Monrovia — Rev. Dr. Cynthia Jackson, a judge of Jersey City Municipal Court in the State of New Jersey, Jessica Poitevian of travelandleisure.com, Ronda Penrice of Ebony Magazine, and France 24 are expected to arrive in Liberia alongside other African Americans who have expressed interest in the country (Liberia) and its potentials to get on par with other countries in West Africa and beyond-that are making lots of significant progress in development and governance.
Judge Jackson is an African American lady who also heads the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark NJ and she will, for the first time be visiting Liberia, and is certain to partake in a series of activities, including a Journey Home Festival (JHF) in honor of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. It is also often observed for celebrating African-American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865. The day was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
A lot of Black Americans have, in recent years, flocked to West Africa in search of homes connected to their ancestry. Some came to have an idea of their lineage through DNA test results and the objective is to have their roots on the Continent of Africa.
Senegal and Ghana have become hot spots for these often culturally minded travelers, but entrepreneurs Saqar Ahhah Ahershu and Den Tut Rayay say a major player is missing from the conversation and that player is Liberia.
"I think Liberia is one of the easiest places for African Americans to acclimate because the culture is American and the people of Liberia are very hospitable. There is a lot of African American heritage in the country," Ahershu told the Daily Observer.
He added that there is a lot of connection and it is easy for any African American to come to the country and learn more about the African-American experience. The New Jersey man said he is happy that Liberia is more a free nation than some parts of the United States of America and other parts of the world where racism, religious intolerance and other humanly influenced conditions always tend to alienate people at all times.
"Internet connectivity here is very god compared to some other places we have travelled to in the sub-region. While one is in Liberia, it is easy to do business in America and I see this as a great boost to a better human trans-national coexistence. This is why I think that many other African Americans should also come over to Liberia and make themselves a part of this community. It's not a bad thing to live six months of time in Liberia and the other six months in the U.S.," Ahershu recommended.
In the conversation about the Journey Home Festival (JHF), and with their almost five years of closeness to Liberia, Saqar and Den, as they are popularly called, have engaged not only the New Jersey Municipal Court's judge but also others to begin the exploration of ideas to contribute to changing the narrative Liberia is confronted with-lack of significant strides in development.
"When African Americans come to Ghana, Goree Island, or Senegal, they're mostly visiting the Gate of No Return, the Door of No Return," Ahershu said, referring to commonly visited historical sites, where enslaved Africans were once held captive before being shipped overseas, never to return home. He said Liberia's narrative is almost the opposite of Ghana, Senegal and other areas.
Lisa White, African American woman from Newark, New Jersey (also founder of Yogify Studios), Reverend Laura Pritchard, African American woman from Michigan serving Providence Baptist Church, Dr. Clarice Ford-Kulah (Producer of Providence The Movie), and Hester Baker owner of Elizabeth Village in Edina are part of the team to welcome these African Americans to Liberia.
The team's arrival is set for Saturday June 17, 2022 and their coming coincides with Liberia's Bicentennial celebrations that are still ongoing.
Taking place from June 17-26, 2022, the Journey Home festival invites not only travelers to celebrate Juneteenth in a meaningful way, but also commemorates the bicentennial anniversary of free-born and formerly enslaved Black Americans who first landed on the shores of Liberia's Providence Island.
"Spending most our time here in four and a half years, my own assessment is that Liberia is a very safe country. Crimes are everywhere in the world and America accounts for a lot more of street killings. People get shot and killed in America for common but it is not common here. There are areas, sometimes large communities that become no go zones, not only for ordinary people sometimes even the law enforcement departments in Mexico, America and other countries in the world but Liberia is doing well in this area," Den Tut Ray said.
Ray emphasized that while it is a fact that there are crimes everywhere, the crimes rate in Liberia is low compared to many other countries.
"Liberia is better than Chicago, West Coast, and some other parts of New York. Those places in America are hostile environments and human lives are destroyed very frequently, most especially by random shootings compared to Liberia where such is not the case," he added.
