Dreaming Diaspora

Haiti where negritude rose for the first time and stated that it believed in its humanity
— Aimé Césaire

One must begin somewhere
—Aimé Césaire

Uga Thaiii!


Tomorrow fulfills a dream whose written record, magnificent as it is, barely captures the hopes and ambitions of those black people who, throughout and before recorded history, left Africa and were captured, prospered as scholars and merchants and survived as slaves and concubines, traversed foreign terrains hobbled and scarred and stood as counselors to kings and priests, broke bread in shared prayers and ate stolen bread that was a response to prayers.

Tomorrow fulfills a dream written so magnificently by the Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson, about a “True American,” whose mingled bloods and anchored histories would enable tomorrow’s vision and today’s celebration.

Tomorrow fulfills a dream, sang by Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, a dream in which the darker brother finds a place, where his beauty is known and celebrated, his abilities recognized, a dream in which white houses no longer have closed doors, and inviolate, poison-free hearts gain strength from America’s vigors.

Tomorrow fulfills a dream that crosses continents, touching the nègre in interwar France, black soldiers in Burma and Spain, those who sang and those who dared to dream otherwise: Gladys Casely Hayford, Jessie Fauset, Pauline Nardal, Leopold Senghor, Jomo Kenyatta, Amos Tutuola, ancestors all, who enable us to keep on dreaming.

We dream amidst dystopias, not to escape from our wars and famines, our genocides and criminalities, not to forget Sudan and Zimbabwe, Kenya and Haiti, not to erase what we have done and what we continue to do to each other. We dream because, in the one-second silences that punctuate devastation, histories of hope and survival and triumph whisper in the wind. And we who have learned to discern the pattern of falling leaves with war-keened ears hear tales of those who have gone before, who have started paths, who inspire a belief that we can be better.

We dream because it is our legacy: we who anchor and pull away from Africa, diasporas old and new, devastating and prosperous. We dream in our three-syllabled names and kinked hairs, our pursed lips and our glorious hips. We dream in dances whose origins are lost in time and sing melodies taught by ocean waves.

We dream because the urgencies of now present no ready solutions. And still we wake.

And still we sing “we shall overcome” in accents from Chicago and DC, Atlanta and New York, Nairobi and Kampala, Lagos and Port-au-Prince, Kingston and Ouagadougou.

Diaspora’s dreams do not disappear into the ether of history. They tether us to the past and reach for new histories. Fredrick Douglass’s dreams find realizations in Nelson Mandela’s freedom. Harriet Jacobs’s imprisonment becomes Miriam Makeba’s multiple passports. Once we ran to find freedom and now we run to celebrate freedom.

It is already tomorrow in Kenya—new dawns where time runs ahead. Here, where Obama will be president tomorrow, we wait for new tomorrows, for time to catch up with itself, with the dreams that it has anticipated and now fulfills.

Diaspora dreaming continues.