By Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u, PhD
Apart from hosting us in their house during the Thanksgiving holiday, Danielle Callaway Njama and her husband, Philip Njama, booked a ticket for us to visit the National Museum of African American History in Washington DC. It was another rich historical voyage. I strongly recommend visiting the museum if you happen to be in Washington DC.
The museum, formally launched by President Barack Obama in 2016, documents the history of slavery and the unspoken contribution of Africans to European and American economies.
Walking through the floors of the museum, an air of historical insecurity, goosebumps, and lamentation engulfs you. As you read through the stories of how the enslaved Africans were transported to Europe and North America in chains and other inhuman conditions, you feel the blood of sympathy circumambulating in your veins.
While these thoughts were going through my mind, there was sudden silence among my family. I turned back, and my eldest daughter was in tears, struggling to hold her emotions while reading through the stories of Africans like Ayoub Suleiman from The Gambia, who was enslaved in Maryland, and Mahommah Baquaqua from Benin, who was sold in Brazil and transported to New York.
Being a student of economic development, I couldn’t miss the section in the museum that estimated the value of cotton produced by African Americans to $250,000,000 in 1861; and the value assigned to enslaved African Americans at $3,059,000,000 in 1860. What is the value in today’s terms?
This is a difficult history, but as I have discussed many times with friends and colleagues, Africans shouldn’t allow themselves to be the psychological prisoners of the trauma caused by slavery. Yes, it is difficult, but Africans must move forward with zeal and unparalleled determination to write a glorious chapter of their story no matter the odds against them. Creating a path to development is the antibiotic to economic dependency.
Takeaway: Torturous lessons of history are difficult to ignore. It is the lessons from history that help determined communities to write a glittering chapter for future generations.
Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u, PhD, is a candidate for a Mid-Career Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government. He can be reached via email@example.com.