Two weeks ago, I packed a bag and decided to explore Nairobi and a few other neighboring cities for several weeks with a very impressive social entrepreneur, Anji Degante.
Anji is the founder of Accent Styles Boutique. Her African-focused product line donates a percentage of sales to support an orphanage she sponsors in Kenya and provide scholarships for Kenyan youth to attend school. Every year Anji creates an experience for folks to tour Kenya and to learn more about her efforts. This year, for the third time, I packed a bag and joined her.
I have been touring various parts of Africa since 2005. I have taken courses to complete my minor in African American Studies at the University of Ghana, I have met with prominent leaders to discuss timely and pertinent issues. I have sat and had wine with close friends that live in Kenya that now have become family. Yet each day of this trip chipped away at all the things I thought I knew about Africa, and replaced it with new positive information. My experience in Kenya helped me redefine Africa.
Over the span of several weeks, I paddled the Congo River, fed giraffes, hiked Karura Forest, explored Crescent Island and learned about exotic wild game and birds. But spending time at the orphanage and learning about all the work Anji was doing to make life better for kids who had experienced great hardship was what really made my heart smile. Through the contributions of her brand she provides food, hygiene products, school supplies, and academic programming and support on site at the orphanage.
Towards the end of the tour I traveled to Mombasa. It was on Diani Beach that I had the unexpected opportunity to stand face to face with the Maasai tribesmen.
At that moment, although I could still feel the grains of sand falling between my toes to indicate to my brain I was still walking, time still felt as though it had stopped. I didn’t reach for my phone to take a picture because I was present. I merely stood in awe of the uninfluenced Maasai culture. I took in their tall slender frames, shaved heads, heavily adorned bodies with handmade jewelry, and captivating white smiles. Our audible exchange was simple. A few “hello’s“ and “how are you’s” were all I could muster up. My mind quickly processed the beauty, and sacredness of the moment.
I was sharing space and time with my ancestors. I was not a Negro, a Colored person, or a Black/Brown person, which is not exclusive to folks with African ancestry. All of these names were forcefully given to me through oppressive structures and have a heavy political history.
This practice of addressing melanated people by words that are void of respect project inferiority. It reduces that person to a non-person, particularly in newspaper accounts. In reporting incidents involving blacks, the press usually adopted the gender-neutral term “Negro,” thus designating blacks as lifeless and unknown. I was home and had reached a level of cultural maturity. I now had a personal connection to land, a language, a flag, and most importantly myself.
I encourage all people to voyage to Kenya. I’m sure, like me, you will find something you never knew you lost yourself.
To learn more about Kenya, schedule a visit, or to support the orphanage please visit accentstylesboutique.com or email Anji at Anjidegante@accentstylesboutique.com
Leniqua’dominique Jenkins holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Houston and has worked on Capitol Hill and in Africa, India and Spain. She is a preschool teacher at a language immersion school in Ward 7. u