[Trigger Warning: Episode contains details about the slave trade]
Do you know your family origin story? After my recent trip to Ghana, the home of my ancestors, I can speak from personal experience when I say there is so much power in understanding your roots.
I’ve always felt a bit like an adopted child in America; not fully American, but not entirely African, either. Going to Ghana and spending time at the sites where, for hundreds of years, my ancestors were held captive and sold as enslaved people gave me a deeper understanding of the trauma that they went through and how much of a miracle it is that I get to live the life I do.
It also helped me see that my family’s origin story is not all about suffering, and there is so much more to African history than the slave trade. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
I hope you enjoy this deeply personal episode and that it encourages you to look into the origin story of your own family.
What You’ll Learn On This Episode:
- [02:09] Why I liken my experience of being a Black American to the experience of being an adopted child
- [06:17] The traumatic history of enslaved African Americans
- [13:18] The powerful release ceremony that I took part in at the “First Bath of Return” in Ghana
- [16:38] The miracle of being part of the African diaspora
- [18:17] Examples of the dehumanizing tactics that were used at the Cape Coast Castle
- [23:31] How the slave trade destroyed black family units and how this compares to modern-day immigration policies
- [25:38] The problem with how Black history is taught in schools in the United States
- [27:47] Why I think it’s important to understand your family history
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[00:00:00] AW: Hey y’all. Welcome back to another episode of Transcend the Podcast. I’m excited that you are here. This week I’m going to talk to you about my trip to Ghana. Now the title of this episode is Going, Going, Back, Back to Ghana, Ghana! I have not been to Ghana in this lifetime – my first time to Ghana was in this lifetime, but I will tell you about why I may have been to Ghana in a previous lifetime. So stay tuned.
[00:00:31] AW: You’re listening to the Transcend podcast. I’m your host, Asha Wilkerson an attorney by training and an educator at heart. This podcast is all about empowering you to build a business and leave a legacy. Here’s the thing, the wealth gap in America is consistently increasing, while full-time entrepreneurship is not for everyone, even a side hustle can change your financial landscape if you’re intentional about using your business to build wealth. I’ve run my own law firm for over 10 years and in that time, I’ve helped countless California businesses go from idea to six figures. On this podcast, we talk about what it truly takes to build a sustainable business and find financial freedom. Let’s dive in.
All right, everyone. Let’s get started. I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Ghana for an education conference through my job as a community college educator. As you all know, I run a full-time paralegal program at a community college in Sacramento, super proud of that. There were a number of educators who are working with black students that were invited to attend an education conference in Ghana, so we were able to do. I won’t comment too much about the actual conference itself, but I do want to tell you a little bit about my experience, because it was pretty impactful, and not immediately impactful, but after I got back, I feel like things just started to pop up and make sense.
I won’t even say clarity on necessarily where I’m going, but understanding on what has happened in the past. I feel like African-Americans in this country in the United States are adopted children. No shade to anybody who has adopted children, or if you are an adopted child, but I feel like every person wants to know who their parents are, where they’ve come from. Most of the folks that I know that have been adopted, if it’s an open adoption, they get to meet their parents, and that question isn’t there, but for the folks who don’t know who their birth parents are, it’s like, “Where did they come from? Why am I here? How come I’m not quite like this family? I just don’t know what it is about me, that makes me different. I just want to know my origins.” I feel like African-American folks in the United States are like adopted children. We know that we’re not quite like white America or even folks who have immigrated recently from other countries, but we’re also not quite African, not 100% African. There’s clearly been some mixing in our bloodline.
Sometimes we come against the uncomfortable position of not feeling – let me speak for myself. I do not want to speak on behalf of all black people. I’m not doing that. I want to say for me, sometimes I come against the uncomfortable position of not feeling all the way American because I don’t get all of the rights that white folks in America enjoy. I’m definitely not from some other place. I have a unique experience of being brown in this country, which is again, just a unique experience. So sometimes in the past when I have met African immigrants who have come over more recently, there’s a warmth and a welcomeness, but also, I’m not quite like them either, because the culture is a little bit different.
There are lots of similarities, but our experiences are different growing up in different continents, and also the stereotype of black people in America is a worldwide stereotype. If we are perceived to be the bottom, not sort of, the bottom of the barrel, and uneducated and prone to violence, and all of these negative things, I completely understand why somebody coming to this country for an opportunity would not want to be associated with that. Then you have the folks, the black folks who don’t fit any of those stereotypes like, “I don’t understand what the difference is. I’m working just as hard as you are to try and get to the top two, can’t we all just be friends?” Not to say that there’s animosity, but it’s not quite this homogenous fit that you might think would happen.
