Americans have recognized black history annually first as Negro History Week and later as Black History Month. Although blacks have been in America at least as far back as colonial times, it was not until the 20th century that they gained a respectable presence in the history books. The African Executive team talks to Rev. Richard Chapel, a church Minister in the US and Sabella Abidde, a student in the US.
Q. How significant is this month to Blacks?
Rev. Chapel: February was chosen as Black History Month because the birthdays of the esteemed black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, and the celebrated black poet, Langston Hughes, fall during that month. It is also the month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. It just so happens that February is the shortest and one of the coldest months of the year. Essentially, I think, black history week/month was started with good intentions but as in many cases the saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" applies. Part of the aim of Black History Month is to expose the harms of racial prejudices and to cultivate self-esteem among blacks, following centuries of socio-economic oppression, which still exist today. The Month still sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one people’s skin color.
Q. How has it changed your situation since inception?
Rev. Chapel: It has not changed my situation. The same racial and social in-justices it speaks against are still very much alive, and I would even say even in the church world today.
Q. In what ways have blacks contributed to the success of the US?
Sabella: African-Americans have contributed in equal amount to the success of the United States. They have done as much as White and Hispanic Americans. Africans (Sub-Saharan Africans) are also doing their best to the contribution of this great country.
Rev. Chapel: In 1989, Virginia became the first state in US history to elect a black governor, Douglas Wilder. In 1992 Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois became the first black woman elected to the US Senate. In 2001 there were 484 Mayors and 38 members of Congress. The Congressional Black Caucus serves as a political bloc in Congress for issues relating to African Americans. The appointment of blacks to high federal offices-including Colin Powell (chairman of the Joint Staff 1989-1993), Ron Brown (secretary of commerce, 1993-1996), and Supreme Court Justice-Clarence Thomas, demonstrates the increasing power of blacks in the political arena. Powell was followed by Condoleezza Rice. This contribution was also in Music Dance, Literature and Visual Arts.
Q. Name any three successful black role models in the US who have inspired you.
Sabella: None! All my role models are Africans living -- or who lived -- in Africa. I however do admire and have high regard for several African-Americans such as Ambassador Edward Perkins, Dr. Cornell West, Dr. Betty Harris, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Dr. Gibor Basri among others.
Rev. Chapel: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, W.E.B BuBois.
Q. In what manner have they inspired you?
Sabella: They have done it through their writings, deeds and pronouncements; and also though their service to the nation and to humanity.
Rev. Chapel: They were and are All they could Be.
Q. What factors hinder black economic advancement in the US?
Sabella: There are several factors. They include lack of formal (requisite) education; Institutional and individual racism; lack of opportunity; lack of access to loans and Mental blockage.
Rev. Chapel: Human beings will always see differences pretending it is not there as opposed to confronting it. It is foolish to placate people with a month of ‘good’ black people.
Q. In what way has the welfare system helped destroy or build the African society?
Sabella: Welfare has its advantages and disadvantages. It can build and can also destroy the individual and the family system.
Rev. Chapel: It has made a race of people handicapped and without self esteem.
Q. How can Africans in Diaspora be made to connect with their fellow blacks in Africa?
Sabella: Through several ways. They can engage in transnational migration; remittances; be involved in cross-national organizations; transfer of knowledge and foreign direct investment; and involvement in cultural and scientific exchanges.
Rev. Chapel: Africans should open up the citizen requirement and begin to promote a campaign to encourage their brothers and sisters to come home.
Q. What would you advise Africa on wealth creation?
Rev. Chapel: Africans should seek education and look to themselves for solutions to their problems.
Q. “Obama for US President!” is the current slogan in some African countries. How would the ascension of a Black President to power change the African lot?
Rev. Chapel: If Obama becomes President, which I do not think he will, deals will be cut but he will not see it at this time.
Q. Are you proud to be African? Why?
Sabella: Most Africans don’t know it yet; but the reality is that nothing beats being an African. True, our history and collective experiences puts us at a disadvantage but in the long run however, Africa will come on top. Africa’s ascension may not happen in my life time…perhaps one hundred and twenty-five years from now… but it will be a world leader. I am hopeful.
Rev. Chapel: Yes, I am proud to belong to a wonderful continent of wonderful people who have so much to offer the world.