I took my first trip to Africa in 1995 under the guidance, advice, and leadership of the late Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder and president of Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History. At the time, I was freelancing for various rags in Chicago and nationwide. Dr. Burroughs was a commissioner on Chicago’s Park District Board, having been appointed in (about) 1984 by the also late Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. I had met her when I wrote a profile of her for Essence Magazine (unpublished). From the first day we met, she'd been after me to go to Africa. "Herb, why haven't you been to the Motherland?" she would pester me. In retrospect, my stock answer was really stupid. "Well, 'Doc,'" I said. "Africa is too far, too expensive...and too black."
However, she finally convinced me to take a 10-day tour of Ghana and Senegal on the West Coast at a deep discount through DuSable Museum's travel agent. My life has never been the same. That trip, that experience – for only 10 days, mind you – brought home to me what being an “African American” (the term was not yet popular) in a European country was all about.
For example, as Dr. Burroughs and I stood at the top of the jet-staircase, we looked out and across at the airport, the buildings, the people. With a wave of her hand, she said, “Herb, look there…and there...what do you see?”
We’d just flown non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean in a Ghana Airways (Air France-contracted) Boeing 737 . It was piloted, co-piloted by two African men. We hd boarded the wide-bodied aircraft at New York"s JFK International and it was filled to capacity (200-plus) with white, black, brown and yellow people from each of the four corners of this earth. The jet was serviced by an all-African flight crew (male and female). It was one of the most, if not the smoothest flight I have flown -- ever. Ou r flight took place over night, so I could not see the ocean below; but Dr. Burroughs, writer, artist, teacher, all-round bon-vi-von,, made sure I understood that we were tracing the tortuous path of an earlier voyage, the horrendous Middle Passage – in reverse.
We landed just as warm and inviting African sun rose up to meet us. I stood there, looking out across the tarmac at people…busy people…as busy as at any airport where I’ve ever landed. I saw high rise buildings, low rise buildings. Traffic "circles." Big jets and piper cubs jockeying into takeoff and landing positions. Trucks and automobiles. Damn, I thought. This is just like Chicago.. Except as I looked over the tops of the buildings, I saw that the entire place was surrounded by the greenest trees on this planet, most towering at 100 feet and more, gently...oh so gently swaying, bowing, as though conveying blessings to all assembled.
“What do you see, Herb?” she asked again. I was lost, trying to soak it all in. This time her question shook me out of my reverie.
At last, because we were holding up the people behind us – the whole planeload of folk, I glanced backwards, then looked at "Doc." I said, “Black people.” Just the faintest smile creased her face. Indeed, except for those on the plane with us, there were no white people or Europeans anywhere to be found. Yet, everybody in front of us, from the luggage guys to the uniformed security people, were going about their business as though the total absence of white folk was no big deal. These people had a certain attitude: Of course, we know how to do this. We were doing this and much more while Europeans were still trying to figure out how to subdue the cave lion and the cave bear. Hell, the Greeks came here to learn arithmetic and geometry at Alexandria Library. Socrates, Herodotus, Pliny, the whole gang. That’s the feeling I got. An indescribable, intangible, untouchable thing. Pride, I guess.
When Italian Americans go to Italy. When Irish Americans go to Ireland. When Polish Americans go to Poland. When German Americans go to Germany. When American Jews go to Israel/Palestine.. Well….you get the picture.
“How does it feel to be in the majority for a change?” was Dr. Burroughs’ quiet question-statement.
Finally, to all Black or African Americans who might read this: If ever you get the chance, go to the real Homeland. Do not hesitate. Just go. It will change your life. Do not be dissuaded by the distorted bias of American (or European) “news” media, including books, magazines, TV, or the net. Go and see for yourself…with your own eyes and brain.
You will never look at white people the same way again. You will never look at black people the same way again.
Since that first trip, I have now travelled to Africa every year God has allowed me to know. Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Morroco, South Africa, Tanzania, Angola.
And for those haters out there, for those willfully ignorant folk who cannot accept other peoples on their own terms, (you know, the "love it or leave it" types), well... you win. Yes, I plan to retire soon to a beachfront home, overlooking the Atlantic, and each morning face west to a horizon across which stands a blood-soaked land filled with folk who, to this day, still refuse to acknowledge the humanity of anyone who does not "look" like them; who refuse to accept or acknowledge the African contient as the original and always homeland of us all.
But I am already ready, and have been ready for years and years to make this move. I am going to a place where I will be welcomed home as a long lost, returning uncle, father, cousin, friend, brother.