Thomas McClary of The Commoders, left, and Marshall F. Stevenson, a dean at the University of Eastern Shore Maryland, during a Pan African Development Conference at Delaware State University on Thursday. (Photo by: Photo by: Delaware State University | Carlos Holmes)

By Ryanne Persinger

Marshall F. Stevenson would like to see students who attend historically Black colleges and universities make a trip to Africa at least once during their matriculation.

“I’ve always been a proponent of that for Africa,” said Stevenson, dean of the School of Education, Social Sciences and the Arts at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, an HBCU. “I think once students study abroad, their world and their whole thinking about life is transformed.”

Stevenson spoke during a panel discussion at the Pan African Development Conference at Delaware State University last week.

The panel also included Robert “Kool” Bell, frontman of Kool and the Gang and co-founder of Kool-Baker Global Inc.; African Peer Review Mechanism CEO Eddy Maloka; Black Star News publisher Milton Alimadi; The Commodores founder and lead guitarist Thomas McClary; and Maneesh Pandeya, a DSU .

They talked about how they have seen Africa and African Americans presented in the media, how those representations have changed and need to continue to change, and what young people can do to help.

DSU organized the conference as part of its new partnership with the African Peer Review Mechanism. The historically Black university and the African Union agency are working together to bridge the gap between Africa and its “Sixth Region” — people of African heritage who live outside the continent.

Many at the conference viewed historically Black colleges and universities as a good place to start working together.

There are an estimated 102 HBCUs in 19 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with approximately 298,000 students in 2017, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In the academic year 2016-17, about 49,500 degrees were awarded by HBCUs, according to the Pew Research Center.

Many leaders in the African-American community have graduated from HBCUs, as has the leader of at least one African nation. Kwame Nkrumah, the president of Ghana, graduated from Lincoln University, the first historically Black university to award degrees.

Alimadi, an adjunct professor of African history at John Jay College who is originally from Uganda, said many newspapers and television news networks used to use words like “slaves,” “tribal” and “tribesmen.” Alimadi often found himself writing to those outlets to complain about the way they represented Africa.

“We should refrain from the word ‘slaves,’ we should used ‘enslaved Africans,’ I think it’s an important distinction,” said Alimadi, because it is used to justify the colonization and exploitation of Africa. “Now very rarely do you find the word ‘tribesman’ or ‘tribal’ in connection to a story related to Africa. You find it now when they’re discussing Afghanistan and other countries but not Africa anymore.”

McClary talked about meeting singer and songwriter Lionel Richie at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and forming The Commodores. He also talked about the way African music has influenced him and others.

“When I think about the music of Africa and how it has influenced every aspect of the music business, from blues to rock to country to all of, even hip hop,” McClary said, “it’s time that we give back to where our mother country instilled that innate ability to translate music around the world from the hearts and souls of people.”

To that end, McClary said he plans to help create a bugle call song with other musicians in order to help bring African Americans back to Africa, which he hopes will initiate “energy and bring souls together.”

“It will call all of us back to where we belong,” McClary said. “As we utilize this medium, obviously we want to have the ability for the youth and all platforms to come together.”

This article originally appeared The Philadelphia Tribune. 

Leaders discuss HBCUs and the African diaspora

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