on commented about AFRICAN LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

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Warm them up with Omar’sALA impersonation. Humour lightens the weight of the truth. Give fair warning if previous speaker sets a different atmosphere. Tone is reflective, raw, and vulnerable.

Cornel West said “To niggerize a people is to make them afraid and ashamed and scared and intimidated, so that they are deferential to the powers that be.”

Malcolm X said that “the best thing that a person can be is sincere”. Tell your truth. Avoid the lies. Avoid the hypocrisy. Give that fearless, frank, plain, and unintimidated speech. For oppressed or historically marginalized peoples, this is one of the hardest things to do, and it’s a practice. For the next generation of African individuals, it’s neo-colonialist institutions like these that will be the backdrop for your truth-telling. Some of you will feel like tumours and cancers in these host bodies especially when you’re just keeping it real, trying to live a life of integrity. In speaking your truth sincerely you allow us the opportunity to transform, you trust us to contend with your reality rather than masking it in lies or shiny marketing. Which brings us to ALA.

Good Afternoon Academy, my name is _____________. I am originally from Togo, grew up in Colorado, with an American accent, American passport, and an expiring South African visa with a Togolese birth certificate.

I say it that way to acknowledge some of the privilege and biases I bring to this space but also because some of you have complex stories and complex answers to the question where are you from? And like me your identity is in a constant state of tension, of living in between cultures. Your understanding of what peoples you come from, what history of resistance you come from...your understanding of those tensions has deep repercussions for your definition of success.

West said “If your success is defined as being well adjusted to injustice and well adapted to indifference, then we don’t want successful leaders. We want great leaders--who love the people enough and respect the people enough to be unbought, unbound, unafraid, and unintimidated to tell the truth.”

Just like when you returned home after ALA. They can just tell there's something different about you. You’ve garnered an extra layer of Mzungu. They look at you differently don’t they? You’ve picked up another tension.

ALA is a place of many tensions. One tension that I've always picked on, that we will whisper about in our corners...is the tension between a vision for pan-African liberation and our Americanized influences, mind-sets, doctrines, funding, forms of leadership and management. Some of us call it the American African Leadership Academy. And as an Americanized African, I'm too conscious of America as the world's most imperialist nation. Second only to perhaps the original imperial gangstas...Great Britain. So I’m weary of having those mind-sets unchecked especially for a pan-African project of this nature, it’s a dangerous flirtation with a form of neo-colonialism. But is it really a choice? I've asked the same question, why is an American heading this institution? Do the home-grown Africans have power and agency? Do you know how few places in this world exist where you can see dignified African men and women leading their own? Who designed the cathedral and who gets to own the vision? Who is comfortable and who must adapt? My worry isn’t out of disrespect to Chris. You could get a CEO or a Dean darker than me, the next one can even be African, it’ll help me symbolically but my worry is by the time we step out of this American phase of ALA, the systems and structures will be too deeply entrenched. Especially when you realize the disregard we have for operating with a critical perspective on diversity and inclusion. Systems are inherently selfish and perpetuate themselves.

You will return from your studies in University and will have to navigate the same hypocrisies and tensions I’m talking about, while trying to stay true to your authentic self. This is why you must develop such a strong sense of self rooted in your people's history and heritage of struggle/resistance, develop a love for your name and languages deeper than your fear of making them uncomfortable, such a deep love for your people, their accent, their capacities, that yes even in your universities in America, UK, France or Cape Town, you stand rooted in an African ethos willing to listen but also willing to speak your dignified unintimidated truth. Develop the type of supreme love you show in those cultural exchange nights, it rejects self-hatred.

Mandela said “Teach the children that Africans are not one iota inferior to Europeans”. Go to the universities you want to go to. Keep your heart close to the pulse of social misery and savage inequality in those countries and the countries you come from. You’ll be exhausted but once you’re really in between two or three cultures, I hope you’ll understand why we haven’t the time for another century of avoiding painful truths.

You’ll see some of us as not radicals preaching hate or black arrogance, but beings with a deep deep love for our people. You’ll see us as not anti-Western or anti-American but simply committed to being anti-violence and anti-hypocrisy. And you’ll actually start to find joy in making people and their conformist systems uncomfortable. You’ll tap into that rage. And your love will deepen.

The arrogance of this institution is one I’ve never experienced before. I think from the founders down, there is this trickle down “intoxication with our own ego”. And I’m forever thankful for this experience. It was good to see so many examples of what I was in danger of becoming and few examples of dignified African men and women willing to choose their own paths. I didn’t think it was possible, but you have further radicalized me and have really solidified the need to not just talk but to do. A sincere thank you to the students I had the privilege of teaching and coaching and living with. Especially those of you who really resonated with wanting to do things differently. The Afropolitans, Afrofuturists, Afropunks, Afrocentrists, Pan-Africanists.

You’ve got to find those social justice folk and you’ve got to hold on to them. You don’t have to settle for these diluted models or settle for constantly asking permission to be you. We can rise together. And I hope by the time you’re out of university I’m in a position to help you and you are in a position to help me. The revolution will not be funded. We need our own networks of financial, emotional, and spiritual support.

I’ll conclude by remixing brother Cornel West: “To niggerize a people is to make them afraid and ashamed and scared and intimidated, so that they are deferential to the powers that be.

[If we wish to transform the current world order], A niggerized people must be dignified. And if they are dignified in the right way...that allows them to think for themselves and work for themselves in the name of self-respect and self-determination. This is required if African freedom is not to be a dream, if African history is not to be a curse, if African hope is not to be a joke and if being African is not to be inferior.”

The vision doesn’t belong to the CEO, the Ex-Co or the Chair of the Board any more than the security guard who sits idly for 8 hours or the disempowered faculty member staring at those lesson plans. There is a social movement abound which we are disconnected from in this apolitical neutral bubble that glorifies the hell out of itself. I thought I was coming to help build the ALA Biko or Malcolm would have attended. I’m going to go back to Colorado where I’m local to and try to build that vision for education while I’m still stubbornly idealistic and before spaces like these take that revolutionary fire from me. My mother and baby brother are moving back to Togo in the next three months so I will still be in between. I want to do work on our continent, but next time I hope to find the right people, the right values and mind-sets. I’ve invested that hope in some of you, especially those of you I taught. Nothing would make me happier than to one day serve one of my students’ projects whether it’s Haby’s hair care products or Umaimah’s Inclusive Animation or Beauclaire’s Billion Dollar Idea. We have to grow together and not give in to the seduction of individualism. I hope you’ll call.


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