He continued: "Since we got to Liberia for the first time over four years ago and we have been going out and coming back into the country, we have never worried about anyone kidnapping us or harassing us. Of course yes, there are needs to fix certain things but the most important is providing the opportunity for many young people to learn and have a fair share of understanding and opportunities to contribute to nation building," he noted.
He buttressed Ahershu in saying that nowhere else could be a better place to celebrate the freedom of slaves than in a country founded by freed slaves and that Liberia's history offers a particular strong sense of connection for Black Americans and no time is better than now to identify with the country as a home for all blacks.
Liberia is the Door of Return, or the "Land of Return" as coined by Government of Liberia. It is recorded in the Liberian history before 1847 that on Jan. 7, 1822, the first group of Black American settlers arrived in present day Monrovia, Liberia's capital, as part of a scheme by the American Colonization Society (ACS) and, motivated by racism and fear of the growing number of free Black people in the U.S., members of ACS formed the colony of Liberia and transported roughly 16,000 Black Americans to the then colony-throughout the 19th century.
Liberians began governing themselves eventually as of 1847 when the country became the world's second Black republic (after Haiti) and the first republic in Africa. With the independence also came the world's first African American president, Joseph Jenkins Roberts.
Den Tut said for anyone, young or old, Liberia is the right place to invest in. He said the potential is huge and there are lots of benefits one can accrue from investing in Liberia.
"Almost every sector in Liberia has a great potential for revenue generation. Let's say for a case, the transportation sector: Having vehicles of all kinds, ranging from motorcycles to tricycles and taxis as well as heavy duty vehicles make lots of money in the country. Having the right mind and working with the right team can fast change the narrative and improve the economy. People get jobs and their children go to school," he said.
He called on African Americans who have not been to Liberia to visit, build relationships and identify areas to invest into.
History of Journey Home Festival and the Liberian case
"The first time we visited Africa, we went to Senegal and The Gambia. There we saw "Door of no Return." That put us in a mind set to look for that "Door of Return" and thankfully we have come to Liberia where we are considered members of this great nation," the African American whose both parents are originally from Haiti, but he was born and Raised in Brooklyn, New York City, said.
He added that the American Colonization Society (ACS)'s mission to Liberia in the early 1800s is not propagated in Black History Month or the Juneteenth in America but with the visits of African Americans to Liberia, the history can be learned and in time, more books can be written and seek their curricular circulation.
As part of the festival programming, attendees will visit Providence Island, the JJ Roberts Monument, and Demen Village, where they'll meet the Gola Tribe, Liberia's oldest Indigenous people.
There will be a series of activities, including a formal indoor program at the historic Providence Baptist Church on Broad Street, and a visit to Providence Island on Juneteenth. A visit to the Blue Lake in Tubmanburg, Bomi County will all be done before June 26, the date for return to America.
The Journey Home Film Festival will also be held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, which is exclusively highlighting Liberian Films. The Film Festival managers are said to have worked with the Movie Union to feature workshops being held free of charge to aspiring film makers, producers, and directors being taught by Dr. Clarice Ford-Kulah, and Christabol of Boss Media on June 23rd. On June 24th, the second day of the Film Festival will feature performances by MC Caro, Teddy Ride, and will be hosted by Angel Michael. The final winner will receive a camera and $500 USD cash.
While having fun and enriching experiences are on par for the course, the Journey Home Festival also aims at showcasing opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest in Liberia. Day five of the almost 10-day event will include a Business Exchange with Made in Liberia (a Liberian brand bringing exposure to local Liberian Businesses, where attendees will network with a variety of Liberian entrepreneurs.
"Made in Liberia" will also feature guest speakers, a luncheon, and plenty of honest discourses about the pros, cons, and challenges of living, working, and investing in Liberia," he disclosed.
Ahershu and fellow JHF co-founder Rayay are already looking ahead with plans to host this multi-day event three times per year starting in 2023. The duo said they will run the first phase of JHF from 2022 to 2027 and see to it that there are enough contacts coming to the country and investing or supporting the Liberian economy in many other means possible.