Today was a Good Day!
Spending my first 4th of July outside the United States makes me reflect on what it is to be an United States of America(n) and how I should look upon our annual Independence Day celebration (I refrain from calling myself an American out of respect for my North and South American brothers and sisters who are technically also Americans. Officially, if you have a blue U.S.A. passport, your nationality is United States of America. I once had a long discussion about this with a friend in Africa.). I would be the first to say that I am proud to carry a blue U.S.A. passport. Despite how we are viewed in some parts of the world, I am always happy to hear the Customs and Border Protection Agent say welcome home!
I have come to believe that the U.S. is exceptional…not in a proud “I’m better than you” arrogance but rather as the Tuskegee band use to say, “Often imitated but never duplicated.” (That’s different right?) As I talked with political leaders across Africa, I am always confronted with the question, “how can we take the lessons of the U.S. and apply them to our situation.” Each time I am asked this question, I often reflect on the brief history of the United States. While the words,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
are imprinted on the minds (and hearts) of most U.S.A. citizens, it has taken 238 years for those words to resonate with certain segments of the population. Today, we continue to redefine who are guaranteed what rights and what does the pursuit of happiness look like.
I was talking with my Nigerian colleague today about the 4th of July. We joked about how I am often addressed in a local language because Nigerians think I am one of them. And today didn’t help when I dressed in traditional Nigerian clothing. His smile became very serious and he said “you should be happy that your ancestors were taken from Africa and replanted into the United States. Their suffering led to a comfortable lifestyle in America.” This argument has been used many times but tonight, he made me reflect on their sacrifice. While they did not choose this burden, they persevered and endured in hopes that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would set them free as Moses freed the Israelites. Each time the U.S. reneged on a promise, my ancestors found a new way to overcome and reclaim the distinction of being a citizen. And while the legacy of slavery, racism and broken homes continue to cast a dark shadow over the descendants of slaves, we are reminded that our ancestors had enough faith to move mountains. And while hundreds of years of living in the U.S. has altered our connection to the African mainland, each day that I meet another person, I am reminded that my ancestors once walked the red soil of this land. Whether they came from the land we call Nigeria, or Ghana or even the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I occasionally feel a connection to this land. Its people feel familiar and the culture has a relatable quality. But then again, I notice things that seem out of place to me and I think…you will never see that at home.
While friends back in the U.S. celebrated by taking an excursion to the beach, or putting meat on the grill or enjoy a sunny day with friends and family, I celebrated the (U.S.) American experience by meeting with political party leaders in Nigeria discussing how to ensure that elections are free and fair in Africa’s most populous nation! In the words of Ice Cube, “Today was a good day!”