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Mack reports back from their South Africa trip

October 28, 2015

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

LeeAhna Smith and LaShonda Taylor eagerly await our departure from SFO.

LeeAhna Smith and LaShonda Taylor eagerly await our departure from SFO.

At the beginning of the year, I did a Q&A with Khayrishi Wigington, a youth leadership coordinator at McClymonds High aka Mack in West Oakland, who was planning to take a group of female students and parents to South Africa. Next week, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 6:30-9 p.m., at the McClymonds Youth and Family Center (Game Room) located on McClymonds High School’s campus, 2607 Myrtle St., West Oakland, this same group is planning a report-back at Mack, to express to the community what they experienced and learned from their trip that took place in late July and early August.

Traveling is an educational tool that Black people around the world have not had consistent access to because of how expensive it is, and when we do have the resources, we usually under-utilize it because of our lack of exposure and knowledge of what is happening in the outside world. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz aka Malcolm X taught us decades ago that it is of the utmost importance to have a world-view, so that you can see where you stand in the world in a geo-political, social and economic context.

Khayrishi Wiginton is a trailblazer in inner-city education, specializing in dealing with Black young women and exposing them to the different ways that people interact on the planet. I hope that you, our readers, can come out and support the youth in listening to what they have to share.

Our girls hanging out in O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, after traveling over 24 hours to get there. All we want are showers and beds!

Our girls hanging out in O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, after traveling over 24 hours to get there. All we want are showers and beds!

M.O.I. JR: When and why did you take your Mack students to South Africa?

Khayrishi: I, with the assistance of six mentors, took 11 young ladies to South Africa. Ten of these young ladies were from West Oakland, and the other student lives in Houston, Texas. We went to South Africa at the end of July and came back the first week of August.

It was important to take young Black girls to South Africa because regardless of the images and stories told to make them feel inferior, they need to know that they matter. I wanted them 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.

Alexis Hill, Cierra Marzett and Fanae Clark hang out with a shop employee on the uShaka Village Walk at uShaka Marine World in Durban.

Alexis Hill, Cierra Marzett and Fanae Clark hang out with a shop employee on the uShaka Village Walk at uShaka Marine World in Durban.

We took this trip because I need them to know their history and to know that they are beautiful and divinely perfect in this world.

M.O.I. JR: What exactly did y’all do out there?

Khayrishi: During our trip, we visited Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, South Africa. We did a bunch of exciting activities. The fun activities included visiting Kruger National Park for a safari, going to Lion Park, going to the beach, going to a water park, and we went to the State Theater to see the musical “Marikana.”

We also visited several schools and community centers. This included Naledi Secondary in Soweto, LEAP School in Pretoria, Paul Modjadji’s Dare to Dream art program in Hammanskraal, and Wushwini Arts, Culture and Heritage Centre in Durban. This trip was a cultural exchange – a fieldtrip with education and entertainment.

Fanae Clark, LaShonda Taylor and Kierra Cotton-Bassette pose at the State Theater after watching the AMAZING musical “Marikana.”

Fanae Clark, LaShonda Taylor and Kierra Cotton-Bassette pose at the State Theater after watching the AMAZING musical “Marikana.”

M.O.I. JR: How did it affect your students?

Khayrishi: Traveling is an extremely powerful experience for anyone. It is especially powerful for young Black girls from the inner city. Traveling teaches you so many lessons but, most of all, it teaches you about yourself. To that end, my students have been stretched, challenged and their perspectives have been broadened.

Perhaps the greatest impact that it had on my students was the fact that they are imagining things for themselves that they weren’t before. These young ladies are talking about studying abroad, going back to live in South Africa, traveling to other countries and even marrying someone from the continent.

M.O.I. JR: What activity was the most transformative for them?

Khayrishi: The most transformative experience was the naming ceremony that we had. Our hosts, Napo Masheane and Debra Leshika of Village Gossip Productions that’s based out of Johannesburg, organized a naming ceremony for the members of our group.

The ceremony took place at Wushwini Arts, Culture and Heritage Centre in Durban. It was night time, under the stars, and each member was given a South African name, Sesotho or Zulu, that denoted their personalities and character traits. My students not only embraced their names, but they often use them now.

M.O.I. JR: What is your opinion of race relations in post-apartheid South Africa?

Hanging out one evening with our host, Napo Masheane, we discussed culture, self-esteem and what it means to be a woman.

Hanging out one evening with our host, Napo Masheane, we discussed culture, self-esteem and what it means to be a woman.

Khayrishi: This was my fourth trip to South Africa. The racial dynamics in that country are filled with nuances and complexities. In many ways, it reminds me of the racial climate in the United States during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

But for the most part, I only hang out with Black South Africans. In the cities, there are a great many Black people working and in positions of power – although in the suburbs you will find way more white people in power. The same is true in Durban, although the people that are often in power there are East Indians.

But despite what racial politics look like on the surface, there is still a HUGE imbalance of wealth in South Africa – with white South Africans (Afrikaners) maintaining a large majority of the country’s land and resources, and the Black South Africans maintaining the majority in terms of population and politics – but they still aren’t in control of their land and resources.

M.O.I. JR: When is your community report back? Where? What will y’all be reporting?

Khayrishi: Our community report back will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 6:30-9 p.m., at the McClymonds Youth and Family Center (Game Room) located on McClymonds High School’s campus, 2607 Myrtle St., West Oakland. This trip wasn’t just for me or my students; it was for our community.

For that reason, it is necessary for these young ladies and mentors to stand before the community and share their experiences. We will show footage of the trip, allow young people to tell their stories, and do a panel so that members of the community can ask questions and learn from our students.

Our girls pose with students from Naledi Secondary School in Soweto after our visit and discussion with them. Naledi was one of the main sites for the Soweto Uprising, and McClymonds High School was home to the Black Panthers. Our students have so much in common, including a history of resistance.

Our girls pose with students from Naledi Secondary School in Soweto after our visit and discussion with them. Naledi was one of the main sites for the Soweto Uprising, and McClymonds High School was home to the Black Panthers. Our students have so much in common, including a history of resistance.

M.O.I. JR: Do you plan to take a group from Mack to South Africa in 2016?

Khayrishi: Yes! We will be taking a different group of youth and mentors to South Africa in December 2016. It is my desire to make this a regular thing, and not only to go there for cultural exchange, but to bring a different South African team here every year.

M.O.I. JR: How could people stay in touch with your work?

Khayrishi: Supporters can send me an email at khayastar@gmail.com, and I will add them to our regular newsletters.

M.O.I. JR: What do you have to do with all of this? What is your role?

Khayrishi: I am the visionary and lead coordinator for this project.

M.O.I. JR: How can people keep up with you and the youth involved in this project?

Khayrishi: To support, contact or contribute to our past or future efforts, people can visit our website at www.sendmacktoafrica.com.

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 blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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