All that to say, when I was getting ready to go on this trip to Ghana, I heard many people saying, “Oh, Ghana changed my life. I could feel my ancestors.” My auntie was like, “I know I felt my ancestors.” My friend’s mom had said that she walked into one of the castles in the 70s, when she was studying abroad in college, and she had a flash that she had been there before like her soul had been there before. As badly as I really want to be intuitive y’all, I don’t hear voices, I don’t get visions, I don’t hear songs, I don’t see things. I’m constantly asking, “All right universe, show me in,” and my intuition does not show up like that.
I’m like, “Well, maybe I can go and feel something.” But I was thinking, “I probably wouldn’t feel much.” But I will say that I was definitely cognizant of my status as an American, even though being black American traveling to Africa, and wanting to maybe feel like I have come home, but also being reticent, because other people may not see me as coming home. It’s just this interesting position that I was totally open to whatever may happen, but also not wanting to impose or to romanticize a place that I had not yet been to and had not experienced for myself.
I will tell you, one of the most impactful experiences that we did was our whole group, which was probably 90% black and 10% other, mostly white in the other but a couple of Asian folks, couple of Latino folks as well. We went to this area, but I can’t remember the exact name of, but it’s known as The Last Bath, The Last Bath. This was the last place that enslaved Africans would be washed and fed before they would then be marched an additional 35 miles to the Cape Coast Castle, which is really a dungeon, to be kept there until they were sold to the colonizing powers that were coming to Cape Coast, Ghana to purchase African slaves, to enslave Africans and take them to the Americas, or to other countries. This place had a powerful, depressing, solemn, somber energy about it for understandable reasons.
When I got there, the guide for us was explaining that enslaved Africans didn’t just come from Ghana, but they may have been walked over from the east from Nigeria, or from the north from Senegal, other countries that surround Ghana, and that people were forced to walk up to 350 miles to get to Cape Coast to then be sold. We were probably a group of about 40 or 50 people. They asked us to wear white, which my friends and I were like, “Why do we need to wear white?” We were all glad that we complied and brought some white with us because it wasn’t – I don’t think that that necessarily connects us more to our ancestors, but that was the ritual that the local folks had asked us to participate in, so we ended up wearing white and coming to this land, and they asked us to take our shoes off so that we could ground and connect with the earth.
If you are in that holistic atmosphere, you know that grounding is where you take your shoes off and you walk or you just stand. The Earth will take that electrical current out of your body. So it’s called grounding. If you’ve ever looked at a plug, a three-prong outlet, that third plug that’s at the bottom, that third prong at the bottom is called the grounding plug and that helps to just diffuse the energy. An electrician can probably explain it much better than I can, but taking your shoes off and putting your feet on the earth, not just on the floor, but on the earth, in grass, in dirt, on the sidewalk, just helps to pull some of that electromagnetic energy out of your body into the ground. It is a way to help you relax, calm down, and get connected, and grounded in your body. They asked us to take off our shoes. They told us the background of how people had even got to this place.
Oftentimes folks would, again, could have walked from up to 350 miles away. Food was scarce. People if they were sick, they would just be let out of the chains and left out there to die by themselves. When there were wild animals around they told us about how somebody would be sacrificed. They would cut them so that the animals would feed on that person who was not strong enough to make it and then the rest could pass safely, right? This super traumatic experience of even getting to this place to this Last Bath and it’s a river. It was a river that folks would be walked into to be cleaned up and then they might spend a week at this camp to be fed, to gain more weight and be marched an additional 35 miles once they’ve come back to life if you will, to then be sold looking healthy and strong.
We have some leaves that are adorned around our neck. I can’t remember the herb I think it was, but it’s for protection. And then there was a little mud marking that they put on us and we walked. We walked this winding path that couldn’t have been more than 100 yards, maybe 150 yards. I’m thinking of a winding football field and a half worth of distance, but because it was winding, and I was towards the back, when I looked up, y’all, I could not see the first person in our group. As we’re walking, people are already emotional, because we already know what has happened in this place, but to think about, we are a group of 40 or 50 people and from my position towards the back, not at the very back, I could not see the first person in our group.
Can you imagine what that would be like to be tied to hundreds of other people? That as far forward as you look, and as far back as you look, you see your friends, family, maybe strangers, because people have been picked up along the way from different tribes speaking different languages, chained to you. That’s wild. That is absolutely wild. Just the visual of as far as you can see, in either direction, you are chained. Again, we were just 40 or 50 people. Imagine hundreds marching at a time, just wild.
