Finding My African Idenity

Kobby Van Dyck, De Pauw University

There’s a great epidemic taking over my continent. It spreads so fast it makes Ebola’s effect look like child’s play. Many people have been infected with ‘afrostigmasomiasis’ without knowing it. The soul of Africa is dying. The people are killing it. My people seem to have forgotten what it means to be truly African; they seem to have forgotten what we are made of. I used to suffer this ailment.

Gaining admission to Mfanstipim School in Cape Coast, Ghana was one of the greatest milestones in my life; every male in my family had attended this secondary school and they looked to me to keep the tradition. I was beside myself with excitement when I got in. The feeling did not last. My first weeks in the school left me completely shocked, and heartbroken. Boarding school was literally the complete opposite of what I had imagined it to be. It was not a yearlong boy’s camp full of bonding, guy mischief and general teenage rebellion. It definitely wasn’t. I had gained admission into high school, but after three weeks of trying to remember every rule I was supposed to follow I could have sworn I was in the military. It was a trying experience. I tried to make myself happy by trying out for the school’s brass band since I love music. During auditions for the school brass band a senior invited me to a monthly Pan-African Youth Club meeting that was happening that night. I am naturally bad at rejecting invitations so I agreed to attend. To put it mildly, it was a thoroughly refreshing experience. And by thoroughly refreshing I mean I stepped into the meeting one person, and came out completely different. I became a member that very night.

Prior to my joining the club, my view of Africa as a continent was heavily media-influenced; I saw Africa only as a continent plagued with disease, poverty, economic instability, war and corruption. I hated the fact that I was born here and felt an inferiority complex to people from other continents; to me being African was a disadvantage. It meant I was assigned to a life of mediocrity and struggle. This might seem a very dire look at life on the continent, but it is sadly a view shared by a lot of Africa’s youth.

The Pan-African Youth Club changed that perspective. In our meetings we helped each other learn about Africa before, during and after colonization and the slave trade. We devoured all kinds of information. We studied the history and culture of countries. We analyzed news from all over Africa, about anything and everything. It was a beautiful learning experience. It took me out of the darkness of ignorance and taught me just how important information is.

We took trips out of the school as well. One of these trips led us to the Elmina Castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. The Elmina Castle served as a holding place for slaves that were to be transported off the coasts of Ghana and was very instrumental in the slave trade on the Gulf of Guinea. The tour guide took us through the Castle. As we passed small windowless cells that once held slaves, she told a painful, true story of our loss. Her story took us off the coasts of Ghana to cotton farms and plantations in the West. Her story changed from that of loss to that of victory and triumph. She changed from a story of enslavement to a story of liberation. That was when I realized the true African potential! Yaa Asantewa, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah and Celia were equally as brilliant as Pasteur, Newton, Buchner and Einstein; they all saw the needs of society and met them. I felt empowered and knew that I had the ability to make an impacting difference on the face of the earth; maybe to solve the problems of genetic disorders or cancer, it didn’t matter. I drew strength from the stories of men who had faced odds far worse than anything I can ever go through and still managed to come out victorious.

The Africa I see might be flawed but it is also beautiful, rich in culture and heritage and possesses a powerful history that this generation can be inspired by, and also learn from.