Sankofa Reveries: AfricaFest 2011
celebrates generations of Achievement in
the African Diaspora
By Jonathan Gramling
Africa Fest has evolved quite well over its 14-year existence. Once confined to a few
rooms at Monona Terrace, it now utilizes Warner Park for its Strides for Africa
run/walk and the festival grounds of Africa Fest itself. Annually, it attracts 5,000-6,000
people to experience the richness of African culture and to enjoy some good food and
networking the old fashioned way, person to person.
“In terms of the mission, goals and objectives, definitely, we have met all of those to
bring Africa to Madison, to our neighbors, to our children and to our friends and have a
day to ourselves,” said Aggo Akyea, the president of the African Association of
Madison, which sponsors Africa Fest. “I think we have achieved all of that.”
And through judicious use of the Africa Fest funds, the association has been able to
save some of the surplus for its scholarship fund. Achievement, particularly academic
achievement, is an important value in the African community.
Aggo Akyea, president of the African Association of
Madison (l) and his niece Nana Asante.
Akyea emigrated from Ghana, West Africa to Madison in the early 1980s. He and his generation worked hard to establish themselves in Madison.
“The first generation is always the folks who settle and work hard to survive,” Akyea observed about Africans and other immigrant communities.
“That work attitude, that ambition is obviously passed on to the second generation. It’s not unique to us Africans. I’m sure you see the same thing
in the Jewish communities, in the Polish, Italian and Caribbean communities. But again, one aspect of that, which I would specifically mention is
the fact that most Africans — at least in my generation — who came here, came for higher educational purposes. Obviously, if you have a
graduate in the house, you expect the children to also go to college.”
“Our attitudes are passed on,” Akyea continued. “As is typical, when we were growing up, our parents said to us, ‘You are lucky to have it this
way. You better study hard.’ You give the same kind of guidance for them to follow. Generally, I would say so from my experience. I can only
speak from what I know, from my colleagues here in Madison and a few of my fellow first-generation immigrants whom their children have
Africa Fest’s theme is Sankofa Reveries: Celebrating Generations of African Achievement. Sankofa is the cultural value of looking back at the
past to see where one must go in life. For the generation coming after Akyea, the generation of his niece Nana Asante, they have looked at the
success of Akyea’s generation and have kicked it up a notch.
“What I draw the most from my African roots is a great sense of self and humility,” said Asante who attends Duke University and is on the honor
roll. “I think my African — and specifically Ghanaian — roots enable me to really know where I came from. It’s a bit cliché at times, but very true,
that knowing where I came from enables me to understand where I am today and where I am going. I think that is really what has kept me
grounded, largely due to my mom for that and even my sister as well who never allowed me to forget that and always instilled that within me. I
have received a confident and sturdy sense of self and a great sense of humility.”
As they were growing up, Asante’s generation did watch what the elders were doing as they played at community events. In some ways, they
fulfilled their dreams.
“When we started the African Association of Madison back in 1992, we specifically made several efforts to try to find out more about the African
Student Association (ASA) on campus, more about who was in the ASA,” Akyea recalled. “There were several obvious advantages that we could
get. For instance, a registered ASA on the UW campus could reserve a free room for the African Association to have an event. I personally sought
to establish the connections. There was no association. There used to be a guy from Burkina Faso who tried to organize it in the mid-1990s and it
never worked. Joe Brewoo when he came in 1997 tried to organize something and it never really worked. Then about three years ago, ASA was
organized and the core group that really, really got the African Students Association on campus off the ground were all children of those of us who
started the African Association in 1992. They got ASA functioning. It wasn’t African students who came here to study. It was the children of African
immigrants. These were kids who were running around when we would have parties in those days.”
“Everyone recognizes the significance or the prominence of leading by example, especially leading by example through your elders,” Asante
said. “It’s no surprise to me that we would emulate or strive to achieve these same goals or try to establish ourselves in the same way that they
worked so hard to do. Even for me, even though I’m not a student here at the UW and involved in the ASA, I see those same characteristics and
values in myself in terms of how I establish myself at Duke and how emulating the strengths and dedication of especially the AWA community.”
The generational divide as been somewhat mollified in the African community. Asante’s generation has a lot of respect for what her elders have
“We all know that the African community is very small and very tight,” Asante observed. “Everyone talks to each other. If you aren’t achieving,
you will be the talk of the town and not in a positive manner. No one ever wants that, especially when you value the opinion and the support of
your elders so much. Not only do you want to attain that level of achievement for yourself, but it is almost like you owe it to them because they are
a significant part of the reason that you’ve gotten where you are. That definitely applies to me personally, not only with my immediate family, but
also with the African Women’s Association community as well. The achievement isn’t necessarily just for me. It’s about I am not disgracing
myself or my family and also giving back to the people who have played such a significant role in determining where I am today.”
While Akyea’s generation faced difficulties in establishing themselves in America, their goal was pretty clear. Akyea worries that the succeeding
generations will lose their African identity and perhaps lose their way. On some levels, Asante agrees.
“The issue that my generation faces may be complacency at times, not just complacency with ourselves, but complacency with working to find
out what it means to be African or Ghanaian or Black and being complacent with what footprints we want to leave behind,” Asante said. “I think
for our elders, it was very clear that not only were they trying to create a better life for themselves, but they were also trying to do so for us. I think
that goal or aim has been kind of lost in my generation because I don’t think so much so as much as our elders, we are saying, ‘Let me do this for
those who come after me.’ I think our goals have also become largely individual. I think they are becoming more characterized by an
individualistic culture, which is the culture we live in versus a collectivistic culture. I don’t find that to be negative. But it worries me to see what
it means for the generation that comes after us.”
Who knows what the future will bring. By looking backward — a Sankofa Reverie — perhaps important African values will be preserved for
generations to come.