A Journey of Discovery: From Spokane to Africa and Israel

By Teresa Brooks The Black Lens Contributor

Growing up in Spokane, Washington, one of the whitest cities in America, was an experience that shaped my perspective in unique ways. It taught me resilience, adaptability, and the importance of forging my own path. As a first-generation college graduate, I always sought to explore the world beyond the familiar confines of my hometown. This quest for knowledge and growth led me to incredible opportunities in Africa and Israel, where I lived, volunteered, and studied, immersing myself in diverse cultures and communities.

Living and working in Israel was a transformative chapter in my life. Volunteering with the OR Movement in Beersheva introduced me to the concept of self-sustainable community development. The OR Movement, a nonprofit organization, focuses on developing and strengthening communities in Israel’s Negev and Galilee regions. My role involved hands-on work in community engagement, creating community gardens, and even working on pomegranate farms.

Studying Hebrew was another significant aspect of my time in Israel. The language not only helped me communicate but also deepened my understanding of the culture and history of the region. Living in a Bedouin community provided a unique insight into their way of life, traditions, and challenges, further enriching my experience.

My journey continued in Africa, where I faced an unexpected and enlightening reality. Despite being identified as African American all my life, my arrival in Africa revealed a different perspective. Many Africans perceived me as an outsider, highlighting the complexity of identity and the disconnect between African Americans and their ancestral roots.

In Sierra Leone and Cape Town, I delved into the history of the slave trade and its profound impact on the continent. Understanding how the slave trade led to apartheid and its eventual end in the late 1970s was both heartbreaking and enlightening. These experiences underscored the importance of education and awareness in bridging gaps and fostering mutual understanding.

Reflecting on my journey from Spokane to various parts of the world, I realize how my upbringing in a predominantly white city prepared me for these experiences. Spokane taught me to navigate different cultural landscapes without succumbing to a victimhood mentality. It instilled in me the drive to achieve and excel, regardless of my background or the obstacles I faced.

Living in one of the whitest cities in America also helped me appreciate the value of diversity and the importance of inclusion. It reinforced the idea that one’s identity is multifaceted and shaped by a multitude of experiences and influences.

Traveling the globe, living in different communities, and embracing diverse cultures have been among the most powerful and transformative experiences of my life. From volunteering in Israel to understanding the historical complexities of Africa, each step of my journey has broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding of the world. Being a first-generation college graduate from Spokane, I am proud of the paths I’ve taken and the doors I’ve opened. These experiences have not only shaped who I am but also empowered me to contribute meaningfully to the communities I am part of.

Connecting to Africa, particularly to regions like Freetown, Sierra Leone, holds profound significance for individuals of African descent worldwide.

Understanding this connection requires delving into the historical context of the transatlantic slave trade, which tragically shaped the destinies of millions of Africans and their descendants.

The transatlantic slave trade, spanning centuries, forcibly displaced millions of Africans from their homeland, with many enduring unimaginable suffering and loss. Sierra Leone, situated on the West African coast, became a significant hub for the trade, serving as a departure point for countless enslaved individuals bound for the Americas. The scars of this dark chapter in history run deep, leaving an enduring legacy of trauma and injustice.

Despite the horrors of the past, Sierra Leone today is a resilient nation striving to overcome the challenges wrought by centuries of exploitation and oppression. Poverty remains a pervasive issue, exacerbated by factors such as political instability, corruption, and economic inequality. However, amid adversity, there are signs of hope and progress, with initiatives aimed at promoting education, healthcare, and economic development gaining momentum.

Education stands as a beacon of hope for the future of Sierra Leone, empowering individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty and build brighter futures for themselves and their communities. While access to quality education remains a challenge, concerted efforts are being made to expand educational opportunities and improve literacy rates across the country.

For Black Americans, reconnecting with Africa holds immense significance, offering an opportunity to reclaim lost heritage and forge meaningful connections with ancestral homelands. Visiting an African country, such as Sierra Leone, provides a powerful means of bridging the gap between past and present, enriching cultural understanding and fostering a sense of belonging.

Moreover, experiencing firsthand the beauty, resilience, and vibrancy of African nations can be a transformative and enriching experience for individuals of all backgrounds. It offers a chance to confront historical injustices, celebrate cultural heritage, and engage in meaningful dialogue and exchange with local communities.

Every black American should consider visiting an African country at least once in their lifetime, not only to pay homage to their ancestors but also to gain a deeper understanding of their own identity and place in the world. By embracing this connection, we honor the resilience and strength of those who came before us and pave the way for a future built on unity, solidarity, and mutual respect.