Discovery Innovation Advocacy
Special thanks to the following people and their respective units for helping to make this important trip possible.
Dr. Paul McNamara, Associate Professor College of ACES, UIUC
Dr. Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies, UIUC
Mike Doyle, Executive Director, University YMCA, Urbana-Champaign
Sam Smith, Director of Civic Engagement and Social Practice, Krannert Center
Dr. Stephanie Craft, Head, College of Media, UIUC
David Ivy, Business Admin, UIUC
I first researched the serious challenges and wonderful stories the Gullah Geechee culture and its people are facing and sharing. From this exploration, I produced a broadcast televisions and online program to share with the world. I discovered that there is a connection between the Gullah Geechee people and the people of Sierra Leone, West Africa. Then, in 2013, after discovering my DNA connection to the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone, with funding assistance from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, I took my first trip to Africa. This research trip of exploration and self-discovery sought to answer the question; does the knowing of one’s African connection through DNA matter, and if so, how is the sense of self identity, knowledge and location affected? I immersed myself into the culture and its people as much as I could for about a month and a half. While there, I wrote daily blogs that you can read on my blog page and produced a 5 hour auto-ethnographic documentary series for online and broadcast television distribution called, “Journey to My Mother’s Land: Extending the Gates’ Effect into Africa.” For a brief preview click here. This research project and creative endeavor that I shot, wrote, edited, directed, reported, narrated and produced is unique because it captures my transformation as it happened. It also includes interviews with four other individuals at 4 intervals of their lives who were also interested in their DNA connection to Africa. A comprehensive ethnography of this breadth, and as the sole producer, took me 4 years and 32 days to complete. Upon its completion in 2018, it was picked up by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the largest television network in all of Africa. Through their multimedia platforms of broadcast television, Satellite Dish, and online streaming, my documentary was aired to an audience reach in the millions in the U.K., U.S., Canada and all of Africa. I accomplished a great deal of content and data for traditional scholars that extends the literature research of self-discovery and de-marginalization as well as non-traditional scholars who produce and distribute their research through new media and online.
Five Years Later
Five years later after my first in-depth documentary, I had an opportunity to visit Africa again. With assistance from various sponsors, I was able to visit Abuja, Nigeria, Accra, Ghana and Sierra Leone, West Africa. As a humanist for social impact, I observed and recorded changes that have occurred in Sierra Leone years after my initial trip, as well as engage in missions to help improve the lives and well-being of families and communities across Africa. In a technologically driven age, my multimedia approach helps the audience to reimagine challenges and environments, nourish the soul, and expand thinking beyond the horizon of the present that is, sometimes, stagnant or ignored. Through this form of public engagement and service, and consequently, teaching as a practicing journalist and research scholar for social impact, I am able to address issues of injustice, poverty, health disparities, racial identity, and other important elements in transformational ways while providing a form of entertainment. The purpose of this trip and the purpose of this article is to give voice to the voiceless about their challenges and conditions in ways that can be shared with the global community. It is a form of transformational and empowering education. Through pictures, visuals and sound, I invite you to come with me to these three exciting places through story. Whether it is for research, creative endeavor, teaching, public engagement, or, simply for entertainment, I hope you enjoy the journey.
I want to extend a Special Thank you to Dr. Paul McNamara from the College of Aces who provided substantial support for this journey. I am so glad we finally got to work together. I also send a special thank you to Dr. Reitumetse, Executive Director Mike Doyle, Director Sam Smith, Dr. Stephanie Craft and Administrator David Ivy who provided support and funding for this journey of discovery, innovation and advocacy as well as assisted me in the complex logistics. Because of you, this journey provided Global connections and support that will help educate the world.
Peace and Blessings to each of you...