Girl Rising: Reflections on Ghana, Cape Coast Castle, and my very own existence

IMG_0232I used to think that living in America was reparation enough. But, after visiting West Africa, by way of Ghana, I am not so sure. (I know that’s kind of a loaded sentence. Hear me out please.) 

I recently spent two weeks in Ghana. It was my first time on the continent of Africa. It was the first time parts of my soul that I didn’t realize existed felt at home. I began my experience in Accra, where I stayed for four days before traveling to Tanoso, Kumasi, Ghana. In Kumasi, I spent 8 days working at the John Williams Montessori School through Voices of African Mothers. I played with children, critiqued math curricula, painted sensory learning aides on walls, and fell in love with the town of Kumasi and the spirit of the Ghanaian people. 

It is an interesting experience to be a Black American in Africa. For the first time, I was in place/space where everyone else sort of looked like me-which doesn’t happen that often in America. But, I was at the same time the oddball out. I am not African. I am not even truly American (at least not indigenously.) I am a hybrid of the two worlds. I am a Black or African American.

This duality and the obvious ancestral connections to the continent made traveling to Ghana an especially poignant experience. I felt, and feel a kinship with the people I met there. I never felt unsafe, undesired, or out of place. The innermost parts of who I am knew instinctively that they were at home. But, I know that Africa, Ghana, is not my “home.” I was even told that I “was lucky to be a Black American.” An African friend I made during my time in Kumasi told me that. I’m just not sure that I fully agree. I would be lying if I said that I’m not glad to live in America, that I identify as an American and am proud of my country. But, there are parts of her past and even current policies or ideals that I have not made my peace with yet. 

The Transatlantic Slave trade took place officially for almost 200 years. In this time, it has been estimated that up to 26 million Africans were taken from their homeland to the Americas and Caribbean. I am a descendant of these people. I have benefitted from their suffering, from the immense cruelty they experienced.

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During my time in Ghana, I was able to visit Cape Coast Slave Castle. (Why a place that engaged in such abhorrent activities was deemed a castle I will never know.) At the Castle, you are taken on a guided tour through the structure. This means going down into the male and female slave quarters, the cells they threw them in if they were deemed “rebellious,” and walking through the “door of no return.”

As a person of untraceable African heritage, this experience was extremely hard for me. At first, I was not sure how I felt. At different points during the tour I was angry with white people. At other points during the tour I cried. I came to terms with my history, my very existence, on that hallowed ground. I wept for my ancestors who were kept in shackles and left to urinate and menstruate all over each other in cramped rooms with little to no light or ventilation. I wept for those who died, never making it to the “New World” and never again seeing their families. I wept for the fear they felt as they were marched through the “Door of No Return” to a foreign land where they were treated no better than chattel. I wept and I wept and I wept. I told my ancestors I loved them. I told them I was thankful. I told them I honor them. I told them I was sorry. And they told me they love, honor, are thankful for, and proud of me right back.

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For you see I am the dream and the hope of the slave. Out of the feces and cruelty of slavery – I rise. And by pouring libations for my ancestors at Cape Coast Castle, I honored them. I became their vessel home. And, in doing so, I will carry their spirit forward with me in all that I do in an extremely palpable way.

When I say that living in America might not be reparations enough, I say that to say, that only by truly facing where I came from at that “castle,” did I come to terms with who I am and all that makes up my existence. So maybe instead of reparations, the US government should sponsor trips to West Africa for all African slave descendants so they too can come to terms with their place in the universe.

I am a Black American. I am West African. I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I have poured my libations. I have come home. I have made peace in my soul. I have brought my ancestors home.

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I have risen. I will rise. 

xoxo, 

Gabrielle 

From New York with Love: Goodnight and Goodluck

One’s life and passion may be elsewhere, but New York is where you prove if what you think in theory makes sense in life. Miuccia Prada

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I was offered my summer internship position in December and accepted in April. So, I knew that I was coming to NYC for the summer while it was still Ithacating and polar vortexing. Most of the time, when I thought about what my summer would be like, I was excited. But, in the last few days before it was time to leave home and travel to New York, I was so nervous. I asked myself so many questions. How am I going to figure out the subway? Will I have any fun? Will I like or be good at my job? New York is so big won’t I just get swallowed up? It got so bad that at one point I couldn’t really sleep I was just so nervous. But, June 1st came and I boarded my plane.

