ABOVE PHOTO: Imani Africa nursery primary school in Gambia. (Photo: Ajeenah Ross)
By Ajeenah Ross
After recently returning from an international educational service project in West Africa, I engage in a bit of self-reflection. I was prompted by a review of my journal, which chronicled my daily activities during the trip. Revisiting those daily entries brought tears to my eyes because I realized the experience had changed my life forever.
The experience of traveling to the African countries of Gambia and Senegal changed my perspective about so many things I had often taken for granted. My interaction with an array of people ranging from school children to my own contemporaries and from traditional families to government officials provided an outlook a different way of life and traditional values.
My classmates Syferia Moultrie and Darrien Johnson and I traveled to West Africa at the end of January with a group led by Dr. Francine Fulton, founder of the Imani Education Circle Charter School, located in Philadelphia and the Imani Africa Nursery/Primary School in the Gambia, West Africa. We were also accompanied by our teacher Sister Brenda Saavedra and Dr. Fulton’s friend Mrs. Hellen Massey and her cousin Mrs. Evonne Frazier.
Upon my departure to West Africa, I had my own preconceived notions about what I and my traveling companions would encounter. I could not have been more mistaken. The collection of our experiences gave me an expanded view of life from another cultural viewpoint.
The group’s first stop was Goree Island, located off of the coast of the city of Dakar, Senegal. The site is now a museum, and memorial. There we visited a castle called the House of Slaves, which contains the infamous Door of No Return. It was this door that newly enslaved Africans passed through to board ships that would take them to America. On the day of my visit, I noticed how tranquil the ocean was as I viewed it from the doorway, which did not have a door. I thought about the enslaved millions who traveled through this door. I also imagined the horrific conditions they were forced to endure before their departure and I wondered if my ancestors were among them.
The experience was logged into my journal. Following is the entry I wrote reflecting upon my visit to the House of Slaves:
“The Special Key”
Today we returned to the Door of No Return which is located on a beautiful island that has an ugly past. When touring the castle I started to get frustrated and then the tears came.
Millions of my ancestors went through this castle. Most of us didn’t make it. We didn’t choose to be packed in rooms 11” by 8”, the size of my own with hundreds of Africans. We look through that door and see nothing past the horizon. Then I pictured the millions of our ancestors who didn’t make it through the Maafa (also known as the Atlantic slave trade or the middle passage).”
I see how ungrateful I am and then it dawns on me, “My ancestors are looking at what I do.” My purpose here is to find the key to true freedom and to find the key to my future. I will use the history of my people and move forward with an open mind set. The key that we lost symbolizes the neglect of our history. When we acknowledge our history then we can find that key. The real freedom comes from acknowledging your past so that you can create a bright future for yourself.” – Ajeenah Ross
Our travels then took the group to the country of Gambia. There we visited St. James Island, which is now known as Kunta Kinteh Island. It is located on the Gambia River. Kunta Kinteh, a character described in Alex Haley’s book and TV series Roots, became associated with James Island. Haley is believed to have traced his ancestry to Kinteh, who is believed to have been one of 98 slaves brought to America from Gambia in 176. While in the Gambia, we also visited Dr. Fulton’s school, the Imani Africa Nursery/ Primary School.
In my next report that will be published in the next issue of The Philadelphia Sunday Sun, I will provide information about my travels to Gambia.