One Love: A Millennial’s Journey to Pan Africanism

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Claude McKay

Disclaimer:

This is a post about my ongoing journey to learn about Pan Africanism through journals, articles, literature, and videos for an African American Literature class that I am taking. I am by no means an expert in the study but I hope you all enjoy my findings and journey as much as I am. If at anytime I present false or off information please let me know, I am definitely open to correction. Some one else may be struggling in the same areas.

Reach one teach one!

To kick this off, I’d like to give a little insight to what lead me to studying Pan Africanism.

I’d spent 19 years in St. Louis Missouri living in either predominately African American or Caucasian areas as I glided between the private and public school systems. If there were any people in my life at that were of African or Caribbean origin at that point of time, I hadn’t known about it. My family, which migrated from Mississippi to STL during the great migration is large, close knit, and very connected to the baptist church.

Much of southern African American culture and prominence stemmed from the community and local government connections made through black church organizations throughout American history. If you would like to know more information about the rise and importance of churches in the south here’s an article written by the Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2001. This article breaks the information down better than I ever could.

I say all of this to emphasize that for populations affected by the generational traumas of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the Tuskegee Syphilis study, the Massacre of Black Wall Street and plenty of other atrocities, many find trusting sources outside of the community . . . daunting. In a city like St. Louis with the demographics placing African Americans at 48%, Caucasians at 46%, Asian Americans at 3 % and all other races around a whopping collective of 2%, the focus of the an individuals world could seem fairly . . .

But I digress, this isn’t a post about the racial tension of my home town so stick with me, I promise all of this will circle back to Pan Africanism.

In 2011 I did a thing that would change my life forever.

I joined the military.

Stationed on LSD 49 USS Harpers Ferry (follow the link to a pretty cool video of the ship I lived on for about 4 years), I would go on to meet people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. But for the purpose of this post, I am specifically referring to the friends that I made from the different countries in Africa and the Caribbeans. These friends gave me something that I had never known was missing in my life; an understanding that across the African diaspora we are all more similar than we are different.

I began my African American literature class with the intention of understanding some of those old military friends better. After traveling overseas myself and understanding what it felt like to be an African American in another country, I wanted to know what it was like for them to be in this country (the US) that had so many people that look like them but mostly have no knowledge about their heritage. I wanted to know if moving to this country and seeing how racially divided and economically/systemically disproportionate we were affected their opinions of African Americans in any way.

What I found was quite the opposite.

In this class I have found inspiration from great African American writers to name a few Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni and W.E.B. Dubois. The writer that related the most to my inquisition and who introduced me to the notion of connecting the diaspora was a Jamaican native Harlem Renaissance poet named Claude Mckay.

Follow this link for more info about this poet!!! (It’s a video)

If you don’t know who he is don’t worry, it isn’t your fault! He, like so many of America’s most affluent and prominent black academics, he never made it to your history books.

Why was He so Important?

Remember how I mentioned my mission to find this narrative of immigrants from the African diaspora voicing their opinions about the lives of the American people? I read this poem of his from 1919 and it changed everything:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

After I finished the last line, I found myself yearning for more. Still, I am perpetually drawn back to his poem. Like a new shiny piece of jewelry, I have a hard time leaving it to sit in waiting as I struggle to find reasons to casually bring it up, wanting and just waiting to show it off to someone else.

Instead I am often compelled to take it out just to admire it, to try it on and envision myself wearing it. In fact, I have spent a considerable amount of time both mulling over the events surrounding its creation and connecting it to events surrounding African American’s cries for justice today, some 100 years later.

But again I digress, this is not a post about racial tensions in America.

Getting back to the point, Mckay did not distinguish himself from any African American in this poem. In fact, If We Must Die was one of the first pieces of writing that would kick off the African American awakening known as the Harlem Renaissance. My gears shifted after learning all I could about him. I now wanted to find more people like him. People who found a connection with the struggle, who saw it all and didn’t distance themselves from it but instead saw a pattern in the pain and destruction in other parts of the African descendant populations of the world.

At this point of time I had not yet known what Pan Africanism was but as I searched for other scholars, writers, artists, and activists that shared this common urge to connect across the diaspora, the term started to pop up more and more.

What is Pan Africanism?

According to an article from the New York Public Library

Pan-Africanism represents the complexities of black political and intellectual thought over two hundred years. What constitutes Pan-Africanism, what one might include in a Pan-African movement often changes according to whether the focus is on politics, ideology, organizations, or culture. Pan-Africanism actually reflects a range of political views. At a basic level, it is a belief that African peoples, both on the African continent and in the Diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny. This sense of interconnected pasts and futures has taken many forms, especially in the creation of political institutions.

