“I write when I am angry,” said Ghanainan-born poet and writer Theresa Kwofi, guest speaker at the African Students’ Association’s “I am African” forum held on Feb. 19. “I write to tell the world it is not right.”
The evening was filled with both stirring discussion and laughter between Kwofi and her student audience. It was an informative and refreshing exchange of ideas between generations. So it is a wonder, then, why Council Hall was not filled to its capacity.
“This was a needed event for the campus,” said freshman Marie-Therese Guessou, after the event ended. “It talked about things more people need to know. I wish more St. John’s students who weren’t African would participate.”
Sophomore Chibuzo Ugonabo agreed. “The people that need to be here aren’t here. More St. John’s students need to be here,” said Ugonabo, an information technology major. More Americans should be here to learn about Africa. We are great people too. We are not that poor country that people think we are.”
ASA Treasurer Inem Akpan began the night by stating the importance of ASA’s mission: “Just know that we all come from the same place,” said Akpan. “We should all be concerned with what happens in our continent.”
An introduction by Akpan, Abiola Ayinde, community service and fundraising chair, and Gerard Miller followed. Each respectively presented separate segments about Africa: “Africa 101,” covering the Diaspora and subsequent ethnic diversity; the politics of Africa; and Culture and Arts of Africa.
Kwofi then took the podium to speak about the motivation behind her book “Mother Africa: Thou Art a Continent,” a collection of moving essays and poetry on her homeland. Kwofi, who earned her BFA in Fine Arts from Brooklyn College, both encouraged and chided the audience.
“I think I am the only writer who writes uphill,” said Kwofi, who read the two poems “Africa is Not” and “Blank Murky Minds” from her book. “I write to bring the beauty out of Africa […] You can dream all you can, but you have to wake up and face reality.”
Kwofi’s book is a labor of love, and she is determined to set the record straight for the Western world on Africa, and Africa on the Western world.
She believes that the media portrays Africa as a land of poverty, rapes, and suffering. “We live in so much wealth,” said Kwofi of the rich natural resources. “Why do we create poverty?”
She cautioned college students about being won over by consumerism. “Having a college degree doesn’t mean anything […] We have to go to our brothers and sisters in the countryside. It is selfishness that is killing Africa. Selfishness comes from stupidity. If too much greed is built into our minds, Africa will go nowhere.”
Senior Ogochukwu Agwai, a legal studies and philosophy major, was inspired by Kwofi. “It was insightful, and educated us about pride in our heritage.”
To coincide with the forum, Kate Otto, a founding member of the Keep a Child Alive organization, spoke about the work the organization does for children in Africa. Many people may remember KCA’s controversial “I Am African” campaign that ran in magazines, featuring celebrities of all ethnicities in African jewelry and face paint. The organization provides medical, clinical and social care to children orphaned by AIDS. KCA has college chapters; Akpan and Rahel Solomon run the St. John’s Chapter.