The New York Times observed the 400th Anniversary of enslaved Africans’ arrival in North America. With a special magazine: The 1619 Project. The editors explained the newspaper’s purpose in publishing the commemorative document:
“That was (1619) when a ship arrived at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans. Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years.
This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country’s very origin. The goal of the 1619 Project is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”
Black newspapers across the U.S. ran editorials on the historic shaping event, television commentators offered special segments, and organizations heeded the lessons of 1619 to never forget a people who rose from slavery, built this nation, and survived the worse treatment that humans have ever inflicted on other men, women, and children.
Among the celebrants were Essence magazine and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration. Cantrell had planned a trip to Ghana to sign a Sister Cities Agreement during the beginning of Ghana’s “Year of Return,” in summer 2019. The Year of Return was an initiative of the government of Ghana that encouraged African diasporans to come to Africa (specifically Ghana) to settle and invest in the continent.
Cantrell, however, had decided not to travel during hurricane season. “I couldn’t travel then but we scheduled it for the end of December.”
The mayor’s desire to return to Ghana was always a thought, after she visited Ghana seven years ago.
“In 2013, when LaToya Cantrell was a City Council-member, she visited the Slave Castles in Cape Coast, Ghana in Africa. She realized that something needed to be done in order to remember and connect with our history. This led to the creation of the Sister City Project with Cape Coast,” the administration wrote in the Sister Cities Agreement Mayor Cantrell signed with Ernest Arthur, the Mayor of Cape Coast, Ghana on December 30, 2019.
Mayor Cantrell recently shared the impact of visiting the slave departure castle on the African Coast. “It changes you forever. When I visited Cape Coast as a councilperson, I saw a natural alignment with the City of New Orleans from a cultural perspective. Africans were kings and queens and developers.
When they left that Door of Return that day off the Coast, which was the largest slave dungeon associated with the slave trade, some of them ended up here. New Orleans is the most Afrocentric city in the U.S.A., which made it a natural fit to establish a sister city agreement first with Cape Coast, Ghana,” Mayor Cantrell explains.
The Sister City Agreement and Memorandum Of Understanding with Cape Coast, Ghana includes “economic development opportunities as it relates to trade with our Port, it’s the culture that’s tied to the economic development, it’s the education exchanges both from New Orleans to Cape Coast, Ghana and from Cape Coast to New Orleans.”
As part of the Sister Cities Agreement, twelve SUNO students are traveling from New Orleans to Ghana in March 2020. Both mayors are encouraging a level of tourist exchanges. “That’s really a part of what Essence Full Circle is all about, going to the Diaspora.”
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has relaxed Visa regulations to facilitate more tourism. Visitors can purchase Visas for $75, upon arrival in Ghana. As a result of the policy changes, visits to Ghana increased by 750,000 people in 2019.
Although Cantrell has been criticized for prioritizing Sister City Agreements with African cities, she is adamant about monetizing the natural connections between the continent and New Orleans, the most Afrocentric city in the U.S.
“In terms of my vision, it’s one, reinvesting in the culture here in this city that is closely aligned with the continent’s culture and making that connection because that’s where we’ve gotten it from, therefore, it’s right that we have a sister city agreement with the continent and the city of Cape Coast. And (I’m) even getting backlash from that. We can have a sister city agreement with everybody else, but with Africa. That’s a problem?”
Cantrell also wants to help change the image of the continent, which has been severely damaged by Trump, who referred to the continent as a shithole country.
“If we’re going to change the image of the continent, we’ve got to start somewhere, and I’ve chosen Ghana to do that. Thorough these exchanges, both going from New Orleans to as well as Ghana coming here, it’s about touchpoints and education. I want people from here to go to Cape Coast Castle. When you go to that dungeon, it changes your life. And you have people who get in there and immediately just break down. It’s just that powerful. It changes your perspective of who you are and what you’ve meant to the new world.
The mayor also wants to exchange ideas about disaster preparedness and climate control with Cape Coast officials. “We need to find ways to deal with litter, CO2 emissions, things we can do better with plastics. They’re having some of the same challenges and they’re wanting to implement the same practices we want to do.”
Cantrell also wants to confer with Cape Coast to find out how to solve the violence plaguing cities in the U.S., including New Orleans. “In Ghana, there are impoverished cities but there’s no violent crime.” New Orleans is an impoverished city. So, the argument that we’ve been hearing is that this culture of violence emanates from and is one of Black people.”
She wants to study the behavioural norms and beliefs in Africa that prohibit violence, even when impoverished conditions exist. “I want to get across to our families here that this culture of violence did not come from us. They (Africans) see love in one another and they’re not killing one another but, somehow, we are. We’re made to believe it comes from us, when it was done to us. I think, with a behavioural shift that comes through education, a significant change could take place.
Essentially, according to Cantrell, “African culture is based on love of community and the African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ speaks to that tradition.”
The Sister Cities Agreement’s focus is on cultural exchanges and economic development. “Coconut water is sold everywhere you go and how we can tap into economic development opportunity and at the end of the day when we toss the coconut at Zulu, it can come from the continent instead of Korea?” Cantrell asks.
“Even the kente weavers want to come here and teach our community how to weave the cloth and sell their goods, as well. The U.S. Africa Development Foundation will invest in the Continent if they partner with reputable entities, like the City of New Orleans, the mayor says of financing options.
By C.C. Campbell-Rock