Category Archives: Africa

Orisha Priest Jaye Winmilawe’s Review of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

The rave reviews and accolades for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone have been many. And while I too appreciated the book, I did wonder how someone who practiced Orisha and came from the culture being represented would feel about it. And so I was very pleased to read Jaye Winmilawe’s insightful review in Africa Access Review. She begins:

Adeyemi’s ashe or power as a writer is expressed in the success of her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone. She was awarded a groundbreaking seven figure YA book contract and a movie deal, at 23 years old.  The book has been well received, note the numerous reviews and the NY Times Best Sellers listing for over 34 weeks (presently).  So, what new could another reviewer say about this work?

Not many can assess its representation of African Yoruba Orisha culture, history, diaspora and modernity. Thus, since I am a scholar, children’s book author, and priest of the Orisha (Yoruba and Africa), it’s fair that I chime in.  My own questions about this book upon it’s March 2018 launch were:  1. How does it represent Africa and the African Diaspora? 2. How does it represent the Orisha (Orisa) and Yoruba?  3. Is this book appropriate for my elementary school-aged children and/or their library?

I highly recommend her review (and, actually, all the Africa Access reviews).

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Sengbe Pieh (AKA Cinque) celebrated in Sierra Leone

This is so cool. When I was in Sierra Leone in the 1970s no one knew about the Amistad story. That has now changed and I saw mentions when I was there several years ago. Now there is this: a portrait of Sengbe Pieh (known as Cinque in the US) on the left side of the Big Market in Freetown, painted by Alusine Bangura. Thanks, Gary Schulze, for the photo.

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Learning About Africa: For Those Who Want to Know More After Seeing Black Panther

I was delighted with Black Panther for so many of the reasons articulated elsewhere. The one I want to highlight is the thoughtful representation of African culture. I admit I had been a bit wary about this going into the movie, being so aware of the ways the continent is regularly misrepresented, but I was impressed with the care taken, recognizing attire, jewelry, and more that identified specific ethnic groups of which I was familiar. The plot was fabulous — not being familiar with the Black Panther comic — all new to me. Wonderful characters and acting. All in all, the accolades are deserved.

One thing I’ve seen on some of my social media feeds is a wish to be more familiar with Africa. I’m glad to see that and want to share what I can to help. I’ve got a series called “Learning About Africa” that might be a start. Much of it relates to Sierra Leone (given my own time there), but not all.

Here are some recent pieces related to Africa and the Black Panther movie that I think are worthy reads:

 

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Indie Press Spotlight #4


Today I wish to spotlight a wonderful, authentic, and original series — Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus books published in the US by Kane Miller.  As she writes about herself, Atinuke was “…born in Nigeria to a Nigerian university lecturer father and an English editor mother…” and spent her early years in Nigeria before heading off to a British boarding school at age ten. As for the books themselves, she writes:

I had been meaning to write those stories for years – ever since the homesickness of my boarding school days when I discovered how little children in the UK knew about Africa and even more so as a story teller when it was clear from children’s questions how little they still knew about the Africa that I am from.

I absolutely adore these books (my gushing post from a few years back is here) and so am delighted that the final four of the chapter book series (there are also picture books) have just been published in this country. They are as warm, insightful, and real as the previous ones. The illustrations by Lauren Tobias complement the text to perfection. I have yet to come across any other books that provide younger American readers a better way to learn about one child in one place in “Amazing Africa” as Atinuke always begins these in her delightful storytelling voice.

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Learning About Africa: Sierra Leone, Mudslides, and Absent Media

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It is the rainy season in Sierra Leone. The country being close to the equator, these rains are intense and this year it has been worse than usual. Early on the morning of August 14th especially heavy rains caused dense flooding and then mudslides that killed hundreds and left hundreds more homeless in and around Freetown.

As soon as I heard of this I looked at my paper of record, The New York Times, and could find nothing when I searched. After a few hours there was a brief AP article. While I got my news of the disaster through other sources I continued to watch the Times because it showed what sort of priority they gave to this. Tweeted them to ask why not, but it made no difference. Eventually some articles appeared and have continued, but you have to look for them as they don’t show up on the front page or even in the World section of their app. (Here’s a good piece also wondering about the lack of world attention on this disaster: “400 dead. Hundreds missing. Where’s the world’s outcry for Sierra Leone’s mudslide victims?“)

Then, even more disturbing to me, my constant retweets and facebook shares of articles (from other news sources) were minimally retweeted, commented upon, or shared either. (My great thanks to those who did.) I’m not sure why not. Perhaps people just weren’t looking at these when they were posted. Perhaps facebook hides them if they are shares or retweets. I don’t know other than it reinforces my sense of how Africa simply doesn’t register in America. Why, why, why is this?

For those who don’t know much about what happened and is still happening in Sierra Leone here are some sources:

I was back in Freetown a few years ago, the first time since living there as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-70s, and spent time traveling with a former US ambassador who pointed out to me the deforestation (due to people needing wood to make charcoal), the out-of-control building on the hills impacting the watershed, and the huge increase of impoverished  inhabitants (who came during the war and never left) who have created new dense communities that are highly susceptible to any sort of disaster be it mudslides or Ebola. This is a vulnerable country that needs to be attended to. It is a country with strong historical connections to the US from the Gullah to the Amistad and more.

Horrible things are happening in the US right now. But horrible things are happening in other places too and we need to keep them in our thoughts too, learn about them, consider them, and remember them. It isn’t just the US. It isn’t just North America or Europe or Asia. It is the whole world.

