Four hundred years ago, Africans were viciously snatched by European slaveholders. To mark this painful time in history, 2019 has been dubbed “The Year of the Return,” in which Black people from all over the world will journey back to the motherland.
Last week, a congressional delegation went to Ghana to observe the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans landing in America. Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the delegation included Majority Whip James Clyburn; the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Congresswoman Karen Bass; co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Congresswoman Barbara Lee; civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis; Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson; Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the first native-born African to serve in Congress; and several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Their voyage began with a visit to the U.S. Army Africa headquarters in Venice, Italy, where they received an in-depth overview of Army operations in Africa and other challenges that threaten the continent and global security and stability. That meeting was led by Maj. Gen. Roger Cloutier, who had conducted the investigation into the Nigerien ambush in which Sgt. La David Johnson and three other American soldiers were killed two years ago. La David was a Miami Gardens resident and a member of Wilson’s congressional district.
In Ghana, the delegation met with President Nana Akufo-Addo and senior cabinet officials. Speaker Pelosi’s office reported the group “discussed the importance of the U.S.-Ghana bilateral relationship, the need to leverage public-private partnerships, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and other mechanisms to increase manufacturing and production capability and mutually beneficial trade opportunities; and the importance of ensuring freedom of expression and the protection of human rights.”
The lawmakers also met with Ghanaian leaders and activists, as well as some women entrepreneurs.
“I was extremely impressed by the women entrepreneurs. They are building businesses for themselves as farmers through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program and using their revenues to not only help support their families, but to also ensure that their children are being properly educated,” said Wilson. “These visionary women are acutely aware of how important it is that girls, in particular, are able to pursue an education, and how that is critical for them as individuals and for the growth and stability of the entire African continent.”
The delegation met with tribal chiefs during a visit to the slave dungeons at Elmina and Cape Coast Castles and the “Door of Return,” where they observed “The Year of Return” and laid wreaths in remembrance of the millions of Africans who lost their lives and freedom in the transatlantic slave trade.
“That was an extremely humbling and cathartic experience that I will never forget. Like many people, I’ve read the history books and watched the films detailing the abominations that our African brothers and sisters were forced to endure, but going through ‘The Door of Return’ and entering those dungeons transports you back in time and their pain becomes palpable,” said Wilson. “The smells and visions of so many people crammed together were detectible and I am still haunted by the experience.”
The trip also shed a limelight on how small the world can sometimes seem. While in Ghana, Wilson ran into Maurice Jackson, a 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project mentee who graduated from Miami Lakes Educational Center in 2010. Maurice is a member of the U.S. Foreign Service in Ghana.
“He wore his Role Models’ signature red tie the whole time we were there. It has to be more than 10 years old, which signaled how special and important it and his Role Models experience still are to him,” said Wilson. “The entire trip was both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and I truly wish everyone could be so fortunate. Traveling with Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful woman in America, and Jim Clyburn, the most powerful Black man in America, certainly had its privileges and everyone rolled out the red carpet for us. I’ve been on several congressional delegation trips, this one ranks among the most memorable and moving.”