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Dalton Students Travel to Ghana to Connect to Their Roots in the "Year of Return"

Inspired by the New York Times’ 1619 Project and Ghana's initiative “The Year of Return,” 21 HS students traveled to Ghana to participate in events to celebrate the customs, traditions, and resilience of African people, and to commemorate and reflect on the 400-year anniversary of the first Africans' arrival in the British colonies of North America.
During a long layover in Johannesburg, South Africa before heading to Accra, students and faculty spent the day exploring downtown Jo’burg, the Constitutional Court, Vilakazi Street (the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) and some community museums in Soweto. History teacher Donald Okpalugo noted, "I'm surprised how much we were able to cover in such a short amount of time, thanks to our wonderful tour guide, Molefi.”
 
After landing in Accra late on the 28th, the group headed north early in the morning to Kumasi, the heartland of the Ashanti people. A trip highlight was the Akwasidae -- a festival centered around rites honoring personal and community ancestors -- that the group attended on the first day in Kumasi.
 
“While waiting for the Asantehene (the Ashanti King) to reach us, we enjoyed performances by local musicians and dancers. The dancers even encouraged some of the teachers and students to move along with them! Thirty minutes later, the Asante Queen Mother arrived, carried on her palanquin with the King following close behind in a much larger one,” commented Alana Taylor '23. “There were officials and soldiers with guns (they shot them a few times, surprising and distracting many of us from the main event); dancers and people who fanned around the King, surrounding him, made it a bit hard to pick him out. But he was there, in all his glory.”
 
After the festival and visiting the Manhyia Palace and cultural center in Kumasi, the group traveled to Adanwomase and learned about the craft of kente cloth weaving and Adinkra philosophy. “For me, seeing how perfectly the Adinkra symbology and philosophy could describe my feelings and experiences with symbols meaning “child of God” or “I’m not afraid of you so don’t be afraid of me”, made this experience a highlight of the day,” commented Adedayo Perkovich '21. “It felt like I was among people who understood me -- like I was finally home!”
 
The group then traveled south to Cape Coast via the Assin Manso Slave River. After Salaga in the north of Ghana, Assin Manso was the largest slave-trading site in the Gold Coast. After marching hundreds of miles from the interior, captured Africans would reach the river at Assin Manso and would be bathed, shaved and examined before their final trek to the slave dungeons at Cape Coast and Elmina. While at Assin Manso, the group took part in some rituals at the river to honor those who lost their lives.
 
In Cape Coast, the group rang in the New Year with a dance party, a performance from local acrobats, and a bonfire on the beach. Students and chaperones spent the next few days touring Elmina and Cape Coast castles, journaling and reflecting on the past few days of the trip while enjoying some downtime on the beach.
 
“Experiencing both castles was undeniably heavy. Knowing that my ancestors were tortured, starved and dehumanized in the somber stone halls of the castles kindled conflicted emotions of despair, yet also a connection to my past. Standing in the same rooms that my ancestors inhabited and seeing the same sights that they saw, served as a missing link in my knowledge and my heritage," commented Jasmine Wynn '23. "As an African American, my knowledge of my family history has been extremely limited; the farthest I know is around three generations back. But being on the same ground as family members that trace back several generations made me feel complete and knowledgeable about the hardships that they overcame. And for that, I am never going to take my life for granted - as so many sacrifices occurred in order to lead me to the path I was able to take today.”
 
After three days in Cape Coast, the group headed east back to Accra via the Kakum National Rainforest. They were able to learn about the flora and fauna in the park as well as participate in a jaw-dropping canopy walk. Back in Accra, they visited the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum where they learned about the legacy of the first Prime Minister and President of independent Ghana and his vision of Pan-African unity. Following this, the group attended a soccer match between two of Ghana’s club teams and enjoyed a halftime performance from Ghanaian rapper, Shatta Wale.
 
During dinner at the Jamestown Cafe students listened to a talk by two people from the fashion industry researching the second-hand fashion industry. “I was really interested in this conversation; in commercial markets as large as the U.S., the consequences for our comfort are rarely brought up as an issue,” commented Jusani Morris '22. “The two presenters went through immense detail to describe not only the exploitation of other countries but how each step in fast fashion was detrimental to the environment and other places in the world that didn’t produce at the same rate.”
 
The group spent the remaining 36 hours exploring Accra’s Makola Market, doing some last-minute shopping and concluded the trip with a farewell dinner and performance at the W.E.B. du Bois Center.
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