Words fail me because how do you describe something so unusual and lovely as the First Family visiting Ghana? The First Family being a black family, the president being half-Kenyan and his wife African-American? How do you explain the poetic beauty in such a homecoming of incredible magnitude nearly 500 years in the making? The descendents of slaves who were once shipped from Ghana to America to never see home again, the descendents of slaves who built the White House, now live in it. To see Michelle Obama, her mother and her two daughters experience the warmth of the people of Ghana was immeasurable.
Black Americans and Africans often misunderstand each other, but we share a commonality that goes beyond borders and bloodlines. The fact that we could be divided by ocean and robbed of our names and culture, yet still keep the rhythm of Africa in our hearts is amazing. The fact that we, in music, recreated what is still evident on the continent in the form of baseline and drum. That essence that could not be taken away or driven out by devastation or assimilation. When I heard the drums beating for the Obamas in Ghana I thought how that drum beat represents the heart of all Africans and blacks. That the drum is what we share even when we don’t realize we share anything at all but skin color.
I once covered a college graduation where a young man from Senegal was finishing his degree and his family had flown in to celebrate with him. Friends and relatives, all Senegalese brought a giant drum to the graduation and much to the annoyance of the more staid and dull people around them, they began to chant and beat that drum throughout the graduation ceremony. While others bemoaned their rudeness, I was in rapture with their unbridled joy. Never had I see a group of people so happy and loving. When the ceremony ended, without a care in their heads, they formed a giant drum circle right in front of the assembly hall and continued to sing and beat the drum as the new graduate danced with his mother in the middle.
I remember grabbing the photographer I was with and telling him he should get a picture of them, but he was hesitant. He didn’t get it at first. He didn’t see the love there until he did take the pictures and look at them afterwards. The love on all their faces, the pride, a mother hugging her son as they danced to the beat of one glorious drum.
I have never been to Africa. My bloodline, like most black Americans, is filled other bloodlines. I am thoroughly American in my culture and upbringing, but in my heart is that same drum. I knew little about Senegal or its culture, but I knew the drum. It was buried deep in my subconscious, carried for centuries from relative to relative and passed on to me. So when I heard the drums in Ghana for the president, I felt it again. I wanted to cry. It sounded like a home. It sounded like a homecoming. It sounded like joy. I hope someday someone bangs the drum for me.