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Black History

Organization Sparks ‘Year of Return’

THE AFRO — With 2019 marking the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking on Western Shores, The United States Congress recently put into motion, {H.R. 1242}, a bill also known as “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” This initiative is an umbrella for a number of different projects, but more specifically, as it states in Section 3 of it’s doctrine, “This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.” 

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The Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, under the leadership of Diallo Sumbry, helped spark the “Year of Return,” which encourages African Americans to visit Ghana as 2019 marks the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking in the United States. (Courtesy Photo)

By Nyame-kye Kondo

With 2019 marking the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking on Western Shores, The United States Congress recently put into motion, {H.R. 1242}, a bill also known as “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” This initiative is an umbrella for a number of different projects, but more specifically, as it states in Section 3 of it’s doctrine, “This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”

Funded through donations and steered by a committee of volunteers, the Bill sets precedence on honoring the Black Experience in America, while also being open to international collaboration.

The bill is ” to look at the ways we can confront our history and ensure that the contributions of African Americans to society are never forgotten,” according to  Wade Robinson of Civilrights.org.

The passing of {H.R. 1242} was the incentive that D.M.V based entrepreneur Diallo Sumbry, needed to further expand his business, fulfill his purpose, and to help diasporans build a new relationship with Africa, specifically, Ghana.

The founder of Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio (ACAS) in Mount Rainier, Sumbry is at the helm of the “Year of Return” movement that has many African Americans heading to Ghana for pilgrimage, immersion and enjoyment. Leading a handful of tours to Ghana over the last five years, Sumbry recognizes that immersion is apart of the reacclimation process.

“I came to Ghana for the first time in 2013, and in a short span of time I have been able to build an exchange between Ghana and America that is steeped not only in arts and culture, but the African Americans reclamation of the continent as a whole,” Sumbry said.  “It is my hope that this movement will help to reconnect not only those displaced as a result of slavery, but the African Diaspora in general.”

Having more than a decade of experience in arts managing, directing, and facilitating, Sumbry has been a, “key figure in the planning and development of the year-long calendar of activities in celebration of the resilience of the African spirit,” reports {Business Ghana}.

Recently named the first African-American ambassador of Tourism by former Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Honorable Catherine Afeku, this year marks the third year that Sumbry will be facilitating his own tours. With the first tour featuring GoGo legends, Backyard Band, and the 2019 edition featuring singers Raheem Devaughn and Wes Ellington Felton, the tours are amplified by the fact that they are open to the community as well. Much like the classes and cultural activities that ACAS provides for the D.M.V area, it should come as no surprise that the “Year of Return” grew out of a grassroots organization like ACAS.

Nestled in the heart of the Mount Rainier Arts district, ACAS offers a number of African Dance and drumming classes, fitness classes, intensives, workshops, various pop ups and a slew of resources for the community.  At the epicenter of a creative exchange with Ghana, ACAS also offers yearly tours to Ghana in the form of the “Back2Africa” movement. Partnering with a number of different entities to make tour happen, it was the Ghana Tourism Authority itself that officially proclaimed this as the “Year Of Return” on a global scale.

With ACAS establishing important relationships prior to the “Year of Return,” movement being fully established, the possibilities evolved when  the idea was brought to the Ghana Commission of Tourism and Culture, and after the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo gave his seal of approval, it took off.

“It all started with Birthright” said Sumbry, referring to an annual celebration of African dance and drumming that his organization produces each year. “It became more than an event, but a portal of discovery, and over time it evolved into the tours and a partnership with African Ancestry so that when everything lined up, we had a full package ready for the people.”

The passing of the {H.R. 1242} was a catalyst for a number of important exchanges and activities that have taken place or will take place throughout the year.  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, went to Ghana last week. In addition, there is the “Jamestown-Jamestown Tour” which is focused on  the NAACP, and will travel from Jamestown, Virginia, to Jamestown,Ghana this August. Taking place on the actual date that the first ships carrying human cargo arrived, this tour like all of the tours that will happen this year, Is meant to honor those whose lives were irrevocably changed, and to welcome their descendants back to their continent of origin, forever changed but always connected.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

Black History

Amenhotep III: A Peaceful Reign in Ancient Egypt

Amenhotep suffered from severe dental problems, arthritis, and possibly obesity in his later years. After ruling Egypt for 38 years, he died in 1353 BCE.

