Love, Sankofa, and Ubuntu: How My Experiences in Ghana Are Preparing Me for Global Citizenship

Two distant worlds revolve around each other in the solar system of my being. From where I have come to where I will go, my soul shines light on them both. And now I know how to live in two places at once … by spreading my love. Deep in the heart of all Africans burns a light as bright as the sun, as bright as the land from which we come. This light is so bright that it heals my scars, only to reopen my wounds like a third eye to the truth: Our citizenship is our leadership, our leadership is our service, and our service is our love.

Love is the most powerful source of energy that this modern world lacks. Globally, my community is under attack … and so few feel a responsibility to change that. The few that do have transformed my entire worldview.

They have proved that any and every connection comes with a responsibility for the next. This connective responsibility is best described by bell hooks in her spiritual guide “All About Love: New Visions” when she writes, “The love we make in community stays with us wherever we go. With this knowledge as our guide, we make any place we go a place where we return to love.”

I am truly blessed to have been able to experience this return to Ghana. Oakland’s very own Black Panthers and Nima’s Spread Out Initiative have guided this process inside me in powerful ways. Their partnerships with their home communities and focus on youth as a manifestation of social change is real love. The Panthers’ free breakfast programs fed and educated my mother, who raised a daughter born ready to walk the lands of her ancestors. Now, in Ghana, my work with Spread Out Initiative and the youth of Nima has completely opened my heart to this same feeling my mother once felt in the presence of the Panthers. Love.

The most important thing I have learned while studying abroad in Ghana is that “Everything is Love.” This most recent Beyoncé album, alongside her entire career and every moment I spend in my motherland, has painted me this picture. Beyoncé’s creative and self-expressive form of evolutionary leadership was inspirational to me before I even knew I wanted to lead. Her music gives life to the world, to millions of aspiring Black girls who watch Beyoncé’s unparalleled success in admiration and with a growing knowledge that we can do anything we set our minds to.

Queen B masterfully samples a summary of my entire essay in the intro her song, “Black Effect”:  “It’s about sensitivity, it’s about passion, it’s about unconditional giving of self to another person. And, there’s love of humanity. That’s the love that is right now needed most, love of humanity. But in everything, in all of that love, there is soul.”

This song and many more capture the power of a true artist. To unapologetically share their soul with the world. To prophesy, to comment, to change society through their creativity. It is this powerful ability of the artist that feeds my understanding of how African art will continue to make the world a better place. I believe the creator of the universe is an artist, and that my life is the greatest love poem I will ever read. I believe hip hop pumps through my veins as seriously as my own blood and that the original liberators of the sound are looking down at me now, proud. Courses I have taken at the University of Ghana, such as the literature of the Diaspora and the history of Pan-Africanism, have further informed these beliefs and pushed me to practice them.

These experiences have lead me to lead the Pan-African Art collective: a multi-dimensional artistic collaboration of creative perspectives on Pan-Africanism, Blackness, Africa, and everything in between. An intentional weaving of Black visual, physical, musical, digital, lyrical and spiritual art. A curation of Pan-African art to be shared with the purpose of promoting consciousness, self-expression and education among African youth. An internationally unified opportunity for Black creatives to be celebrated and appreciated for the activists they are – and further connected to the communities they were made to move.

Through team building and brainstorming with local creative leaders, this dream of mine has already begun to come to life. I have met the most amazing, talented, vulnerable artists in Ghana that have inspired me to reconnect with my creativity and share it with my community. I have also watched them struggle and hustle to balance their passion and their financial responsibilities in a culture that undervalues performance art. For these reasons and more, my newfound artistic family and I have come together to build a new future for ourselves and the Diaspora. It is through my experiences of this project’s manifestation with creative Pan-African workshops for Ghanaian youth that I have come to experience another great truth.

Ubuntu. A mind is like a garden, with seasons and seeds of conscience. On mine, there are still waters. Once centered, I float unaltered. Unfiltered, I water myself and remain patient. I’ve been slowly realizing how I know myself is ancient. My family tree grows deeper than I can imagine. The love they have for me goes further than I can fathom. Beyond the clouds, beyond the skies and beyond the stars. On the still waters of my mind is where I see the truth that is me. I am because we are.

