hosting its biennial festival called Bèl Bagay Lakay, meaning Beautiful Things from Home in Haitian Creole.
The Haitian Art and Craft Festival is scheduled to take place on Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31, at the Sundquist Pavilion and Riley Park in Downtown Farmington.
The outdoor event is designed to allow Metro Detroiters and others to sample and experience the uniqueness of the Haitian culture, according to event information. The event will feature the work of Haitian artists and artisans along with entertainment and activities for the family.
HNGD was founded in 1999 and obtained its 501(c)(3) non‑profit status in 2003. The organization was designed with the following objectives:
- To promote Haitian culture and create a forum for Haitians and friends to network.
- To facilitate communication between Haitians and other organizations in Detroit.
- To contribute to the welfare of Haitians worldwide.
- To advocate the expansion and improvement of cultural diversity in the Detroit area.
Shirley Alce, president of HNGD, told the Michigan Chronicle, that this is the fourth edition of the festival, which skipped 2021 because of restrictions.
From events for children and dancing to embracing artistry and more the festival will feature everything beautiful from the often-disparaged Caribbean country that boasts over 11 million people.
“We’ll have entertaining events for children; we will have dancing,” Alce said adding that Haiti is often portrayed negatively in the media because of poverty, raging weather, and more – but there’s another side to the country, too. “We have problems no doubt, however we have great things we can offer…. We know we’re different and embrace our difference.”
Margareth Corkery, festival event planner and HNGD vice president, told the Michigan Chronicle that similar to her home country, Detroit also doesn’t always get a fair shake.
“This is something I say all the time. I equate Detroit to Haiti – we both get a bad rap,” the former Detroiter and area resident said. “We … both have history. … people need to give us a chance if they come and visit us – whether Detroit or Haiti.”
Corkery added that her favorite part of the festival is seeing people of all ethnic backgrounds coming together and celebrating Haitian culture.
“One common goal is to show love for Haiti,” she said.
Alce agrees, adding that Haiti is a combination of many cultures in one nation.
“We … are a melting pot of so many different … countries, slaves came from different regions — our language is a melting pot derived from English, French, different African dialects,” Alce said. “We are really a true melting pot of representing all Africans.”