ST. PETERSBURG – Cultural anthropologist and filmmaker Dr. Sheila Walker, Ph.D. headlined the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History’s (ASALH) third annual Black History Month Celebration dinner.
ASALH is dedicated to bringing to the entire world the history of African Americans and other members of the African diaspora.
“We need to preserve our history, said St. Petersburg chapter President Jacqueline Hubbard. “We need to understand that we have persevered over 400 years under the most terroristic and brutal system of racism that has existed anywhere in the world.”
ASALH makes it a point to make every meeting free and open to the public. With thought provoking topics and special guess that relate to black history and culture, they continue to seek new members with a thirst for knowledge.
Keynote speaker Walker is the executive director of Afrodiaspora, Inc., a non-profit organization that develops documentary films and educational materials about the global African diaspora.
Last Friday, Feb. 17 at the St. Petersburg Country Club, Walker presented her documentary “Slave Routes: A Global Vision.” It tells the story of the diverse histories and heritages stemming from the global tragedy of the slave trade and slavery.
Aimed at a general audience, the film provides an overview of the massive deportation of African populations to different parts of the world including the Americas, Europe, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Asia.
Its scope moves beyond the trauma of slavery and emphasizes slave resistance and resilience in surviving such a dehumanizing system.
The documentary stemmed from when Walker was asked to be the keynote speaker at the United Nations in New York on the topic of remembering slavery and celebrating the heritage.
“I don’t know how to put celebrating and slavery in the same sentence. I had to resolve that. My conclusion was it’s OK to remember slavery if we don’t just remember the terrorism,” said Walker.
In her film, she highlighted the African presence across continents, the significant contributions of the African diaspora to the host societies in various fields (arts, religion, knowledge, gastronomy, agriculture, behavior, linguistics, etc.) and the racism and discrimination inherited from this tragic past.
Walker sat out to debunk the lies that have been swirling around for centuries such as the African did not bring anything to the Americas.
“If you look at the kinds of work that needed to be done in the Americas to create new societies, Europeans who wanted to do this had to bring Africans…Europeans did not know tropical culture, so they enslaved Africans.”
In fact, many Africans were enslaved in the Americas specifically for their technological expertise.
Walker feels it’s important for African Americans to know their history in the United States, but thinks it is also really important for them to know other African cultures around the world.
During the 400 years of enslavement, 500,000 people came to British North America, but 10 times that many went to Brazil.
“I think we need to get a better since of who we are in the world and where we are in the world,” said Walker, noting that African descendants number over 200 million in the Americas, not just the 40 million in the United States.
Slavery dispersed Africans all over the world to plantations in the Indian Ocean Islands, throughout the Mediterranean to Turkey during the Ottoman Empire, in the South Pacific and in India, just to name a few locations.
The documentary was essentially a story of perseverance showing that although Africans were torn away from their homes and families and the world they knew, throughout the global African diaspora and in spite of slavery, these involuntary immigrants preserved ancestral memories.
Walker conducted a brief Q&A session after the film speaking on the topics of the importance of dance in African cultures, and how Africans in Catholic countries are freer to practice the religion of their ancestors.