by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Over the years, Kharyishi Wigington has been a tireless advocate for empowering West Oakland youth at McClymonds High School. She is at it again, this time taking a group of students on a cultural exchange to South Africa.
A few generations ago, if you weren’t in the military, you wouldn’t even think about leaving the borders of the United States. In 2015, post-Black is Beautiful Movement, post-Black Panther era, post-Nelson Mandela, West Oakland youth are embarking on a journey that will have a huge impact on their lives.
Many times within the pages of the Bay View, we ask you to get involved in battling for our rights. This time I am asking you to support something positive that will change an innercity youngsta’s life, sense of self and world view.
The Mac students leave next week. Will you be one of the people to help them to make this trip a success? Here is lead organizer Kharyishi Wigington telling the community in her own words about their upcoming historic trip to the motherland.
M.O.I. JR: How did your organization come up with the idea of taking West Oakland high school students to South Africa? What is the purpose?
Kharyishi: I have taken young people to South Africa before and wanted to give these young people that same opportunity. I also wanted to bring a new light to the group Culture Keeper and understood that in order for these young people to truly be the leaders we want them to be and educated outside of the classroom, we have to give them the opportunity to explore the world and teach them that they too can travel.
The purpose is for Black youth and in particular Black girls to know that they matter in the world regardless of the images and stories told to make them feel inferior. I want these Black girls to experience the world outside of West Oakland, to give them a lens that many people in their community sometimes do not know is possible.
Kharyishi Wigington has been a tireless advocate for empowering West Oakland youth at McClymonds High School. She is taking a group of students on a cultural exchange to South Africa.
I fight tirelessly for this opportunity to be made for Black people, but will work even harder for Black girls to experience the world through the lens of beauty, ownership of their history and the ability to know the truth of the people they originated from.
M.O.I. JR: What do you hope that these at-risk innercity youth get from this experience?
Kharyishi: My hope for the youth traveling on this trip is that they begin to see the value of education outside of the classroom and gain a desire to use their passport outside of this trip. I hope these youth gain an interest in traveling both in and outside of the United States of America.
During the trip they will learn that their struggle of being an “at-risk innercity youth” is something that youth around the world understand and can be a shoulder to lean on when it comes to certain struggles. I want these young people to know that traveling to Africa is important and that they are ambassadors who have the job to educate, to teach the truths of the continent and its many countries.
My hope for the youth traveling on this trip is that they begin to see the value of education outside of the classroom and gain a desire to use their passport outside of this trip.
M.O.I. JR: Why did you pick South Africa?
Kharyishi: I have been to South Africa multiple times throughout the years and have built relationships and a community of people within the country. South Africa shares a very similar story to the Black struggle of the USA and I believe that these young people will have so much to share with each other. It is also one of the most modern countries on the continent, so they will feel comfortable but also eager to explore.
M.O.I. JR: How has traveling internationally affected you and your sense of self?
Kharyishi: Traveling internationally allowed me to have a worldview and know that there is much more than the community or city I was raised in. The ability to travel gives me the opportunity to actually see the wonders of the world, to create a community of people who also share a worldview, but also I make sure those who look like me trust that they can do it too.
M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of Black youth from America being able to experience Black Africa?
Kharyishi: So they can be the ones to break every stereotype that will come from both ends and to begin building communities that experience the same struggles and oppression regardless of continent. The bond that can be built from these two groups opens the door for true exploration, building relationships and teaching the truths of their countries and cultures.
M.O.I. JR: How are the youth preparing for this trip?
Kharyishi: The young people for the last three weeks have been attending a class taught by a professor of Black studies from a local community college, where all their questions can be answered in regards to Africa and specifically South Africa. Before they began attending this class, throughout the school year they participated in a group called Culture Keepers where they learned the history of South Africa and had the opportunity to work with South African teachers who they built a relationship with.
They have participated in the numerous fundraisers for the trip and have been spokespersons to local politicians and adults on why traveling to South Africa is important to their growth.
M.O.I. JR: What kinds of things are you planning to do on the ground in South Africa? Who do you plan to meet?
Kharyishi: When we get to South Africa, we plan on seeing both the historic and relaxing sides of South Africa. A big thing that we plan on doing is connecting with other young people by creating a space for the young people to share their stories of similarities and differences, to allow for creativeness by having them either create a play or something that shows their experience and how can they evoke change within their countries.
This cultural exchange program will incorporate a creative side, where they will be able to attend a poetry slam and other cultural activities. We will also have a naming ceremony for the young people and get the opportunity to go to a Zulu village.
There are many more opportunities that will take place on this trip that will give these young people many stories to tell. While in South Africa, we will meet youth leaders and adults who work with them who are creating change in Johannesburg.
M.O.I. JR: What do you have to do with all of this? What is your role?
Kharyishi: Well, I am the lead adult of this cultural experience and have worked tirelessly all year in making sure that this opportunity could happen for these young people. I have written letters to gain support, talked to local politicians and educators to rally behind this opportunity and have worked with my friends in South Africa who have supported and helped make this possible for me.
As the lead adult, I have planned the activities that we will be experiencing in South Africa, built relationships with the local community to allow the young people to have a college class experience and have gained relationships with other organizations that have continued to support me since this idea was born.
M.O.I. JR: How are you raising funds?
Kharyishi: Last week, we held our last two fundraisers for the trip. To contribute, supporters can visit our website at www.sendmacktoafrica.com or go directly to our PayPal account by using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org or the name Send Mack to Africa!
We are accepting donations throughout the trip, so the sites will remain open even while we’re in South Africa.
M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with you and the youth involved in this project?
Kharyishi: People can keep up to date with us by following us on Instagram and liking our Facebook page, SendMackToAfrica. We will do updates throughout the trip with stories of the day, photos and videos of activities. When we return home, we will hold a community share out.
To contribute, supporters can visit our website at www.sendmacktoafrica.com or go directly to our PayPal account by using the email address email@example.com or the name Send Mack to Africa! We are accepting donations throughout the trip, so the sites will remain open even while we’re in South Africa.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.