Princess Gelilamariam Fessehatsion and her son, Prince Ruphael Sahle Selassie (great grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie I) joined Little Ethiopia at the Ethiopian Community’s 12th Annual Afro-American & Ethiopian Heritage & Unity Celebration of Black History Month at the Fraser Mansion, home of the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office. The event commemorated years of cooperation between Ethiopian and African American communities, and stressed the importance of these two communities uniting in common pursuits.
Organized and moderated by Mr. Tamrat G. Medhin, founder and publisher of LittleEthiopia.org and a leader in the DC Ethiopian Community, the event featured keynote speaker The Honorable Melvin Deal, founding director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers of D.C.. Other speakers included: Ms. Beth Akiyama, Executive Director of the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office; The Honorable Baba-C, an African American storyteller; Mr. Chuck Hicks, “Mr. Black History” and D.C. Host Committee Co-Chair; Dejazmatch (General) Kwasi Bonsu; and Ms. Jamedra Aikens, Vice-President of Sacred International Speakers and of the award-winning Renaissance Speakers D.C. Toastmasters Club. Prince Ruphael Sahile Silassie closed the event, emphasizing the importance of understanding black history, and of cooperation between Ethiopian and African American communities.
Beth Akiyama, Executive Director of the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, opened the event by stressing the importance of human rights education. “We want to unite on human rights education,” she said.
Tamrat Medhin spoke of past collaborations between the African American and Ethiopian communities. He expressed gratitude to the 17,500 African Americans who volunteered to fight side by side with Ethiopians in the Italian-Ethiopian War of 1935-41. He talked about the annual wreath laying ceremonies honoring African American and Ethiopian veterans at the African American Civil War Museum. And he commemorated the remembrance of Yekatit 12, February 19, 1937, the first day of a three day period where over 30,000 Ethiopians were killed by order of Italian general Rodolfo Graziani.
The Honorable Baba-C, spoke on the importance of understanding the past and of unity, “We may have different last names, different cultures and different communities, but we are all here together today…. When we come together, we leave better.”
Receiving a generous introduction from The Honorable Baba-C, The Honorable Melvin Deal educated the Ethiopian community on the common problems African Americans face. He also described his efforts to keep children away from drugs and crime through music and storytelling.
The Vice-President of the award-winning Renaissance Speakers D.C. Toastmasters Club, Ms. Jamedra Aikens, spoke of not just looking at Black History through the narrow lens of the overcoming of slavery and the attainment of freedom for African Americans in the United States, but of broadening that scope to include the larger context of African Americans. It was not until she learned that African American history was preceded by many African civilizations full of accomplishment, knowledge and learning over many centuries of history that she was able to see herself as a part of something greater.
“Mr. Black History,” and D.C. Host Committee Co-Chair, Chuck Hicks, reiterated the richness of Black History and spoke about the tenacity of the African American spirit in its pursuit of freedom, no matter the odds. He also spoke about his admiration for the fact that many other races and communities have stood with African Americans throughout history on the principle of freedom.
Mr. Hicks underscored the importance of the knowledge of history in light of the fact that it is the erasure of a people’s history that can eliminate their self-identity and worth. Restoring that knowledge is therefore of the utmost importance for all Americans, as African American history is not just African American history, but U.S. history.
Dejazmatch Kwasi Bonsu and Prince Ruphael Sahle Selassie gave closing remarks and thanked Little Ethiopia and the Church of Scientology National Affairs Office for the event. The remarkable evening came to an end, and the closing message was clear: Black History is everyone’s history, and should be celebrated as such.