We get down to the river. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Of course, why would it not be gorgeous? It’s absolutely gorgeous. There’s an arch that says, I should actually just be looking at my photos right now so I can actually see what it says, but I think it says like, “The point of no return,” or, “The door of no return,” or something like that.
They told us they said, “Don’t walk through that, because your ancestors walked through that and they didn’t come back, but you are on the return. So you’re not walking through that door, because you are already here,” or I am sorry, it wasn’t the door of no return, it was called The Last Bath, The Last Bath. There was this painted archway. They said, “Don’t walk through that archway that says, “The Last Bath,” don’t do that.” They had his walk around it. Stick our feet into the river and like, what an emotional experience to know that people that likely people that I have come from had also stood in that same river, right? Not the exact same water, because the water is always moving but in that same river. It was so powerful, especially to see all of us together in that spot going through our own emotional transformative experience.
Then we turn around, and we see the sign that says First Bath of Return. Instead of The Last Bath, it became The First Bath of Return. On the back of that sign it says, “We are back home.” It was beautiful, because it acknowledged what happened, but then also said we’re not doing that anymore. We’re not being sent off anymore and as visitors to this country, as African-American people, or just as people of the African diaspora, we have come back home. The next thing that we did is we had tobacco in one hand and sugar in another hand. They asked us to do this ceremony, this like release ceremony where they said I think it was sugar, something that was an accelerant. May have been salt, I can’t remember. We were asked to – I don’t remember exactly how it went, because it’s been about a month now since I got back.
We just took a minute to acknowledge the generational trauma that black people around the world and others as well, other people who have been colonized, have experienced. That even though it was hundreds of years ago, four or 500, 600, 700,000 years ago, that the slave trade began and only ended about five, I think it’s 500 years ago, right, 550 maybe, that our generation still carry the legacy of that trauma, maybe in ways that we don’t even notice. So the release ceremony was asking us to think about that trauma that we carry. Then to throw the tobacco leaves into the fire as symbolism for releasing that trauma. We went around the whole circle and everybody walked up to the fire and released their trauma into the fire, which was pretty cool to do. Then the ceremony ended and we were able to like, take pictures and just think about, again just like the legacy and the history and to think that our ancestors actually survived that, which is wild.
Now another thing that people kept saying or at least the guides kept saying like, “Welcome back, welcome back.” I was thinking, “Oh, okay. I know Ghana did this year of return to try and get African diaspora individuals to come back to Ghana.” I’m like, “Oh, it’s just an economic ploy. I don’t know if that’s really great for the country.” When I really listened, those guys said, “No, really. Welcome back. You are your ancestors returned.” He said, “No, because when our ancestors were captured, and marched, and sold off, the people, who were not captured, remained, but were looking for the captured Africans to come back. Nobody knew what was going to happen on the other side. People knew it wasn’t good, but there wasn’t this understanding that people would not come back. So you’re hoping like, thinking if someone gets kidnapped, you’re always hoping that that person is going to come back.”
So they said that as a country, as a group of people they had been waiting, had been waiting for years for their loved ones or their parents, or siblings, or cousins, or aunts, and uncles to come back. Now recently, that especially African-Americans, but also just Pan-African citizens of the world are coming back to Ghana, they said, “You are your ancestors returned. You are finally home.” When I tell you like, I didn’t have a reaction right away, but like, powerful, powerful, because when I really think about it, anybody who’s in the African diaspora, our ancestors had to survive hundreds of years under colonial oppression and not just, “Oh, we don’t like black people,” but transportation across the Atlantic with pigs and beatings, malnourishment, subjugated rights, right? Being beaten, being controlled, being killed if you looked at somebody the wrong way. So, for me to be existing in 2022, in Oakland California, USA, is a complete miracle in my book.
I think often, I know often, we talk about the current state of black folks and people of color in the United States. I understand why things are the way they are, but often we’re talking about our existence and our history of just one of struggle and hardship. We don’t let it hold us down or anything like that, but that is a part of the history that we carry, a part of the trauma that we carry. To hear the other side and to really think about, man, I come from some strong people to be sitting here in Oakland, California, USA, in 2022, talking into this microphone so that you can hear it about my experience in Ghana. I mean, so many people had to survive in order for me to be here. That is wild and incredible. I think nothing short of miraculous.