Ubuntu is a foundational ideology in Huey P. Newton’s autobiography “Revolutionary Suicide,” as he says, “I, we, all of us, are the one and the multitude.” Revolutionary Suicide is the reason we say that Kwame Nkrumah never died. Tupac, Patrice Lumumba, Huey P. Newton, Harriet Tubman, Emmett Till, and millions more died but never left our sides. They planted seeds in our minds that grew into great trees of knowledge, a forest of our own freedom. It is only by standing on the shoulders of my ancestors that I am able to witness the life changing views of Ghana daily. And it is only by pouring my whole being into the betterment of others that my dreams of liberation and unity will find eternal life.

Because of Ubuntu, I will never forget the day I learned the term Sankofa. I was stressed that day, a full-ride scholarship kid at a majorly white school trying to find myself and my purpose in a place where my soul was not reflected. My intro to Africana Studies course with Dr. Reddick was the most powerfully Black space on my campus at the time. It was there that I first watched the film “Sankofa” and learned the importance of what it means to go back and retrieve something you may have lost. Understanding the divinity of my lineage and all the backs that broke but still rose for me to stand where I am now, I found a new quest for African knowledge that eventually lead me to Ghana. I became the symbolic bird that reaches its neck around to see the egg on its own back. Even in the process of making it to Ghana, I was supported by beautiful souls whose dreams were my own. When I broke down crying in my Grandma Neomia’s arms, afraid that I could not make enough money with my three jobs to pay for a round-trip flight to Ghana, she looked me in the eyes and did not hesitate to share her savings. She showed me pictures of her time spent in Egypt when she was my age, of her being beautiful and bright under the African sun. She told me she had been saving since then for this exact moment, and I felt the realest love this world has to offer once again. From home to Ghana, I have been blessed to be able to witness the action of love: service and sacrifice for the joy of others. These moments and mentors have been subtly leading me to Ghana and my global citizenship since before I was born.

Once in Ghana, I had to unlearn and re-learn many ways of life. I had to realize that the raft is not the shore – that the patterns and behaviors of survival I learned through early age trauma in the states cannot compare to the true love my creator blesses me with daily.

The family culture in Ghana is something I easily identified with, since my own is so close. I had always felt as though the sister of my mother is my mother or that my cousins are really my sisters and brothers. Every day in Ghana, my soul was opened to an even deeper and more national understanding of Black love. Strangers transformed into family as they referred to me as their daughter or sibling, and I in return referred to them as my family, me abusua. I began noticing how Ghanaians greet each other, always smiling, touching, asking how the other is doing and genuinely caring about that answer. I swear, I have received more loving eye contact in about six months here than I ever received on my home campus in the past three years. These daily experiences have opened my eyes to the depth of humanity, the reality that each one of us holds a soul as complex as the next. We all have a story to tell, a dream to achieve, a love to give. It is in recognizing this that I have deepened my respect and care for my ancestors and the entire African Diaspora. It is more than our shared struggle that brings us together. It is our celebration of life, our self-definition through creative expression and the all-powerful love that we can have for one another.

I really do not believe that I can fit my experiences in Ghana and how they have shaped me as a global citizen in 2 million words, much less 2,000. In short, here are the few crucial things I have learned through life here. Our youth holds the answers to our future. We must love them, actively, to properly guide them in bringing those answers out. Connectivity through love is the truest unity. Life overflows with divinity … and once you feel enough divine love from the universe, you will feel the need to reciprocate it. Reciprocal love for the world is what makes me a global citizen. Feeling the changes in myself as a reflection of the need for a change in the world is what makes me a global leader. I am grateful to Ghana, to my ancestors, and to you all for helping shape my story. It is up to each and every one of us to spread love.

This award-winning essay was originally written for the Aya Centre’s Third Triennial International Education Conference Essay Contest. Chasejamison is donating her contest winnings to the Spread Out Initiative, a Ghana-based nonprofit that supports children and youth through critical thinking, fine arts, media and new technologies, and the promotion of digital entrepreneurship.

Chasejamison Akilah Manar Spears is studying sociology, cultural proficiency and leadership. She is studying at the University of Ghana for the entire academic year.

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