By Aroun Rashid Deen, New York City, US – The momentum in the US that preceded the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone’s independence was as unprecedented as it was breathtaking. Never before in the recent history of the Sierra Leone community in the United States have so many people become so enthusiastic about celebrating the country’s independence anniversary.
From city to city and from state to state it was the talk of the day as elaborate plans were carried out to observe the golden anniversary. What is also unique about it was that not only were different Sierra Leonean organizations within some states coming together as one body, but that umbrella bodies from different states were joining together to plan and celebrate.
It should not come as a surprise though because notwithstanding some challenges over this period in the country’s history, we are first and foremost the proud daughters and sons of that bond called Sierra Leone. It is normal practice that the golden jubilee of every sort is observed with a sense of pride and affections by the descendants of that whole. From Washington to California to Nevada, Utah and Arizona, and from Maine to Missouri to Florida and the Carolinas, it’s Sierra Leone golden anniversary jamboree.
According to one of the celebration organizers, Zainab Sesay-Harrell in New York City, there is more to it than one’s tie to heritage. She sees it as a fitting moment to honor the cultural history and pay reverential regards to those who labored to transform to reality the dreams for independence. “Giving priority to this occasion is the only way we can pay tribute to our founding parents, the majority of who are no longer with us today,” she says.
Lead golden jubilee celebration organizer in the city of Boston in Massachusetts, Alusaine Deen, shares Ms. Sesay-Harrell’s sentiments. Mr. Deen ciphers the mindset and the level of courage demonstrated by the nation’s founders, going back to the days of pre-independence Paramount Chief Bai Bureh of Kasse – who launched a revolt in 1989 against the British colonial administration for imposing the hut tax – as well as the likes of Milton Margai – the nation’s first Prime Minister – Paramount Chief Madam Ella Koblo Gulama, politicians: R. G. O. King, Lamina Sankoh, John Karefa-Smart, C.B. Rogers-Wright, Kande Bureh and Mohamed Sanusi Mustapha and others including many unsung women who he says were very instrumental in seeing Sierra Leone through those challenging days. “They must have been having sleepless night, don’t you think?” he wonders.
Celebration in the Tri-State area of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, gets off the ground with an elaborate program that will run for months. It starts Friday, April 15, with the Miss Sierra Leone/Tri-State Golden Jubilee Beauty Pageant and Fashion Show in the borough of Staten Island in New York City. Seven finalists from within the Tri-State compete for the crown. For the young contestants though, it is more about participating and less about winning. The winner, nineteen year old college – bound, Adiatu Bangura of New York City, says that she is proud and sees it as an honor to play a part in observing the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone. Talking to me before the pageant show, the beauty queen says she has learnt a lot – through her parents – about her background over the years and the more she knows about Sierra Leone the more she grows to love it, adding that she is proud of her Sierra Leonean root.
On Saturday, April 23, the Sierra Leone Community of New Jersey – an umbrella body of organizations in New Jersey with links to Sierra Leone – organizes the Independence Day parade and Cultural Show in the city of Somerset. The organizers showcase Sierra Leonean dishes and clothing as well. Popular musical artists from Sierra Leone also perform. Hundreds of the green white and blue flag of Sierra Leone flutter – alongside the American flag – through the entire route of the parade. The secretary general of the Sierra Leone Community of New Jersey, Abdul Hardy Gabisi, says it is important that other communities in a city as diverse as Somerset get a feel of some of Sierra Leone’s culture. Mr. Gabisi is pleased at the way Sierra Leoneans in that state are responding to the anniversary celebration, expressing the hope that Sierra Leone-related organizations there will take advantage of the present excitement to galvanize support for the home country.
According to Mr. Gabisi, Franklin township in Somerset, has made a proclamation declaring April 27 Sierra Leone National Day. The day will be observed every year in the township. A dance concludes the day’s celebration. A week prior to that, both Somerset and Newark cities perform flag-raising ceremonies of the Sierra Leone flag.
In Connecticut, the recreated ship of a 19th century coastal cargo carrier, La Amistad, known for a popular slave revolt, opens to the public for what is called the Diaspora Tour on Independence Day (April 27). The replica ship, also named Amistad, is currently berthed in the historic museum city of Mystic, Connecticut. Director of International Coordination of Amistad America, Donald George, who is one of the Tri-State 50th anniversary coordinators, says that visitors to the ship will learn about the history of Sierra Leone and its enormous potentials for foreign investments. Mr. George says there will also be talks about the Amistad revolt which was led by a slave-captive from what is now Sierra Leone, Sengbe Pieh, later named Joseph Cinqué, and how the spirit of the revolt he led, motivated Bai Bureh – close to 60 years later – to challenge British colonial rule, and, the founding parents too, to press for independence.
Later this year, the replica ship will make a voyage from Connecticut to Nova Scotia in south-eastern Canada, and from there to New York City where a fund-raising activity will be held. The original ship, La Amistad, was a Spanish cargo carrier in which 53 Africans who were captured by slave traders in 1839, revolted against their captors and took control of the ship.
In the state of Massachusetts, a Sierra Leone flag-raising ceremony is held at the Boston City Hall on April 27. A cross-town parade is held on Saturday April 30 winding up at the Dorchester playing field where the parade ends. Six teams representing Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, take part in a football festival. The celebration culminates with a dance later that day.
In response to invitation from the Ministry of Youth, Employment and Sports in Freetown, the anniversary celebration organizers in Texas have invited a group of veteran footballers in the diaspora to participate in a series of football matches in Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Freetown in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone Old Footballers Association president, Patrick Dangawali who lives in Texas, tells me in an interview that over 50 veteran players living abroad will be in Sierra Leone to participate in the football tour throughout the country. Dangawali himself a veteran of the national football team – Leone Stars – says that veteran players from Guinea, the Gambia and Liberia will also be going to Sierra Leone to participate. In Texas, meanwhile, series of programs is scheduled to be held in different parts of the state. They include a dance on the 29th and a football gala on Saturday the 30th
Every Sierra Leone community throughout the United States celebrates the country’s golden jubilee with gusto. If nothing else, 50 years of independence has brought Sierra Leoneans together in the task of paying gratitude to their ancestors and demonstrating love for one another. Let’s hope that this will pave the way for duty to posterity because what the future holds for those who come after us, is our responsibility, a compulsory one for that matter. Happy Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary to you. Love live Sierra Leone.