Wrapped in Liberia's Pride "The Lone Star"

A few days ago, while going through my archives, I came across an article from the defunct Liberian Publication "West African Journal". The article was written in September of 1995.

The heading was "Air Afrique donates tickets to Liberian group in Los Angeles". The tickets were made available to insure that all the funds raised would be used to purchase food and other essentials for Ma Lucy Walker-Cole and her orphans rather than air transportation. According to the correspondent what started as a joint venture by various Liberian groups in Los Angeles ended up as a one-woman show sponsored by Vera Oye? Yaa-Anna and the Palaver Hut. The fundraiser benefiting Liberian orphans raised $2,040 after expenses.

Ten years later, I find myself again fund raising for Liberian orphans - this time in my neighborhood of 8 years, Capitol Hill in the nation's capitol. A friend asked, "So what has changed? "A lot" I replied. In Los Angeles, "The Palaver Hut" was successful; advertisement was "word of mouth", bookings were about three months in advance and a mailing list of 5,000 with generous patrons who supported the Culinary Dinner Theatre monthly programs. The African community was also very supportive. Whatever country our program feature, the nationals of that country turned out in a grand way to support. The evening of July 29, 1995 was in observance of the 148th anniversary of Liberia's independence. The publication stated that 100 white Americans and 10 Liberians were in attendance.

What has changed is the level of support and who the supporters are in this effort to assist Liberian children. For example, last weekend I visited Eastern Market to promote the September 10 Benefit Evening for "Tajuo" the Liberian children of war. My day began at 9:30 a. m. and ended at 3:00 p.m. The results were not very encouraging. I positioned my card table near the door leading to the farmer's market. My table had all the necessary information including our tax-exempt status documents, event tickets, flyers and background information. For the entire day I raised a grand total of $30.00 in contributions! The contributions came from 4 black males visiting from Georgia and 2 white females from San Antonio and 1 from Connecticut. I counted 730 persons who passed my table - with the exception of the aforementioned seven persons - I was invisible to all 730 people!!! None of the 723 persons stopped to make inquiries, show interest, purchase tickets, take flyers or make donations.

As I prepare for this event I did not have any illusions because I have gone down this path before. Bettie Neal, my best friend and sister who founded "Tajuo", asked for my help in 2003, because she knew I would assist because of my passion and commitment to Africa.

I have not done any in depth analysis as to why Africa does not resonate with Americans Black, White and Africans of this area, in the same manner I observed and experienced the way it resonated in Los Angeles.

Another sad observation is that Liberians are not united and do not support each other. I can only guess that the lack of interests in African cultural arts is due mainly to the lack of cultivation by the Liberian political and social leadership. I do not know how many Liberian artists there are in the metropolitan Washington area. What I do know is that I've never performed with another Liberian artist, and I've only had one Liberian artist attend a Palaver Hut production (in 1998). In the eight years I've performed in Washington, DC, three Liberians have attended a paid Palaver Hut event, a total of six Liberians attended two performances in 2003 at the Smithsonian African Museum and several received complimentary invitations to attend my Washington premier, in Georgetown in 1997. The only consistent Liberian audience support has been my best friend and sister Bettie L. Neal. She was always there in the audience for me. Her departure 14 months ago, to Liberia has left me feeling like an orphan. It is embarrassing when people inquire why Liberians don't come out to support me? It is also, encouraging, exciting and gratifying to see the large number of Americans who have come to support Africa and me. Recently I spoke with an African Ambassador who shall remain nameless. He informed me that he knew Liberians were not supportive and he asked if he could make me an honorary citizen. Why? I inquire. He observed that I get a lot of press national and local publications, television, radio and the Internet. The stories are always about the "Liberian-born artist". Well, I remarked remember the adage. "A Prophet is never welcome in his own home".

There is a problem with how Africans view themselves. If Africans believe that assimilation is the only means to experience all there is, than they are bankrupt culturally and intellectually. Many adults are jaded and their inability to separate fluff from real substance is a problem. My hope for Africa's future is the children. I've learned more from the children than I have given. I meet many African children who comment that they are Americans and their parents are Africans. However, this summer I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting a wise seven year old. She introduced herself to me as an East African from Tanzania. I inquire were she was born? She replied that she was a Tanzanian born in America. My mouth was agape because this would be a first with the large number of African children I've met. Professionally, my work with American children through my early learners and after-school programs; is cultivating a love for Africa by taking the children on imaginary visits to Africa. To demonstrate my connection to them is to be wrapped in Liberia's pride "The Lone Star". Affectionately, I am "Auntie Oye?". Children and adults know that I am Africa's best and I am accountable. On behalf of my Creator and Ancestors I say in my Grebo language besame' - thank you. Do yourself a favor, work for Africa and work on yourself because there is a WINNER IN YOU! HAPPY FLAG DAY!

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