Minkah Makalani – Rutgers University

Since discovering Pan Africanism I have done sooooooo much research on the subject matter that I don’t really think it would be fair to try to condense it under the umbrella of this post. I’m going to write at least one more post to visit what I have learned about it and list my pros and cons.

olivia willis

Stay blessed all and I hope to see you guys soon!

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RAW: Opportunities Made for Artists by Artists

To kick off the Tenacity series, I attended the annual RAW art show Magnify.

And wow!

It was an outstanding time!

Originated in 2005, the RAW Art Organization, a promotional platform that prides themselves on being made for artists by artists, showcases indie creatives in art, film, fashion, music, performing arts, hair, makeup, and photography. The RAW Artist Organization operates in over 65 cities across the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.

To find an event in a city near you please visit http://www.rawartists.org/


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The First Impression

“I recognized from the way everyone was dressed heading towards the entrance that this was going to be a real treat.” My boyfriend David describes in our post-interview. We stood in line with patrons clad in dress suits, casual wear, tribal wraps, and costumes. People from all walks of life met at the venue hoping to come across a piece of art that they would not be able to leave without.

Inside, every artist had their own station where they displayed their talents. Most of the art displayed that night was also posted on the website. Anxious patrons like myself who had bought their tickets in advance were gifted plenty of time to run to the website, sneaking prospective peaks at pieces while anticipating the event. So accordingly, I spent most of the first hour at the event itching to meet the artists of my favorite paintings. As the budding journalist that I am, I came prepared with questions and to my surprise, most of the artists were kind and receptive.

As I walked around the venue gawking at beautiful paintings and pictures, and fashion (Oh My!) I found a few creations that required more context. The interviews were recorded on the memo app on my cell (which was surprisingly clear.) but I have not found an app that will allow me to cut out all of my stuttering, fumbling, hot messes yet so I will spare you all from that…  This time.

Dose of Dopeness

One of my favorite artists of the night was Dose of Dopeness (Vernon Strain). I was drawn to his art station by his pieces featuring African American women depicted as goddess figures and queens. I admired his ability to capture the beauty of the African American culture in a vibrant and colorful manner.

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(Dose of Dopeness’s holds a piece in progress to show his signature “Melanin Drip” which he uses to portray having  melanin being poured onto the people in his drawings.)

As a self-taught artist that has been working at this craft since the age of three, he draws inspiration from the people, music, and emotions surrounding him.

ME: How do you use music to draw inspiration for your drawings?

VS: Whatever the feeling is in a song, it usually sparks an idea for a piece. I just roll with it and honestly, I just black out and it creates itself.

ME: I saw on your page that you’re from Columbus, OH. Do you travel to do the events or do you live in Atlanta now? Have you seen a difference in the art cultures between the two states?

VS: I still live in Columbus but I will travel almost anywhere to get my art seen. The cultures are very different. Art in Atlanta is more of a collective and community-oriented scene where Columbus artists are more supportive of only those they know or are within their circle. In regards to style, there’re artists of all calibers in both cities that produce insanely awesome work.

To find more information about Dose of Dopeness please visit http://www.rawartists.org/doseofdopeness

Caitlin “KK” Nixon.

Another artist that I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing was Caitlin “KK” Nixon. Like myself, she is not a native of Atlanta, GA. She moved from Birmingham Alabama for college and also to find a home for her unique style of work.

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She has a business named Hell is a Place which takes first world civil and political issues and depicts them in macabre and humorous ways.

During our interview, I was able to learn a bit about her as an artist and a few ways she maneuvers through the industry. One portion of the culture that I had not given much thought before starting this interview was collaborations. Caitlin and I spoke indepthly about how collaborations in the community can broaden the skill set of an artist and open up opportunities for exposure.

ME: How have you seen collaborations play a part in the exposure of your work both positively and negatively?

CN: Collaboration plays a huge part in one’s exposure, and I’ve used it a ton to push and promote myself. The pluses are vast, from being able to be apart of those opportunities that you would of otherwise not of had, to learning new skills and techniques that you can apply to your own projects. However, of course, you can’t have good without bad, and I’ve seen my fair share of failed partnerships that ran risks of portraying negative ideals about one’s personality or work to jobs that just failed.

To find more information about Caitlin “KK” Nixon please visit http://www.rawartists.org/ckknixon.


The night at Magnify was definitely one to remember! The welcoming atmosphere, live performances, and amazing art sent me out of the door with my head spinning and body buzzing with excitement. Every creator and performer gave one hundred and ten percent to all of us in attendance and it was received with more support than I ever would have imagined. I will definitely be attending next year!


olivia willis

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