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The Cambridge Chronicles: Letter One – On Meeting Thomas Sankara

Dear Reader,

There are so many things I haven’t shared but always knew I wanted to. But tomorrow is not promised, so now that I’m free, I’m just going to overshare. Part of me was waiting for a stamp of approval from a Cambridge or a Harvard. Because I knew that too many Black people don’t listen to you, no matter how much sense you’re making, unless you have a stamp of white approval. So I was okay with getting that stamp of approval, if it would cause my people to listen to me. I’m going to share my story here, but will change some names to protect the privacy of others. It would be great if you could protect their privacy as well.

There are so many things I haven’t shared but always knew I wanted to. But tomorrow is not promised, so now that I’m free, I’m just going to overshare. Part of me was waiting for a stamp of approval of a Cambridge or a Harvard. Because I knew that too many Black people don’t listen to you, no matter how much sense you’re making, unless you have a stamp of white approval. So I was okay with getting that stamp of approval, if it would cause my people to listen to me. I’m going to share my story here, but will change some names to protect the privacy of others. It would be great if you could protect their privacy as well.

I remember all the resistance and opposition I received when I first became radical and moved to New York. Both were happening at the same time. I had dated a Tchadienne in Arizona who only spoke French. He took me to this very popular bookstore (I forget the name now…Bookmans?) and bought me a copy of Thomas Sankara Speaks. For some reason I never forgot that day, and I went back to that story every time someone asked me a form of the question: “how did you get woke?”

He told me that Sankara was a real leader that I should know about. I guess he noticed that I was very passionate about creating a new world. Here I was a twenty-one year old Nigerian raised in America who preferred hanging out with Africans who were “Fresh Off the Boat.” I was eating a vegetarian diet, passionate about working out, traveling, fasting, praying and reading my Bible, not interested in partying with the crew. I had completed a degree in Computer Science but refused to work in the field. I don’t think I had a clue what my career aspirations were at the time. I had read Yetunde Taiwo’s blog and thought how cool it was everything she was doing with media, marketing, graphic design. I wished I could be her, but I didn’t know how to. And I had this degree hanging over my head that my entire family expected me to use to become the family’s bread and butter. But here I was, floating from state to state, living with different friends, looking for how I could find joy and follow my heart.

That joy often manifested as falling temporarily in love with busters who didn’t have anywhere near the emotional development or social capital to engage me at my level. But Ahmed was pretty close. He was a francophone intellectual of the ruling class who appreciated my eccentricities. Even though I barely spoke French and he barely spoke English, the attraction was intense and we had a whole tryst for several months. I learned French by translating things I wanted to say to him in an online translator. I would message him in French and after work we’d sit and struggle to speak to each other with my printed translations before us. It was so fun to me. The sex was insane. I loved learning from him, and I loved that he challenged me intellectually. So him giving me Thomas Sankara Speaks meant that I was going to read it. It took me a long time to get through it, but I was forever transformed. Here was a humble leader who walked around in military gear, did not waste his allowance on women and planes. In fact, he took the minimum possible salary he could live off. He made sure women received equal opportunity as men in education and in the workforce. He planted trees himself, side by side with villagers. He developed programs to organize the society along skillsets and objectives to build an African utopia. And the CIA got his best friend to kill him.

Because they convinced Blaise Compaoré that they would secure his future and the future of his children. They simply couldn’t afford to let a Sankara win. This was in the 80s. But what if Compaoré could not be bought? What if he and every other Burkinabe absolutely refused to sell out their countryman for any reason? What if their loyalty to themselves, to their community was unwavering? Too many ethnicities, I know. We’ll come back to this soon.

Even though that relationship didn’t last, Ahmed will always have a place in my memoirs, because he was the one who opened my eyes to the simplicity of successful revolution. After Sankara, I read Che Guevara, started reading about the Black Panthers, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela. And I realized that many revolutions had been successful. But they were quelled by one of three things: the CIA, in-fighting or a combination of the two. So I wondered how the core two could be resisted. The only answer I found to the CIA was prayer. Many scientists have discussed the power of melanin in spiritual practice. So literally tapping into the super powers we are born with, could be pretty effective in our resistance. I’ll talk more about this in a future post. The solution I found to in-fighting was self-love. Africans hate each other because we hate ourselves. We’ve been taught that we are unworthy, less than, ugly, stupid. So we internalize that (because of the images we see in the media), and we project it onto other Black people. 

Ok that’s enough for now. I’ll write more soon.

xo

Forever your Lolade <3

About Lolade

Lolade is a Gates Cambridge Scholar, starting her PhD in Sociology with the 2019 class. She recently graduated with her MA in African Studies [Sociology discipline] from Yale University where she researched ethnic identity formation among Nigerian immigrants in New York, Tokyo and Mumbai. She is the author of 'Market of Dreams' a radical poetry collection about love and freedom. She obsesses over indigenous textiles, cultural preservation and innovation, and intimately connecting the African Diaspora.

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