Better connecting Africa to the US should be a priority

The new Ambassador of the African Union to the United States has a distinctive viewpoint for her task.

Dr. Arikana Chihombori Quao has practiced medicine in middle Tennessee for the past 25 years, operating four clinics.

A new generation of African leaders versed in science and finance are changing the image of the continent.

Chihombori, known in Tennessee simply as "The African Queen," has been part of that transition since the ascension of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa.

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The Zimbabwe native launched the African Diaspora Healthcare Initiative 20 years ago to bring about a vision of world-class medical centers on the continent, fueled by doctors from around the world who make time in Africa an important part of their experience, and train practitioners while there.

 

She joined us in Los Angeles for the launch of a tourism initiative to spotlight the black experience in Southern California, where 1.5 million African-Americans are among the 50 million yearly visitors to Los Angeles.

However, they rarely learn about the significant role of blacks in the city's history or the extensive cultural amenities which the 1 million African-American residents have created.

Along with her was Richard Patterson, CEO of Trion Supercars, the first African-American automaker in a century.

The previous week, I had been in lower Manhattan where 25 years ago, the black community of New York City insisted that the bones of 15,000 17th century Africans be properly respected with the African Burial Ground National Monument.

The new Visitor Center is as moving as the new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History, with a 20 minute film that captures the feelings of the people who worked so hard to build what became the world's greatest city.

Chihombori understands the mandate of that history as she discusses the "Joseph generation" in the Biblical analogy which was separated in order to save their home in the future. The continent's leaders have charged her with being the catalyst for invigorating ties between the Sixth Region of the African Union-the Africans who migrated around the world--and its nations.

Changing old stereotypes takes direct personal engagement. On a suggestion from a patient, she visited the auction of Chapman Clearing, a plantation dating back to 1799 and unexpectedly won the property, which had practiced slavery during the 19th century. In an act of grace, she told the Chapmans that they could stay in the property while she decided what to do with the investment.

Later on, Chapman confided with her that it had completely changed the way he thought about black people.

She and her husband, Dr. Nii Saban Quao, then turned the former slave plantation into Africa House, using the 15,000 square foot mansion and the surrounding 30 acres for tourists, events and conferences on the transformation of the African continent.

She also bought a hotel in Durban, South Africa which is also a place for cultural heritage tourism and intellectual engagement.

The graduate of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College is returning the grace that former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher extended during her medical studies. She had almost turned down her acceptance to Meharry because she lacked the funds for medical school, but her husband insisted that she accept.

Although the money didn't materialize, every year, the financial aid office sent her to meet with Dr. Satcher, then the president of the college, for a long conversation about her goals and African culture. Every year, he would sign papers to allow her to continue her studies. Eventually, she completely repaid all the tuition and fees.

Satcher's insight channelled the voices of those unknown Africans buried in the African Burial Ground and at Chapman Clearing who endured suffering so that future generations would learn about the proud heritage that they inherit.

Africa's new spokesperson in the U.S. knows America from the inside out.

Both sides of the Atlantic are certain to benefit.

John William Templeton is co-founder of the 14th annual National Black Business Month and creator of the California African-American Freedom Trail. He leads African Free School summer institutes in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Miami in July and August.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.