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Marcel with the Black Men’s Maroon Space in Ghana

Akwaaba! A Community Organizer Finds a New Sense of Belonging with Trip to Ghana

Have you ever had a truly transformational experience that shifted your perspective on life? For many people, traveling to a new place can offer just that. For me, a recent trip to Ghana proved to be much more than just a vacation to a foreign country.

It was a homecoming.

As many people know, I’m a Black community organizer. That means I have a deep commitment to social justice and the liberation of my community, as well as all people of color.

I’m passionate about ending systemic racism. I’ve dedicated my life to advocating for communities most impacted by inequity and for young people who others have given up on. I’m also on a mission to fight back against police brutality and the criminalization of the Black community at large.

But that’s the part you probably notice when you see me at a meeting or a rally or when I’m out in the streets. What a lot of people don’t see is the burnout and trauma that often comes with this social justice work.

During my trip to Ghana, I found myself unexpectedly undergoing a spiritual awakening that helped me understand and connect with my heritage in ways I never thought were possible. I’d like to take a moment to share that experience with you.

Several months ago, one of my organizing brothers in the movement, Brandon Sturdivant, reached out to several Black men who work with the Faith in Action network across the state. He offered us an opportunity that we couldn’t refuse.

Brandon started an organization called the Black Men’s Maroon Space, and it serves as a safe haven for formerly incarcerated Black men and other Black men who are leaders in the social justice movement to come together and support one another. Similar to the maroon communities that escaped slavery during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and formed close-knit communities to support themselves, the Black Men’s Maroon Space is an opportunity for Black men to get free: free from our personal trauma and free from the harms that this country’s social, economic and political systems often bring to our community.

The organization also gives Black men the space to examine our social conditioning, transform our thinking and increase our capacities as organizers and leaders. The goal is to understand that, as we heal and grow as individuals, the relationships with our families, our communities and the entire movement can experience joy and win liberation for all oppressed people.

Within the Black Men’s Maroon Space, I participated in several dialogues and retreats. The whole experience ended with a trip to Africa.

We spent 11 days in Ghana, where we visited Cape Coast, Kumasi and Accra. We also stopped at other points of interest in between.

One of the first things that stood out to me while I was there was how many times I heard the word, “Akwaaba.”

Akwaaba is a customary greeting in Ghana that loosely translates to “welcome” or “welcome back.” However, in its geographic and cultural context, the term embodies something much deeper. It represents an acknowledgment of a person who has been absent and returned to a place where they fully belong and are fully welcome.

As a Black man in America, in which welcoming spaces are scarce, I definitely felt a sense of belonging in our ancestral land.
I want to stress this again, however. This trip was not a vacation. It was rigorous, stretching and jarring at times.

We used a lot of healing techniques to process our ancestral trauma, and we worked with professional guides who helped us undergo a collective and communal rebirth as men dedicated to the work of liberation and freedom.

Going through that transformation made me even more dedicated to creating a more just and equitable society here in the United States.

That’s why I’m also glad that I work at a place like Faith in the Valley, where our staff and leaders believe in centering our work on anti-racism, abolition and lifting up a new narrative about the lives of people of color.

I can’t capture the full breadth and depth of this experience in words.

But I can summarize my experience in Ghana as this: It took me beyond imagining the way things can be in the world. It helped me to further live into what must be.

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