Monday, July 25, 2011

Liberian Independence Day 2011- Tale of Two Celebrations

Last year, shortly after releasing my memoir, “Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot,” the Organization of Liberians in Illinois (OCLI) invited me to speak at the 163rd Liberian Independence Day Celebration. My theme was, “How Can Liberia Rebuild After Years of Civil War?” Indeed, how does a country recover from a war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Liberians? How can Liberia heal the physical and psychological scars that could take 100 years to repair? I know that the righteous things are simple and with that in mind, I reflected, prayed and shared seven simple ideas. I revisit them today, in commemoration of the 164th anniversary of the Independence of Liberia.

They are:
1) Forgive thine enemy. Release the bitterness and embrace the possibility of reconciliation and progress.
2) No More War! Keep Liberia stable and secure for at least the next 50-75 years.
3) Visit Liberia if you can and look into your peoples’ faces
4) Organize charities to support the people of Liberia
5) Educate everybody, no exceptions
6) Consider how to use the diversity of Liberia and all its tribes (ethnic groups) in Liberia’s favor
7) Be an advocate for Liberia within the United States
Those seven ideas applied simply and consistently could help Liberia move from a people affected by pain and bitterness to a people focused on progress.

This year, as preparations were underway to celebrate the 164th Liberian Independence Day, I was a little dismayed to realize that for one reason or another, I would need to divide my attention between two Chicago Independence Day celebrations, a couple of miles apart, both on the south side.

The celebration for the Organization of Liberians in Illinois (OLCI) celebrated, in addition to Liberian Independence, the inauguration of the Hon. Richard Tamba as its new president. An evening highlight was popular Liberian songbird Ms. Nimba Burr. Just a few miles away, the Liberian Community Association of Illinois (LCAI) held a separate celebration at Corpus Christi Church.

I chose to attend both celebrations and to overlook whatever underlying reason caused the dual events. Instead, I focused on the positive energy and goodwill present at both celebrations. I immersed myself in the spirit and good humor of a people who, although divorced from their ravaged homeland, nevertheless treasure their national identity and the coming together with compatriots, friends and family to celebrate freedom! I focused on the fact that there were elders, youngsters, and all ages in between in common union!

I noticed small details such as the fact that at one celebration, more of the attendees wore cultural attire and drove larger and more expensive automobiles; at another, I witnessed the Grand March, which brought back fond memories of Liberia. I have not witnessed the Grand March for more than twenty years and seeing elders in traditional dress and young men in flat-bibbed baseball caps marching with young women in shorts and stilettos was uplifting. I reveled in eating several fluffy pieces of rice bread and callah (a deep fried sweet bread reminiscent of donut holes), while my eldest daughter, who became women in Liberia, critiqued the flavors of authentically prepared Liberian foods that she has not eaten in a long, long time.

In the end, what was most important to me about the 164th celebration of Liberian Independence is not that I attended two celebrations, but that Liberia is the oldest independent nation on the continent of Africa, and that my family has a connection to that history and that future.

Saturday night, I laughed, a lot, and danced and sweated (a lot) to the upbeat rhythms of Liberian music. As I drove home in the early hours of Sunday, I realized that whatever problems lay ahead with respect to the governance of Liberian people living in the Diaspora, one thing I know for sure, is that as long as we can dance, eat, sweat and talk together, there is hope. All Hail Liberia, Hail!