Why we (re)member
JACQUELINE IS A twenty-one-year-old Black female. She is introspective and soft-spoken, reflecting her modest, humble Christian upbringing where one speaks only when spoken to and lowers one’s eyes in the presence of elders. Her curly brown hair is often straightened or pulled back in a bun and dark- rimmed glasses frame her skin, the color of butterscotch. Often dressed in university apparel, she came to the university from a community college. When we first met, she was a junior studying early childhood education and minoring in sociology. Through much hard work on both of our parts, she received a scholarship that enabled her to study abroad in Ghana. That was the beginning of her transformative experience.
When Jacqueline shared with me the reasons she wanted to travel to Ghana, she raised her eyes and looked deeply into mine: She knew that the stories she’d heard about Black people—from continent to diaspora—did not accurately describe what she knew experientially in her bones. She had a spiritual longing to understand the deeper meaning of blackness and to understand herself as a Black person. “I have to go to Ghana. It’s a spiritual calling,” she said. “When you came into my . . . class discussing the Ghana study abroad trip, something told me that I needed to be on that trip to Ghana. As the only African American girl in that class, I knew that I would have a deep connection to Africa.”
When applying to study abroad, she spoke of the importance of being around other Black women as mentors and guides. In her view, this was critical to understanding herself as a Black woman teacher. But there was sadness on her face as we talked further. “I have never had a Black teacher,” she whispered. “But this trip would guarantee that I’d finally have an African American teacher (professor), a role model to look up to that looks like me, since there are so few.”
As might be imagined, experiences in Ghana were life- changing for Jacqueline, as demonstrated by this excerpt from her final paper:Ghana was so essential because I learned and found my identity through culture and history of my race. From exiting ‘The Door of No Return’ and coming back and entering through ‘The Door of Return’ I had proven that a descendant, at least one, could just briefly return to Africa, and that despite the cruel betrayals, bitter ocean voyages, and hurtful centuries, we were still recognizable. Despite the horrid, inhumane dungeons, I received the word, the connection of my people, healing my wounds of self- doubt and low esteem and feeling proud, having a sense of empowerment, and loving my blackness as a woman.
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Tikkun 2016 Volume 31, Number 4: 50-54