I am a member of the Friends of Sierra Leone, a group consisting of former Peace Corps Volunteers like myself, Sierra Leonean nationals, and others who care about the country. We have a place for donations and you will see a note as to how the money is already on the ground with a local NGO doing good. The article, Sierra Leone Mudslides: How Can I Help?,  is an excellent article with links to various organizations doing good work in country.

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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth A. Odhiambo

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Set in a 1980s Kenyan Luo village during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Auma’s Long Run is a piercingly honest account of the struggles, pain, hardships, deaths, famine, and challenges faced by a determined young girl and her community with grace and fortitude. Debut author Eucabeth A. Odhiambo, who grew up in a Luo village, beautifully brings out the complicated ways thirteen year old Auma, her family, and neighbors cope with the scourge. Lack of resources, traditional practices, personalities, and more make this a riveting and complex read. While this is not a story that wallows in misery — Auma is too determined to ever give up — there are still many loses; in one case after the death of a friend’s parents, lack of food causes her little sister to die of malnutrition. How to get to the clinic to see a doctor, whether to consult with a traditional healer, where to get money for school fees and school uniforms, frightening cure mis-beliefs (one causing a man to threaten Auma sexually), and more swirl around this tale. Auma desperately wants to go to secondary school, to become a doctor, to then learn more about this disease and help find a cure. But her obstacles are daunting. Odhiambo relates Auma’s story in clear and direct prose, as practical and realistic as her protagonist. Her descriptions of Auma’s life are vivid and authentic, her scenes raw and real.  While there is indeed sorrow and sadness, there is also humor and joy. Highly recommend this one.

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Talking Race at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’m just back from a remarkable week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture where I participated in the workshop, “Let’s Talk: Teaching Race in the Classroom.” I learned about it in May when I was exploring the museum’s website after visiting and wanting to know more, more, more. This was the fifth summer of the workshop, but the first in the physical museum. And so, in addition to fabulous speakers and thoughtful activities, we had hours every day to explore the galleries, some of them before the museum opened. You can learn more about the workshop from this article by the wonderful museum educators who created and ran it — Candra Flanagan Coordinator of Student and Teacher Initiatives and Anna Hindley, Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator. I am so grateful to them for their passion, commitment, and hard work in creating this workshop and all the rest they do.

We were just under 40 folks — classroom teachers, museum educators, parents, and others who care deeply about learning more. It was a diverse group in terms of race, institution (some in independent schools like me, others in charters, and others in public schools of all kinds), age, and more. Having mostly done this sort of work at my school I appreciated enormously getting to know and hearing from those who were working in such a variety of situations yet care deeply as I do about doing better in terms of talking race with young people.

Presentations and workshops included:

  • “The Color Line,” a gallery activity led by Allyson Criner Brown of Teaching for Change.
  • “Bias in Childhood: When Does it Emerge and How Do We Reduce it?” a presentation by Melanie Killen.
  • “Middle Childhood & Teens” Cognitive Development, Racial Identity Development, & Talking About Race,” a presentation by Erin Winkler.
  • “Implicit Bias, Dominant Culture & the Effects on the Academic Setting,” a workshop led by Jane Bolgatz and Erica Colbin.
  • “Beyond the Classroom: Getting the Larger Community Onboard with Equity and Justice Work,” a presentation by Mariama Richards.
  • “Bridging the Racial Divide and Self Care,” a workshop by Hawah Kasat.

I was especially excited to reencounter Erica (she and I had been involved in a PD on introversion last summer) and Mari who, with her colleague at her then-school, Georgetown Friends, did a brilliant workshop at my school years ago. I appreciated tremendously the other presenters as well.

Additionally we had small group meetings (by the ages we teach), affinity groups (white/people of color), and time to informally chat and learn.

And then there was the museum itself. What a gift it was to have so much time to explore it, especially those morning times before the public came in. It is an extraordinary place and I urge all to go visit. (This requires commitment as the tickets are timed mostly — it was challenging to get them when I went the first time — but absolutely worth it.)  I spent the most time in the history galleries, especially the section devoted to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also found the Community and Culture galleries mind-blowing. The choice of artifacts, the careful and thoughtful text on the wall cards, the organization of the museum and exhibits — it is all outstanding.


I walked every morning across the mall from my hotel near the Air and Space Museum, using the Washington Monument as my landmark. The museum is the gorgeous building to the right.

We arrived early before the museum was opened. We were incredibly lucky to have the galleries almost to ourselves at that hour.

Here is the same view a few hours later. I loved also visiting the galleries when they were full, listening to the moving responses of visitors.

Excited to see these trading beads as I have some (from my time in Sierra Leone) just like them.

 

In my research for Africa is My Home I read that children were not shackled, but that was clearly not always the case as here are some for a child.

 

This is hard to see, but it is from a short film on slave factories and the one on the lower right is Bunce Island (in Sierra Leone)

The stone is from a slave market in the US.

 

Greatly appreciated the mention of the Amistad and Joseph Cinque.

 

Love the commitment to make the museum accessible for young children.

Tuskegee Airmen plane.

 

The following are from the Community Gallery

(Mrs. Reeve’s hat shop is beautifully recreated in the museum.)

Was very excited to see this as I’m assuming she is the model for the editor in Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods.

Nine of Carl Lewis’s Olympic medals. (The tenth was put in his father’s coffin.)

A few from the Culture Gallery

George Clinton and P-Funk’s Mother Ship!

 

 

Thank you so much to all who were involved in making this week possible, especially once again, Candra Flanagan, Coordinator of Student and Teacher Initiatives and Anna Hindley, Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator.

 

 

 

 

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