By Nyame-kye Kondo
With 2019 marking the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking on Western Shores, The United States Congress recently put into motion, H.R. 1242, a bill also known as “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” This initiative is an umbrella for a number of different projects, but more specifically, as it states in Section 3 of it’s doctrine, “This bill establishes the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”
Funded through donations and steered by a committee of volunteers, the Bill sets precedence on honoring the Black Experience in America, while also being open to international collaboration.
The Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, under the leadership of Diallo Sumbry, helped spark the “Year of Return,” which encourages African Americans to visit Ghana as 2019 marks the 400 year anniversary of the first recorded slave ships docking in the United States.
The bill is ” to look at the ways we can confront our history and ensure that the contributions of African Americans to society are never forgotten,” according to Wade Robinson of Civilrights.org.
The passing of H.R. 1242 was the incentive that D.M.V based entrepreneur Diallo Sumbry, needed to further expand his business, fulfill his purpose, and to help diasporans build a new relationship with Africa, specifically, Ghana.
The founder of Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio (ACAS) in Mount Rainier, Sumbry is at the helm of the “Year of Return” movement that has many African Americans heading to Ghana for pilgrimage, immersion and enjoyment. Leading a handful of tours to Ghana over the last five years, Sumbry recognizes that immersion is apart of the reacclimation process.
“I came to Ghana for the first time in 2013, and in a short span of time I have been able to build an exchange between Ghana and America that is steeped not only in arts and culture, but the African Americans reclamation of the continent as a whole,” Sumbry said. “It is my hope that this movement will help to reconnect not only those displaced as a result of slavery, but the African Diaspora in general.”
Having more than a decade of experience in arts managing, directing, and facilitating, Sumbry has been a, “key figure in the planning and development of the year-long calendar of activities in celebration of the resilience of the African spirit,” reports Business Ghana.
Recently named the first African-American ambassador of Tourism by former Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Honorable Catherine Afeku, this year marks the third year that Sumbry will be facilitating his own tours. With the first tour featuring GoGo legends, Backyard Band, and the 2019 edition featuring singers Raheem Devaughn and Wes Ellington Felton, the tours are amplified by the fact that they are open to the community as well. Much like the classes and cultural activities that ACAS provides for the D.M.V area, it should come as no surprise that the “Year of Return” grew out of a grassroots organization like ACAS.
Nestled in the heart of the Mount Rainier Arts district, ACAS offers a number of African Dance and drumming classes, fitness classes, intensives, workshops, various pop ups and a slew of resources for the community. At the epicenter of a creative exchange with Ghana, ACAS also offers yearly tours to Ghana in the form of the “Back2Africa” movement. Partnering with a number of different entities to make tour happen, it was the Ghana Tourism Authority itself that officially proclaimed this as the “Year Of Return” on a global scale.
With ACAS establishing important relationships prior to the “Year of Return,” movement being fully established, the possibilities evolved when the idea was brought to the Ghana Commission of Tourism and Culture, and after the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo gave his seal of approval, it took off.
“It all started with Birthright” said Sumbry, referring to an annual celebration of African dance and drumming that his organization produces each year. “It became more than an event, but a portal of discovery, and over time it evolved into the tours and a partnership with African Ancestry so that when everything lined up, we had a full package ready for the people.”
The passing of the H.R. 1242 was a catalyst for a number of important exchanges and activities that have taken place or will take place throughout the year. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, went to Ghana last week. In addition, there is the “Jamestown-Jamestown Tour” which is focused on the NAACP, and will travel from Jamestown, Virginia, to Jamestown,Ghana this August. Taking place on the actual date that the first ships carrying human cargo arrived, this tour like all of the tours that will happen this year, Is meant to honor those whose lives were irrevocably changed, and to welcome their descendants back to their continent of origin, forever changed but always connected.