You see, I have been a lot of places and I have done a lot of things- but coming to NYC just felt like a bigger deal. I’ve been to Europe by myself, at 16 for peets sake, but was freaking out over New York City. (I don’t understand my logic either.) Anyway, I think it was such a big deal because I had all of these ideas about what New York City would be like in my head based upon what I had seen in movies and things my friends who live here told me. New York City is a place that makes or breaks people daily…I was afraid I might end up broken too.

photo 4(1)But, I didn’t! I survived. I thrived. I had a great time. I LOVED my job and produced work that will be used by national non-profits and leaders across the country. I helped facilitate a social media campaign. I went to the White House Summit on Working Families and saw both Barack and Michelle Obama speak in the same day. I laughed with friends. I ate Juniors & Magnolia Bakery. I went to the MET on a rainy day all by myself. I spent some days inside all day watching Netflix. I hung out with friends on rooftops. I got lost on the subway, but I eventually found where I was going.

Civil Rights Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It was focused on the intersection between Art & Activism.

Civil Rights Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. It was focused on the intersection between Art & Activism.

I figured it out. I figured it out. I spent my summer in New York City, one of the world’s largest and greatest cities and I figured it out.

Make your mark in New York and you are a made man. Mark Twain

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They say if you can make it in New York City, then you can make it anywhere. So… I guess I can make it anywhere now!

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years. Tom Wolfe

NYC gave me something this summer, a piece of myself I had lost or didn’t even know that I had. I’m not quite sure. I feel confident. I feel like myself. I know that the life I want to live is possible because I had a taste of it this summer. It’s filling on the one hand and makes me hungry on the other. I’m eager to get back to Cornell and to finish up my degree so that I can be one step closer to being the person I want to. New York City has made me believe in possibility again – anything and everything is possible here, anywhere really.

Washington Square Park's Arch. It reminds me of the Arc de Triomphe.

Washington Square Park’s Arch. It reminds me of the Arc de Triomphe.

So, I did it and now it’s time to be off to the next adventure. I have a few more days here before I board a plane to Ghana! But, I don’t think that my story with NYC is over. I think a few more chapters will be written in time.

Thanks for making me a believer again… I was happy here.

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xoxo,

Gabrielle

Make It To Me x Sam Smith

Why is it that moving on, or moving forward to so hard? It’s like the second you get happy in your new space you’re reminded of what you lost or left behind?

Anyway. I’ve been obsessing over Sam Smith lately so I thought I’d share one of my favorite songs by him with you all. I hope you enjoy. And, I look forward to the day you ‘make it to me’.

 

xoxo,

Gabrielle

Conscious Lover

“You deserve a conscious lover. Someone who will not only know your favorite color or flower, but when to offer words in your rage, or the strongest embrace when no words will do.

You deserve a conscious lover. Someone who will not only work with you but for you. Work for your happiness when you’ve forgotten how to create it.. work for your smile when your lips won’t curve.

You, my dear, deserve a conscious lover that couldn’t imagine being anything else.” 

 

A quote my friend shared that I love.

xoxo,

Gabrielle

On leaving home.. and rarely coming back..

This is me, rappelling down the side of a 14th century fortress in Assisi, Italy at the age of 16.

This is me, rappelling down the side of a 14th century fortress in Assisi, Italy at the age of 16.

The following article perfectly explains why I left Michigan for college 2 years ago. It explains why I’m rarely home. It explains why I try to leave the USA as often as I can. It explains why I’m interested in making ties to as many places -pieces of land- as possible. It explains why I believe in wandering. And, it explains why home is such a fluid concept for me.

http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/way-free-drop-everything-move-city-one-knows-name/666100/

Michigan will in so many ways and for so many reasons always be home to me. I grew up there. My family is there. I fell in love for the first time there. There are so many people who have pieces of my heart in that state…

But I have always wanted more for myself than just my own backyard. I’ve always felt, even as a child, that I was destined for more. I’ve always felt like I had things do for the whole world. And even when I’ve doubted those feelings, I have received confirmation of them time and time again.

Walking in that knowledge and not fighting it is a whole different beast.. but, I’m working on it.

I’m hardly home, but always reppin. I believe in wandering and getting lost. I aspire to touch as many places on the globe as I can before I die. I’m interested in making ties with as many places as possible. My latest goal is to hit two more continents before I graduate because then I will have been to all of them except Antarctica. (Also let’s talk about how excited I’m getting for my Ghana trip in two weeks.. Oh my gosh I’m going to the Motherland.)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

 

Each place I go, each trip teaches me something about myself, the world, and my place in it. Being a wanderer has worked out pretty well for me so far, so I think I’ll keep at it.

xoxo,

Gabrielle

 

 

The Pursuit of MY Happiness

The only thing I have to do right now as a 20 something in NYC for the summer or at Cornell as a student is properly pursue my passions and the things that make me happy.

I’ll be ignoring anything that threatens my joy from here on in.

Good things are coming. Wait on it.

xoxo,
Gabrielle