Today marks the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade History, an annual commemoration established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. The aim of the day is “to inculcate in future generations the causes, consequences and lessons of the transatlantic slave trade, and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice.” FFT Fellows consistently design fellowships to further this work and we are honored to share the work of one of them today. Aisha Haynes (Academy of Urban Planning & Engineering – Brooklyn) used her grant to research colonization in Ghana on the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved African arrived in Virginia to share learning with the school Equity Team and advance campus inclusivity goals. We’re grateful for Aisha’s work and her story…
“Akwaaba” is a traditional greeting in Ghana that welcomes visitors. This greeting resonates with me often as a teacher in the neighborhood in which I teach in Brooklyn, New York. Many of my students are recently arrived immigrants, students who are living in temporary housing, or simply new to our school community. This warm welcome invites my students into our classroom space to move from becoming visitors in our community to making themselves at home. I designed this fellowship to celebrate their diversity, encourage their inclusion, and build leadership amongst my adolescent students.
For ten days, I experienced the history and culture of Ghana while staying with a host family to broaden personal understanding of the African country, particularly the role it played in the slave trade, and more effectively teach this period of history. Visiting the Cape Coast was the most transformative of experiences. To stand in the same spaces where enslaved people were once tortured, punished, and forever taken away from the life that they once knew was jarring. Despite this painful past, so many of the Ghanians that I met were willing to acknowledge the dark past while acknowledgouting the hope and promise for the future. I was inspired by this attitude and I hope to share these experiences and attitudes with my student.
The “Year of Return” [2019 commemorated 400 years since the first enslaved Africans touched down in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States] was a carefully curated event by the nation’s government and tourism department. Watching them weave music, dance, art, and history together to tell a comprehensive story of Ghana’s past and present. This has supported a more interdisciplinary approach to my teaching and I am encouraged that my students are learning more because they are engaged. I also hope that my students will feel emboldened to share their identity with newfound ways to tell their stories.
I did not expect to be so personally impacted by the visit. To walk into spaces and hear “Welcome home, my sister,” gave me a sense of joy and belonging that I have never felt in any place that I’ve visited. As a Black woman in America, I scarcely have the experience to be in spaces where everyone looks like me and I was unprepared for how significant that would be to me. Additionally, the visit to the slave castle left me committed to retelling the story of marginalized people in their voices.
Students now have access to the resources I collected during my time in Ghana to begin drafting their own origin stories. After developing these stories, they will be invited to address issues around their own identities and present their findings to the school community. This will culminate in a full day of activities entitled “Day of Dialogue” in which students act as facilitators.
This work is expanding school wide events to deconstruct stereotypes and build our school community. Staff, faculty, and the community take part in this daylong activity, which has become a tradition for our school. Our students lead the activities throughout the day in classrooms and after the day is complete, they often feel emboldened to share their skills at conferences and other schools on the campus.
After Ghana, I have renewed energy and more directed focus toward creating a meaningful experience for students. I teach mostly black and brown students and sharing these travel stories and memories with them is a personal experience that brings us closer. My teaching is transformed because my worldview feels larger as I feel more convicted to make their teaching relevant, interdisciplinary and authentic.
Too often, students feel like their learning is in silos- their personal lives are separated from the classroom. Having had such a rich cultural experience, I am dedicated to giving my students the same experience. Travel also reminded me that teaching should be interdisciplinary, relevant, and mixes the past with their contemporary lives. When teachers are personally enriched, they pass along the experiences and try to replicate those experiences in a meaningful way.
(top to bottom: Aisha in front of the Ghanian flag. The red in the flag represents the blood of those who died for independence from Great Britain, gold-the mineral wealth of the country, green-the country’s rich forests and nature, and black star-African emancipation. | The Door of No Return at Elmina Castle, through which tens of thousands of Africans destined for slavery passed to board slave ships. | Visiting Kwame Nkrumah Square, which recognizes the country’s first Prime Minister and President of Ghana. | Black Star Square, site of the annual Independence Parade. Read excerpts from today’s speech by the UN Secretary-General about this year’s theme “Confronting Slavery’s Legacy of Racism Together” here.)
Aisha is a high school teacher in Brooklyn, New York where she has taught English for the last eleven years. She is also a doctoral candidate in New York University Educational Leadership and Policy program. Her research interests include the changing educational landscape, education equity and school leadership.