Another thing that stood out to me was after we left The Last Bath, we ended up going to the Cape Coast Castle the next day. That is they call it a castle, but really it was a fort that had different holding cells for enslaved Africans before they would be sent out. That was actually called the door of no return because they knew that once people were marched out of that last door and onto the boat, they were not coming home. It’s wild that they call it a castle because it really is a dungeon. It’s big. It’s not huge, but it’s big. It’s incredible that it still stands today.
I think the most impactful part was touring the male slave dungeon, where you walk down this steep incline and it’s damp, it’s dank, it’s dark. There are very narrow slits at the very top like, way above ground for light. They tell you, and it becomes very obvious that there are no toileting facilities, and that if you were fed and you had to use the bathroom, you just had to use the bathroom right where you were. They said at some point, some archaeologists came in and they in the late 90s like, 1998, 97, 98 or early 2000s and started digging at the floor and realized that there was about three or four feet of feces that was impacted on the floor, because there were no toileting facilities, no buckets, no door opening for people to go outside and use the restroom.
When you want to talk about dehumanizing people like, that is incredible. Absolutely incredible. Then these jokers, these colonizers built the chapel for the fort right on top of the male slave dungeon. Like, really? I mean, really though? So now you’re praising God on top of the heads of these enslaved black men, and not just enslaved black men, but the cells were small and they said that they would have about 1000 people in these areas at any given time. I can’t describe – let’s see. How could I describe how big they were, maybe your average bedroom size, times three, let’s say, so most bedrooms aren’t very big, maybe like a little smaller than a hotel room. Little smaller than your average hotel room.
Then there would be 1000 people in three of those compartments because they weren’t all next door, they had doors, so there were three separate areas. There were 1000 people on average in any of these holding cells held below ground. Crazy. So when I was just thinking about, I mean, that was really hard, especially when you walk into a place and you just think, “Wow, I’m here. I have agency. I can get out when I want. I can fly back home. I have the money to do what I need to do.” It’s still impactful and powerful on your senses, on your state of being, on your mind, all of that stuff. Like, imagine being in there and not knowing what is next and not having the tools to be able to get out of that situation.
Now you’ll hear on next week’s podcast with De’Von Truvel, who is the founder of Play Black Wall Street. I met him actually in Ghana. We were just talking about learning about these experiences and the events that black folks went through back then. Would we have the audacity, the courage, the fight to fight back? Would we have been Harriet Tubman, leading people through the Underground Railroad or would we be sitting, too afraid to make a move? To be honest, I don’t know. I’m not sure, because the “freedom fighting” that I do now, talking about black people, and brown people, starting businesses and building wealth, and being free and self-determination, all that stuff, there’s no threat to my life when I talk about that, or threat to my safety or my livelihood.
If I really had to make a choice to fight these folks with whips, and chains, and guns, for my freedom, and to try and free my people, and really actually risk losing my life, I don’t know how I would respond. I would like to think that I would be the same fighter that I am today, but to be honest, y’all, it’s a totally, totally different situation. I’m just not sure about that, but it’s something to think about.
After we get out of the dungeon, and then there’s, of course, the female side as well. It just really hit home that when we dismiss the effects of slavery, first of all, it wasn’t just a little blip in time, it wasn’t a couple months, a couple years. It was hundreds of years that the slave trade occurred around the world. It wasn’t just that people got taken and that’s big enough in itself, but it was the intentional destruction of black families, as well, because it wouldn’t be the whole family that was taken. It might be one or two people in the family. Even here on US soil, moms and dads would be sold separately, kids would be auctioned off, right? The family unit was not respected at all.
It makes sense that you would destroy the family unit to weaken any kind of nuclear power source that people could create together because if you can’t be with those who are close to you are those who you love, it’s hard to do anything on your own. It’s not impossible, but it just makes it a lot harder. We can see that today, broken families, divorced families, or even just families spread across the world. I’m the only one who’s in Oakland, California. My mom’s in Portland, Oregon. I got a cousin in Miami, a couple cousins in Miami, a cousin in New York, some family in Seattle, right? Where if we were all in one place, we would be a stronger, more mobilized family unit, but we’re all spread out. Our powers are a little bit diffused. So that was interesting to see because I think we look at what is happening today and if we don’t go back and learn our history, we don’t know that some of these family disruption practices have 100 years of legacy, right?
There was a guy from a community college in San Diego who was there. He’s Mexican. He was saying, “I can relate it to what’s happening today in immigration.” Family disunification, where kids are being put in one camp and parents are being sent to another and they’re being, if they’re being deported, being deported separately and not allowing families to come back together, or even to stay regardless of the reason why people are here, right? Those legacies are still present today.