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Stone image of Egypt’s King Amenhotep III. Wikipedia.org photo.

Tuthmosis IV left his son an empire of immense size, wealth, and power: the 18th Dynasty of Egypt.

At 12 years old, Amenhotep III (c. 1386–1353 BCE) came to the throne and married Tiye in a royal ceremony. Tiye, who was among several of Amenhotep’s wives, would bear seven children. However, immediately after the marriage she became the one—the great royal wife, an honor that her own mother-in-law never held. Tiye could then outrank her in courtly matters.

Although Amenhotep and Tiye were by today’s standards still in their youth, Egypt’s wealthy and powerful often ruled at an early age. According to Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, “Amenhotep III was born into a world where Egypt reigned supreme. Its coffers were filled with gold, and its vassals bowed down before the mighty rulers of the Two Lands [Egypt].”

After his marriage to Tiye, Amenhotep continued his father’s work in implementing new building programs throughout Egypt. During his reign, he ordered the construction of more than 250 buildings, temples, and stone slabs erected as monuments. All were immense in size and boasted intricate details. Today, the statues known as the Colossi of Memnon, are all that is left of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple. According to historians, Amenhotep envisioned an “Egypt so splendid that it would leave one in awe.”

A master of diplomacy, Amenhotep placed surrounding nations in his debt by giving them gold. Doing so encouraged loyalty and made them followers. These relationships soon grew profitable and his generosity to friendly kings became well established.

Amenhotep was known for his hunting skills which were noted in inscriptions: “the total number of lions killed by His Majesty with his own arrows, from the first to the tenth year [of his reign] was 102 wild lions.” He was also an adept military leader. Some historians say that he “probably fought, or directed his military commanders, in one campaign in Nubia and he had inscriptions made to commemorate that expedition.”

Many foreign rulers wanted Amenhotep to provide them Egyptian wives. Respecting the women of his land, he swore that “no daughter of Egypt had ever been sent to a foreign land and would not be sent under his reign.”
Amenhotep was also humble in his practice of the ancient Egyptian religion, which proved to be the foundation for his interest in the arts as well as construction. His greatest contribution to Egyptian culture was his ability to maintain peace and prosperity, which enabled him to devote his time to the arts.

Amenhotep suffered from severe dental problems, arthritis, and possibly obesity in his later years. After ruling Egypt for 38 years, he died in 1353 BCE.

Letters penned by foreign rulers expressed their grief and condolences to Queen Tiye. The letters confirmed that these monarchs hoped to continue the same good relations with Egypt under the new king as they had with Amenhotep III. With Amenhotep’s passing, his son, then called Amenhotep IV, began his reign.

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Black History

Freedom’s Journal: The First Voice of Black America

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

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Freedom’s Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, March 16, 1827. Courtesy Library of Congress (sn83030455).

It was 1827, a time when white publishers didn’t run obituaries of African Americans. Politics, sports, money and social issues were reported from the perspectives of whites only.

That same year, John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish founded Freedom’s Journal in New York City. It was the first black-owned and -operated newspaper in the United States. The days of major papers snuffing out the voices of Black America were ending.

The four-column weekly publication was printed every Friday. Stories covered foreign and domestic news, editorials, births and deaths in the local black community, weddings, advertisements, and notices for retailers and companies that did not discriminate. Featured were articles on countries such as Haiti and Sierra Leone.

To encourage Black achievement, it printed biographies of renowned Black figures such as Paul Cuffee, Touissant L’Ouverture and Phyllis Wheatley.

Also included were editorials expressing contempt of slavery, racism and other injustices suffered by Blacks. At the same time, many white papers openly supported slavery and racially biased acts. Boston writer David Walker, an agent for the paper, penned “David Walker’s Appeal,” dubbed the most radical of all anti-slavery documents. In it, he called for slaves to rebel against their masters.

