By Tamar Fleishman
Wayne Young is the publisher and editor of Port of Harlem, a publication celebrating the diversity found in the African and Indigenous diaspora. He strives to feature articles from the point of the local diaspora view, not necessarily the African-American point of view. Young has immersed himself in the beauty, challenges and culture found in the small African nation of The Gambia. A man of action, he has several philanthropic projects there.
Hailing from Gary, Indiana and now living in metro D.C., we interviewed him by telephone.
TF: Tell me about your latest projects.
WY: The biggest focus is on building some mini libraries in The Gambia, one is already built. The government doesn’t have money to do much of anything, to tell the truth. The government has always relied on different governments, post-Colonialism. The 1863 Conference, the European conference, split up Africa into artificial nations that served their colonial interests. The Gambia served the British interests, in that it’s a river with land on either side. Senegal (the nation that surrounds The Gambia except for a small bit of Atlantic Ocean coastline) is more French orientated. We say, “It’s two governments, one people.”
I am also a curator, the creator of “West Africans in Early America,” an exhibit at the Slavery Museum in Juffureh. Juffureh was the birthplace of Kunte Kinte. It focuses on people of Sene-Gambian heritage.
I also work with the YALI network, the Young African Leadership Initiative. It’s a comprehensive program for Africans to study an issue intensely for 9 weeks at U.S. colleges and universities, different areas like leadership, business, networking. They keep in contact with each other. We support one young man from there who is under 30, energetically supporting his community. The U.S. program reinforces his intelligence, his goodness, resources, networking.
TF: How often do you go there?
WY: At least once a year.
TF: Do you own property there?
WY: No, that can be tricky. I asked a lawyer friend there, “With the low murder rate, low crime rate, what do you do here?” – mainly property issues.
TF: You have discussed that you feel safer at night there than in D.C.. Describe that.
WY: Here, you have these murders! The people (there) are more responsible. I think it’s cultural and religious, more respect for life.
I was in a village and somebody’s home had been broken into, their laptop was stolen. They didn’t call the police, they didn’t have to. The next thing I know, there’s this man walking with his head bowed down, surrounded by 15 people – they walked him to the police. I’ve seen that happen three times. Their police officers do not carry guns.
TF: Is that attractive to businesses?
WY: People are irrational. It’s also getting there from the U,S., going through Brussels. There used to be a direct flight from Baltimore, under (former Maryland Lt. Governor) Steele. The whole airlines industry has changed. Even from New York, (direct) points are few and far between. It’s a remnant of post-colonialism.
Senegal has a super-nice airport, superior! It employs lots of people. They had electronic processing at the same time or before Dulles (Airport). There’s no free WiFi, though.
TF: How did you get so interested in The Gambia?
WY: I worked for the Census Bureau. They were there to help create surveys and systems.
TF: Is there any talk in Africa about any E.U.-like organizations?