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Babatunde Harrison, Journalist Griot in the Diaspora

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Historic Cape Coast was a fishing village when the Portuguese first arrived there in the 1500. They named the place Cabo Corso after the short promontory that formed the fishing cove. The castle was built by the Dutch in 1650, and expanded by the Swedes in 1652. The English changed the name to Cape Coast after they captured the castle in 1664. Cape Coast developed around the castle and the slave trade. Photo by Michael L. Tuite.

The Ancestress, Alice Ewurafua Baoye Arthur, at home with her great grandchildren in Hayward: Anthony Adeyinka DaSilva, JR., (far Left), Miles DaSilva, next to the Ancestress, Christiana Folarinde DaSilva and Malik DaSilva. Photo by Kenneth Walker.

In 2007, Alice Arthur returned to Cape Coast after a three year sojourn in the U.S. In the picture are the Ancestress, (second from left), Auntie Araba, (far left), Maame Yohan Coker, (next to the Ancestress), Dr. Folarinde Christiana Harrison (in eye glasses), Mrs. Sally Adjei (nee Harrison), second from right and Ms. Rebecca Buckman, far right. Photo by James Adetokunbo Harrison.

Part II
By Babatunde Harrison

In the ancient African empires of West Africa, the Griot was the custodian of the histories and genealogies of the people of West Africa. Through epic songs and poetry, the Griot told and preserved the traditions and memories of ancient Mali, Songhai and Ghana..
Since the arrival of the Portuguese, the Cape Coast was gradually transformed into a slave  port and emporium where Africans were bought and sold in exchange for gold,  liquor  and gun powder and then exported to the plantations of the Americas.
At the spot where the Portuguese landed  stands  the Cape Coast slave castle dungeon, built by the Dutch, English and Portuguese, which served as a brief tortuous warehouse, housing millions of African captives before exportation.
The Cape Coast Castle is a symbolic archival story of the African in the Diaspora. There are not enough Griots to tell the stories of the brave men, women and children who lived through the pain and stench of the dungeon castle.
This castle holds millions of intangible horror stories. And, annually, thousands  of descendants of the millions gone return to pass through this dungeon  to imagine and relive the horrors their ancestors.
There are Caucasian historians who make believe and tell tales that slavery came to an end at some dubious point in history. With tongue in cheek, the same historians tell the awesome tales of how the French, the British, the Germans, the Portuguese and the Spanish congregated in Berlin in 1844 and carved out portions of Africa as colonial possessions.
There are Griots, colonial and post-colonial Griots, whose perspectives on the colonial question were offensive to some European minds.. It took decades for Africans to emancipate from the mental slavery conditioned by colonialism.
I am a Griot after the generation of James Kwegyir Aggrey, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah, nationalists from the colonial regime of British West Africa.
I was born in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, at the end of World War II, and my father, Albert Akinola Harrison, was the son of Emmanuel Jenkins Harrison of Lagos, Nigeria, who was  a lawyer and soldier in the British West Africa Frontier Force.
My mother, Alice Ewurafua Baoye Arthur, was a trained seamstress and a daughter of the Royal Abadze Egyir Dwin Family of Ambrado Yard, Cape Coast.
Diaspora, is defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland or people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location.”
Labia Harrison, my great grandfather, was kidnapped in the early 1800s by Fulani slave raiders and sold to a Portuguese slave ship bound for the Americas. The ship was intercepted by the British Navy and diverted to Sierra Leone where the captive Africans were freed at Freetown.
In Freetown, he joined the Anglican Church and trained as a tailor. He later returned to Nigeria, settling in Abeokuta and Lagos. Labia Harrrison had an only son, Emmanuel Jenkins Harrison, after whom I was named.
He attended Christian Mission Society (CMS) Grammar School; entered Government service from 1901 to 1911 as a clerk in the Judicial Department until  he went to England to study law.
According to the. (The Red Book of West Africa), he was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1911.
He had five children and several grandchildren, including Dr. Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate.
I consider myself the family Griot because I am a trained journalist, and the first born and only male of the five children of my father’s branch of the Harrison family. The Harrison family is dispersed in the Diaspora, in England and America and being an Abadzenana of Cape Coast I see the African in the Diaspora as kith and kin.

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Coronavirus

SEN. TIM SCOTT SOLVES ASIAN AMERICANS’ MODEL MINORITY PROBLEM

In the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s Joint Speech to Congress last week, Scott offered up his childhood growing up with a single mother in a one-room apartment, and then looked America in the eye and said, unequivocally, “America is not a racist country.”

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Asian Americans have long been  hampered at times by the “Model Minority” stereotype. What’s that about? You know, how Asian Americans’ success has been used against them in that “look how good they are” way. It’s an excuse to ignore them.  Here’s the thinking: as model minorities, we can all  ignore them. They don’t need any government help, affirmative action, or any such handouts. They are model minorities, ergo, the subtext–Why can’t you all be like them! 

But not this year! 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) has made a gift to all Asian Americans.

We aren’t the model minority anymore.

He is.

In the official GOP response to President Joe Biden’s Joint Speech to Congress last week, Scott offered up his childhood growing up with a single mother in a one-room apartment, and then looked America in the eye and said, unequivocally, “America is not a racist country.”

He was taking away our crown of “model minority” and placing it on his own head. And tying it on with his own bootstraps. 

Got to hand it to Scott. He likes to brag: “I get called Uncle Tom and the N-word by progressives, liberals.” But honestly, to say America is not a racist country is possibly a bigger lie than “Trump won last November.”