According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm and Cornish placed great value on the need for reading and writing as keys to empowerment for the Black population and they hoped a Black newspaper would encourage literacy and intellectual development among African Americans.”

The publishers sought to broaden readers’ awareness of world events while acting as a beacon to strengthen ties among Black communities across the U.S. During the paper’s heyday, subscriptions were $3 per year and circulated in 11 states, the District of Columbia, Haiti, Europe and Canada.

In 1827, Cornish resigned from the publication, leaving Russwurm as the sole editor. Cited were differences regarding African-American colonization of Africa. According to Nieman Reports, “Russwurm had begun to promote the colonization movement led by the American Colonization Society, which wanted to free African-American slaves and offer them the opportunity of transport back to Africa.”

The newspaper’s position was unpopular with its readership. Subscriptions quickly declined. By March of 1829, the loss of circulation forced the paper to cease publication.

After the paper shut down, Russwurm emigrated to Liberia. It was the area established on Africa’s western coast to receive those recruited by the American Colonization Society. There, Russwurm became governor of Liberia’s Maryland Colony.

In 1829, Cornish re-entered the newspaper world with a goal to revive Freedom’s Journal, renaming it The Rights of All. But in less than a year, the paper failed. Freedom’s Journal had boasted a lifespan of two years. In spite of this short-lived history, its enormous impact on antebellum Black communities would live on as progress of the Black press continued.

Despite its troubles, Freedom’s Journal was instrumental in spawning other papers. Three decades later, more than 40 Black-owned newspapers were operating throughout the U.S. All 103 issues of Freedom’s Journal are available on the Wisconsin Historical Society website.

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Black History

DeBoraha Akin-Townson: Trailblazing Cowgirl

According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947.

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Rodeo is a sport in which cowboys and cowgirls showcase their skills in riding and roping. Its storied history has deep roots among many Blacks and Native Americans in the Midwest and South. 

Developed during the second half of the 19th century, events mainly took place in northern Mexico, the U.S., and western Canada. Despite the numbers of Black cowboys at that time, none were able to compete.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, weekend rodeos featuring Black cowboys began in the late 1940s, thanks to the formation of the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association in 1947. Many from this organization would eventually pass the torch to DeBoraha Akin-Townson.
Quickly rising in the sport, Townson not only picked up the torch but made history by becoming the 1989 International Professional Rodeo Association Western Region Champion and, in 1990, the first Black cowgirl to compete in the International Professional Rodeo finals in Tulsa, Okla. 

She is also the only Black woman to compete with a professional card in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events throughout the U.S.
Very little has been recorded about Townson’s life. What is known is that she is of Native American heritage (Cherokee and Arkansas Indian) and was born in Rockford, Ill. She is about 62 years old and still married to her long-time husband, Stewart Townson. Her all-time hero, she told Indian Rodeo News, is her “maternal grandmother, who taught me to please God first through obedience and discipline. She was a true Proverbs 31 woman, and I try with all that I am to model myself after the godly example that she showed me.”
In 1980, Townson attended her first rodeo in Hemet, Calif. That’s when her interest in participating in the sport’s professional ranks was piqued.
Her event of choice was ‘barrels,’ something she had enjoyed since she was a child. In this event, a horse and rider attempt to run a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. 

Participants in this women-only event are known for quick turns and high speeds. The winner is determined by thousandths of a second, and Townson was fast. Yet she joked about a time when her horse finished the race before she did.
“It wasn’t so funny when it happened,” she told Indian Rodeo News, “but it became something that I could laugh about later. I fell off the back of my horse trying to pick up the third barrel. My horse finished the pattern without me with the fastest time of the rodeo. The barrel was up, but since I wasn’t on him when he crossed the finish line, it was a [disqualification].”
Today Townson works as a horse-racing instructor and has passed her love of the rodeo down to her children. She advises all youth to “dare to not just dream but dream big and find a rodeo mentor to advise you and spur you on.”

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