On the 25th of January 2018, I embarked on a solemn journey of self-discovery, reflection and erudition by visiting my roots and motherland, Ghana. It dawned on me that it has taken almost ten years since I left, also, I do recall leaving Ghana with the goal of advancing my knowledge on race relations, mental health, resiliency and historical trauma. I my country of birth almost ten years ago, and on my return, I came with my boss, Mayor Dave Kleis, Ryan Daniel, CEO of Metro Bus, and Marcus Owens, President, and CEO of NEON and a Bush Fellow. The time spent planning for this trip was extensive, although this is the country I was born in, there were a lot of uncertainties. One being that Ghana had gone through multiple transitions democratically and economically. I drew up different schedules that encompassed various sites to be visited. I coordinated this visit with friends and colleagues I grew up with. Every individual on this trip had a different objective and expectation; I encouraged folks to have an open mind and absorb all necessary information.
I visited the travel clinic before my departure, and I had hopes of not needing any medications or shots since that was my country of birth. My medical doctor educated me on the need to get all necessary shots and medications. He mentioned my body was acclimatized to the US and advised I proceed with caution and take all necessary prescriptions during my trip. I started to wonder whether I was visiting another country. I wondered how accustomed my body was to the US and the extent to which I had integrated into the US culture. I wondered if I would be a stranger in my homeland and if I would remember my roots.
On the 26th of February 2018, at 8:15 am, the last words I heard as we touch down at Kotoka International Airport (Ghana’s only international airport) was “Akwaaba[welcome], welcome to Ghana.” I felt nostalgic after hearing these words and felt the warm air sweep through the cabin as the doors opened. At this point, I was ecstatic as I headed to the baggage claim area for my luggage and to connect with the rest of the delegation. An entourage including friends and family welcomed us. The greeting and lunch with family and friends quickly reminded me of Ghana’s collectivistic culture on how the group norm is often emphasized.
I had the privilege of visiting with the Minister for Inner City and Zongo development of Ghana. Zongo is synonymous with low-income communities, and this was a new ministry created to address the disparities as it relates to poverty, economic status, education, etc. I learned some of the strategies the government was implementing in addressing these disparities. During our stay in Ghana, we visited many places. I will focus on the highlight of my trip as writing about my entire trip will take up extensive space and time. If you would like to learn more or have questions on a subject, kindly let me know.
The Cape Coast Castle was the highlight of my trip. It was an intriguing, and emotional experience. From a historical standpoint, the Cape Coast castle was constructed by the Portuguese in 1550 on the coastline of Gold Coast (Cape Coast). The castle passed through the hands of the Danes, the Dutch, and finally, the British in 1664 where this site was used for slave trade. This fortress was among several on the West African coast where a projected number of 10 to 40 million enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas and Caribbean. The Castle had a unique texture, on top of the dungeons housing slaves was a church, and close by was the governor’s mansion containing a total of 19 windows. I was saddened to learn that up to 1,000 males and 500 females were chained and cramped in the dark dungeon with limited ventilation. Slaves were made to live in their human waste with no form of proper sanitation. That confined space was a holding zone until they were shipped exiting from a door labeled “door of no return” into
The past month has been exhilarating, I had planned on attending the annual American Counseling Association (ACA) conference in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I was under the weather and was advised to rest. This was very devastating; I have been looking forward to this conference since graduate school. Having an opportunity to attend and seeing that dashed away was worrying. I reflected on this experience and decided to harness the positive experience this event presents. I dived deeper on taking my Self-Care more seriously and instead of the conference, a workshop availed itself. Paul Kivel who is an educator, social activist, writer and acclaimed speaker and trainer on issues of racism, diversity, family violence, and youth development presented on presented at a workshop. As a writer, he authored many books and curricula, one of his famous books, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, won the 1996 Gustavus Myers Award for best book on human rights. I had the privilege to attend one of his workshops on “Uprooting Racism,” he facilitated a great conversation on the topic, engaged in different activities and conversations. Participants indulged in intentional, proactive active listening during an activity with the goal of understanding the feelings of individuals. The conversation included experiences with topics of race or racism. It was an enlightening process listening to people of different racial background in the room. We examined what it meant to be an ally. The presenter shared on how having the qualities of an ally is not an identity but practice. Also, he mentioned the subject on racism is not expressed explicitly.
Breaking white silence and stepping up one’s work for racial justice included several resources compiled by Paul Kivel. There are key steps in leveraging racial justice, and these includes providing money, time, skills, network/ connections, space, sharing information on racism and social justice issues and access to people, among others. A tool he shared was “calling people in” versus “calling people out,” he mentioned by “calling people in,” we invite folks into conversations to learn more and be engaged, another is building relationships, supporting and encouraging white people. This workshop made me re-evaluate strategies of engaging in conversations on race and racism. It is critical to “call people in” by inviting people to the conversation, not just those affected by racism but folks that could be allies and equipping them with tools to be successful.
I attended a listening session created by the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs on a Rural Latino Vision to Strengthen Communities for a Thriving Minnesota. It was very informative; this provided an opportunity to learn about the growing Latino community in Minnesota. As an advocate for immigrants, it was imperative to learn about their challenges, strength and the resiliency this community has. From the report presented it was shocking to learn that 8.8% of Minnesota student population are Latinos yet only 1% of that number make up the state’s teacher workforce. Also, 1 in 4 Latinos in Minnesota does not have health insurance. Although 70% are U.S. citizens, significant challenges are experienced by undocumented Latinos and those that are citizens. The council seems to focus its resources on key areas to include health, economic development, education, and immigration.
As a co-founder of the Jugaad Leadership Program, we implemented the mentoring program committed to enhancing and ensuring the personal, professional excellence and success of Emerging Leaders of color through structured programs and activities that promote inclusion, equity, and positive retention in Central Minnesota. This model or idea is validated by an article published in the Harvard Business Review. The program took extensive research, and brainstorming; It was created and tailored towards the population targeted. This research sampled out top successful executives and came out with the following insightful findings. Two-thirds of respondents reported having a mentor and one-third of those executives have had two or more mentors, those that had mentors in their lives earned more money and were much educated with a clearly defined career path; they supported mentees or proteges than those who never had mentors in their lives. Executives who had mentors were perceived to be happier with their career path and had a sense of satisfaction in their work. The mentoring program was established to achieve these goals. The program is in its first year; it will be observed and measured on desirable outcomes outlined and evaluated. The feedback has been phenomenal, we have community leaders, business owners, social justice activists, government officials, educators, etc., serving as mentors to our graduates.
In playing multiple roles, I must say I never imagined witnessing a bomb threat at work. Our City Hall had a bomb threat, and it created a state of pandemonium, in the end, everyone was safe, and there was no cause for alarm. The event was handled effectively by the appropriate authorities and normalcy at work was restored. Two African proverbs that I can relate to in expressing my leadership growth are “he who learns, teaches” and “you always learn a lot more when you lose than when you win.” As a leader, I must endeavor to share my intellect; to accept and recognize my challenges and failures by learning and transforming them into opportunities.