3 BROTHAS, 3 CONTINENTS, 3 SUMMER EXPERIENCES

Three Black UT Graduate Students in Media Related Disciplines Travel to Different Parts of the Globe

Brotha Adam Williams

Over the past two summers, I came to Ghana, West Africa for the purposes of

Brotha Adam in Ghana

gaining a deeper understanding of my ancestral roots as well as an expanded knowledge of my academic discipline. While in Ghana the previous summer, I was astounded by the investment that cell phone and telecommunication companies (such as: Nokia, Samsung, MTN, Tigo, Vodafone, etc.) put towards their visibility in Ghanaian popular culture. So this past summer in Ghana, over a two and a half month period, I conducted a research study that explored this industry, its marketing/advertising practices, and its influences on Black-Ghanaian identity. Throughout this study I gathered over 50 interviews and administered over 60 questionnaires. I will present some of my findings of this research study this summer (2011) at the OnDiversity International conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ghana has ten different regions and I was able to visit and spend quality time in six of them including many of its well known cities such as: Accra (Capital), Tema, Kumasi, Cape Coast, El Mina, Nsawam, Koforidua, Ho, and Sekondi-Takoradi. Many highlights from my time in these and other regions were: The many mass World Cup celebrations as the ‘Black Stars’ made it all the way to the quarter-finals before losing a heartbreaking match, the many excursions in the painstakingly beautiful Lake Volta region (which is the largest man-made lake in the world), the memorial museum and plaza in recognition of one of my heroes ‘Kwame Nkrumah’, the Annual Bakatue Festival as well as visits to the slave castles in El Mina/Cape Coast, the Annual Independence Day celebrations, as well as the Juneteenth celebrations amongst repatriated Africans born in the US but now have relocated to Ghana.

Placing the totality of my experience into words is difficult because much of my experience in Ghana was one of empowerment and spiritual fulfillment. After living in the US for all of my life, and now being able to wake-up everyday for 72 straight days in a ‘country’ with nearly 24 million people who look like yourself and manage/operate every facet of its infrastructure, is quite fulfilling indeed.  Being in Ghana allows you to gain a more hands-on understanding of what the legacy of enslavement has destroyed amongst dispossessed Africans across the Diaspora. You especially see this when you’re: listening to each individual go in and out of several beautiful languages, preparing or eating one of their delicious dishes (ie.- Banku, Fufu, Groundnut Stew, etc.), the proficient knowledge of countless skills, arts, and/or trades, the iron-clad respect and love for elders at all levels, or even their encyclopedic knowledge of family lineage and history that can be traced back hundreds of years.

Brotha Derrick in Brazil

Brotha Derrick Davis

Brazil, a country so magnificent that it is nearly impossible to describe in words. Even as a photographer, I admit that photos cannot begin to express the richness of the culture, the taste of the food, nor the love of the people. My initial culture shock began in Minas Gerias, where I was blessed with the opportunity to stay in a Favela (slum). For the first time in my life, I was able to gain a perspective of the reality of those in poverty. However, this lifestyle encourages the community to become more like a large family, which is where the blessings reside. Unfortunately, like many countries, economic status is closely related to racial inequalities. Although they make attempts to model the United States’ approach to racial equality, the divide in political, educational and economic systems discourages progress. However, the Afro-Brasiliero movement is continuing to thrive through higher education.

While I was in Rio de Janeiro, I attended the VI Congresso Brasileiro de Pesquisadores Negros (Brazilian Congress of Black Researchers). There I was able to gain a better understanding of the complexities in achieving racial equality in Brazil. I learned that the image of Black Brazilians today is similar to the image of African Americans in the early to mid-20th century. While I was in Sao Paulo, I heard a first-hand testimony of Black beauty in the Brazilian entertainment industry. I met a young Afro-Brasileira woman working to become a model and actress. In spite of the many casting calls she had attended, she has yet to receive a call back from any of the agencies. Intrigued by her beauty, I was vexed at how little she has been able to accomplish because of the color of her skin.

My last experience was in Salvador da Bahia in the community of Pelourhinho, where I gave a presentation at the Instituto Cultural Steve Biko (Steve Biko Cultural Institute). This organization is designed to provide enhanced educational opportunities to underprivileged students. These students, with their superior proficiency in English, mathematics and science, have very few opportunities to attend college because of the color of their skin. I gave a presentation to these students about my experience as a Black scholar, photographer and media professional. We began to discuss ideas in which the collaboration of our resources can be used to enhance the quality of life for many young Afro-Brazilians, and recreate positive images and representations of the African Diaspora worldwide. These experiences have provided a platform for future research abroad, and created an international venue for Black collaboration in media.

Brotha Kevin Thomas

Brotha Kevin in Europe

Over the course of four weeks this past summer I made my way through five European countries – France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. My trip began and ended with academic endeavors. I began by presenting research related to representations of manhood in print advertisements directed at young Black and white males, at the Academy of Marketing Science’s Multicultural Perspectives in Marketing Conference in Lille, France. I concluded my trip with a week-long doctoral student seminar in Odense, Denmark, where I met and learned from fellow scholars that examine the cultural dimensions of marketing and consumption.  Attending these events brought focus to my dissertation research and strengthened my desire to better understand the linkages that exist between advertising, consumer behavior, and Black identity.

In between these two scholastic events I was able to experience elements of the vibrant Afro-European community in Western Europe and Scandinavia. During my time in Rotterdam I had the privilege to experience Zomercarnaval, the largest Carnival event outside of the Americas. I was merely 1 of the nearly 1 million Black people in attendance.  Throughout my travels I found myself walking through neighborhoods that were far removed from the picturesque, utterly white towns and villages that (with the help of the media) resided in my imagination. Large portions of Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Hamburg, and Copenhagen mirror the realities of South Central LA, Harlem, the Southside of Chicago, East Austin and all the other historically marginalized communities found in the US. The residents of these neighborhoods are overwhelming people of color, poor, and disenfranchised.  They are generally perceived and portrayed as sources of cheap labor or drains on European society.  Like many Black people around the globe they are regulated to second-class citizenry. While my time in Europe left me with lasting memories of beautiful places and even more beautiful people, it is my deepened appreciation of the depth and strength of the Black Diaspora that I most cherish.

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