Another thing that was actually really powerful was that in school, black history generally starts with slavery. In school in the US, black history generally starts with slavery, but when I was talking to people and people were talking to us in Ghana, it didn’t start with slavery. That wasn’t the beginning of black people in Africa at all, there were hundreds of years of black people prior to that, inventors and scientists and all kinds of things that weren’t a part of the “Western world,” so weren’t recognized as scholars and leaders and things like that, but nevertheless, there was a legacy, a history of hundreds of years of thriving black people on the continent of Africa.
That was empowering, because even though we are moving forward and not talking about slavery, or the effects of slavery every day, it’s one of those things where you don’t realize how depressing it is to know that your history in this country starts with enslavement. It hadn’t occurred to me because I hadn’t been exposed to it. I mean, I knew logically that there was history before that, of course, but being someone who is African-American, not being able to trace my roots back to a particular country, or even past like four or five generations in the United States, I didn’t have that connection, because I had not been to West Africa and couldn’t see it. So it was just beautiful to hear the story told from a different perspective, where the story starts before this tragedy of legacy, before arguably the most atrocious human rights violation in the history of the world. That was super empowering.
Let’s see, what else did I learn and come to know? I think it is, in the same vein of that adoption parallel, I think it is really important that we know and understand whoever we are, whether we are African-American, or Mexican, or Irish-American, whatever. It is so empowering to know where your family comes from. So I would encourage you to trace your family roots if you can, and go and visit the lands that you think you may have come from if you’re not sure. There is something very, very empowering to know that somebody in your family came from this country. I think, especially for those of us who have experienced colonization, even if you are Latin-American. If you are Latin-American you have definitely experienced colonization, for sure, right?
A lot of folks claimed the country that they most recently immigrated from, and that is awesome, but that country was also colonized, too. Like Mexico was colonized by the Spanish. Indigenous folks were almost completely wiped out. So what is the origin story? What is the origin story? I don’t know. I can’t answer that, but I think it is a really fascinating exercise to go and to visit and to see and to just get a different feel, because when the story is told by different people, it’s always told a little bit differently. The story starts in Ghana, way before the slave trade, which is super empowering to know that my origins didn’t start in America, but to know that they had started years before that, super empowering.
I’ve always wanted to lead a retreat. I’ve talked to a couple of different people about leading a retreat and stuff like that. I think I might do the first one in Ghana, either Ghana or Mexico. I was looking at Mexico before to do a retreat for entrepreneurs to have a place to relax and rest and then also plan in business. I think Ghana might be the first place, because I think it is so important for black folks in particular to have some sense of identity that comes before the history of the United States. Not to say that there needs to be an over identification with the history, but just to know that our history isn’t all bad, it isn’t all suffering, It isn’t all struggle.
I think the best way to get that is to see people who are cheering and rooting for you, and if you haven’t been to a country, as a black person, if you haven’t been to a country that is predominantly black, you gotta go. It’s amazing. Even going to the south like Atlanta where you see black people everywhere in different positions of power and stuff. It’s a truly different experience than what you get on the West Coast or in the northwest or even the northeast. There’s something about seeing yourself in other people who are doing well, thriving and experiencing life from a beautiful place that is empowering and makes you, makes me want to do better.
If you are not on my email list just yet, please, please go and sign up. You can go to the wilkersonlawoffice.com/contact and you can scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and click on join the email list. If you want, too, you could also go to my Instagram bio Asha Wilkerson, Esq. Click on the link in my bio and join the mailing list. I promise that I will keep you up to date, as I start to plan this trip to Ghana, and probably sometime next September, maybe October, but probably September to just go and experience and to really take some time to dive into who we are. Yeah. Really just who we are, who we want to be, who we are, who we say that we’re going to be.
You’ll hear next week, I lose it a little bit next week. I get a little emotional next week, as I’m De’Von about the projection of black wealth in America. You’ll hear me talk about how we are so over-determined. Everybody has a plan for us, sometimes except for us. It’s time for us to step into our power reclaim our crowns if you will, and to start making decisions about our own lives and where we plan to go. So join my mailing list and then stay tuned for next week’s podcast episode, as I wrapped with De’Von about, not only his game Play Black Wall Street, but also his experience in Ghana, as well.
All right y’all. I hope you have a beautiful week. Thanks for listening. Hit me up and let me know if you have any questions. Ciao.
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