A Biden margin of victory of nearly 7 million voters debunks that lie.

It would take just one chapter  of Asian American history—just the Filipino part– to refute Scott.

In an historical context, taking away Asian Americans’  “model minority” burden is quite significant. 

Dropping the stereotype is important as America, after the Atlanta mass murders , finally begins to understand that we Asian Americans are beyond stereotypes. All together, Asian Americans are  23 million strong and diverse, from more than 20 countries. And we’re growing, destined to overtake the Hispanic population as the No.1 ethnic minority by 2060, according to the Pew analysis of Census data.

It’s especially important as the government looks to engage with all of its people in a new inclusive way.

It is the New America many of us in the ethnic media have been talking about for the last 20 years.

And that’s what Scott and the GOP are trying to negate that positive uplifting message of President Biden’s national address to a new America. 

We’re getting a lot of history in the first hundred days of Joe Biden. In that speech, we got the precious first image of a U.S. president speaking to a joint session of Congress, flanked by a female speaker of the house, and a female vice president—a multi-racial woman of Black and Asian descent.

It’s the good history of an evolving democracy.

When Biden talked about “real opportunities in the lives of Americans,” he didn’t any of us leave us out.

“Black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American,” Biden said, then he segued into a thank you. “Look, I also want to thank the United States Senate for voting 94-1 to pass the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to protect Asian American Pacific Islanders.”

Seven seconds of applause. And then to top it off, he transitioned to a mention of the Equality Act to protect transgender youth.

These were the specific and necessary moments when many of us could see ourselves. They were signs that government hasn’t forgotten who it’s governing—all Americans, of all stripes, collars, and colors. Biden’s all-encompassing economic plan covering infrastructure and families would cost anywhere up to $4 trillion.

Worth it? It is if we still want to be an America that’s of the people, by the people and for the people.

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Art

Student Work – Nayzeth Vargas

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

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This piece was created by Nayzeth Vargas, a senior at Oakland Technical High School. The Zentangle Method is a therapeutic technique which uses combinations of contrasting patterns and values to create an image. Students were introduced to the Zentangle Method to offset the mental stress they were experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation.  

There is freedom with the Zentangle; there is no expected visual outcome and students are less prone to creative blocks and self-criticism. 

Nayzeth is enrolled in the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project, an integrated arts program that supports youth in developing thoughtful, educated voices for their communities. Though art, youth practice mindfulness and boundless creativity. Enrollment for the West Oakland Legacy and Leadership Project is open to youth ages 13-18 through AHC, for more information visit ahc-oakland.org/legacy.

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Community

Edna Lewis: Humanizing the Black Chef

In 1948, female chefs were few and far between; black female chefs were almost nonexistent. But that didn’t stop Lewis from partnering with John Nicholson, an “antique dealer and bohemian with a taste for high society,” to open her own restaurant. It was called Café Nicholson. Located on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the café quickly became legendary.

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For decades, chefs, food critics, and writers neglected Southern cooking. Stereotypes dehumanizing chefs remain an echo in black culture today, from Aunt Jemima, the so-called happy servant on the syrup bottle to the promise of black servitude flooding TV commercials targeted at white American travelers to the fictional character Uncle Ben, created to sell rice to those in black communities. But Edna Lewis (1916–2006) was real and a giant in the culinary world.
Lewis was born on her grandfather’s farm in the rural community of Freetown, Va., a town founded in the late 19th century by three formerly enslaved people. One was Lewis’ grandfather. He also started the first school in Freetown, holding classes in his living room.
Despite not having modern conveniences, Lewis learned to cook early on. Most of her cooking lessons were taught by her aunt, Jenny. The two would prepare food using a wood-fire stove. Without fancy spoons or scales, they used coins and measured seasonings the old-fashioned Southern way: piling baking powder on pennies, salt on dimes, and baking soda on nickels. It has been said that Lewis could tell when a cake was done “just by listening to the sound it was making.”
Lewis left home after the death of her father; she was 16 at the time. She first relocated to Washington, D.C. and later to New York City. There she took on jobs as a presser in a Laundromat and at the Daily Worker, a local newspaper. She took part in political demonstrations and campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt. But what Lewis didn’t know was that her cooking was about to make her a local legend in The Big Apple.
In 1948, female chefs were few and far between; black female chefs were almost nonexistent. But that didn’t stop Lewis from partnering with John Nicholson, an “antique dealer and bohemian with a taste for high society,” to open her own restaurant. It was called Café Nicholson. Located on East 57th Street in Manhattan, the café quickly became legendary.
Lewis did all the cooking. Her simple Southern dishes, the ones she learned to prepare on a wood-fire stove, attracted a crowd of famous faces: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Gloria Vanderbilt, Marlene Dietrich, and Diana Vreeland. Business was great and Lewis was making a name in the culinary world.
Lewis stayed with the restaurant until 1954. Café Nicholson was sold years later to Chef Patrick Woodside.
In the late sixties, Lewis broke her leg and took a hiatus from cooking professionally. It was then that she began to compile some of her recipes. The result: the Edna Lewis Cookbook. In 1976 she wrote The Taste of Country Cooking, which became was one of the first cookbooks penned by an African-American woman to reach a nationwide audience.
Lewis’ teaching and cookbooks have influenced and inspired countless young chefs. She retired as a chef in 1992.

Source: https://www.thespruceeats.com/edna-lewis-1664995
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Lewis
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/edna-lewis
Image: https://www.eater.com/2017/1/7/14200170/edna-lewis-cookbook-bestseller-top-chef

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