My life changed forever in 2018. That summer, I was selected to become a scholar with Birthright AFRICA, a non-profit with the mission of helping young people of African-descent to explore their heritage firsthand.
Prior to taking my Birthright, I felt bogged down by pent-up resentment and antagonism due to a history that it seemed like my people had no say in. For those of us in the diaspora, our history, according to the textbooks, starts with slavery. And as a Haitian, our glimmer of hope (The Haitian Revolution) is dulled by the following centuries of sabotage, occupation, embargoes, corruption and a myriad of other issues dictated by people who look nothing like me. I was doubtful and somewhat cynical about what the future held not only for me as an individual, but for Black people as a whole. I wondered if I could fulfill my potential in a world where my ancestors and their stories have been stifled.
But then I left for the trip. The first part of the Birthright experience was an exploration of African heritage right here in the U.S. This was significant in itself because it immediately instilled pride and confidence in us as scholars, as well as an entitlement to everything we were denied. Black Americans have made strides not because of graciousness or benevolence of others, but because of a consistent struggle towards freedom, justice, and self-realization. We were also exposed to Black entrepreneurs in a variety of fields who made themselves available to us and continue to support us in realizing our legacies of innovation. Our exploration finally culminated with our trip to Ghana, where we met some of the most genuine spirits who truly embodied a Pan-African spirit. Our exploration consisted of the same concepts we covered in the U.S., but now we got to visit the slave dungeons where it all began. Just above the Cape Coast Dungeons was a church where services were held regularly by the European traders.
We were all in a somber mood while exploring the horrid conditions on the tour, but what completely broke me down was walking through the Door of No Return, looking over the horizon of the Atlantic, and realizing that my ancestors had no idea where this ocean led when they were being packed onto the slave ships. Quite literally, the ability to determine their own fate and destiny was taken from them, a feeling that I and many of us in the diaspora still felt centuries later.
What brought me solace and a sense of inner peace that stays with me today, though, is recognizing that I was able to return. All the suffering and surviving that my ancestors experienced was not in vain, because here I was, standing in a place etched deep in our collective memory. And I got to interact with and network with Black innovators from across the diaspora who, through their efforts, were realizing a future where people like us could truly self-determine and restore our fate back into our own hands. In the words of Maya Angelou, we were “bringing the gifts that [our] ancestors gave,” realizing “the dream and the hope of the slave.”