By Valerie Russ
It was the evening before Independence Day, and about 40 black people whose families had come from around the globe gathered at S.A. Cafe in Upper Darby to talk about an independence of their own.
This was the first Diaspora Leaders Roundtable, sponsored by FunTimes magazine publisher Eric Nzeribe, for people of African descent — African-Americans, African immigrants, and African-Caribbeans — to talk about bridging cultural divides and building a future together.
The gathering occurred the week after right-wing commentator Ali Alexander posted a tweet saying Sen. Kamala Harris was “not an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I’m so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history…”
While the roundtable had been scheduled independent of the debates, Nzeribe said the timing couldn’t have been better for black people to build unity and end any discord.
“The more that we can have contact, the more we can interact with each other, the more we have an opportunity to diffuse some of this tension,” Nzeribe said. “But our main intention was not to talk about tension, but to create cordiality between Africans, Caribbeans, and African Americans.”
Among those gathered were: Charles Anyigbo, a London-based political scientist and analyst; Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Carolyn H. Nichols; Professor Chieke E. Ihejirika, interim chair of the department of history, political science and philosophy at Lincoln University; and Eric Grimes, a WURD Radio host known as Brother Shomari, the discussion’s leader.
Here are three takeaways from the roundtable:
Black people’s storytelling must be reclaimed
Grimes proposed that black Americans and black immigrants create a new “communications infrastructure. For too long, others have been telling stories about us to each other,” Grimes said. The only news that many black Americans see about Africa are stories of war and starvation, or they were raised on movies like Tarzan, which placed a white man as the hero of an African jungle, Grimes said.
Similarly, said Ihejirika, for many Africans, the only news they see about black Americans is of violence and crime. Or they see movies showing images of black Americans as gangsters and thugs, he said.
“We must not forget that white America does not encourage a commingling of new [immigrant] Africans and African Americans,” he said later in an interview. When African students come to the United States as exchange students, he said, they are placed in the homes of white Americans, and some administrators warn African students to stay away from black Americans.
“They tell you, don’t deal with them because they are violent,” Ihejirika said. “They put you with the best of white families so you have the feeling that white is better.”
Grimes said it is important to tell their own stories because “people act from their identity, and stories are the building blocks of identity.”
Establish an understanding of one another’s sacrifices
Ihejirika called on African and Caribbean immigrants to respect the struggles of African Americans who fought against segregation and discrimination in the decades before a large increase in the number of black immigrants arriving in the U.S.
“The new diaspora is riding on the sacrifices of the old diaspora,” he said. “Black people were beaten, bloodied, killed and jailed during the Civil Rights Movement, so that I, who just came here the last two or three decades, and my children can now enjoy the privileges of freedom.” Ihejirikia earned his first college degree before leaving Nigeria for Belgium, where he received two more degrees, a bachelor’s and a master’s, then another master’s in Canada before earning his Ph.D at Temple University.
Additionally, Nzeribe said that for many African immigrants, their first experiences in the U.S. is of black American children teasing them for their accents or calling them derogatory names.
Karen Warrington, who once was the communications director for former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, agreed: “They don’t know about us, and we don’t know about them. Sometimes the only thing we have uniting us is our color.
Create institutions by and for black people
Ihejirika has proposed the creation of a Center for Black Advancement and Leadership, based at Lincoln University, to develop solutions for the problems affecting black people around the globe. With about $1 trillion in black spending power in the U.S., Ihejirika said black people should begin creating multinational banking institutions and corporations. Ihejirika is dreaming big. “We are not talking about just papa and mama stores. We want corporations like Exxon and General Motors that are black-owned. When black engineers and black scientists need money to start those multinational companies, they can go to an African diaspora bank.”
He also saw the center as creating its own political action committee and a fund to make donations to lobby politicians to support a black agenda. “The politician is only interested in re-election. If you are the source of their funding related to your issue, no matter who you are, your issue will be paramount.”
Such a center at Lincoln would also honor the university’s legacy for having educated the first two African presidents of Ghana and Nigeria after independence from British colonial rule. The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who, as a lawyer, led the legal fight to end school desegregation in the Brown v. Board of Education, also graduated from Lincoln.