In August of 2019, Vanessa Julye of Central Philadelphia Meeting led a group of Quakers to Ghana to explore the histories of Ghana and the United States. The trip, part of Vanessa’s 25-year ministry to address White Supremacy within the Religious Society of Friends, provided people of all races an opportunity to have critical conversations about history.
For Vanessa, bringing Quakers to Ghana is about the Akan word and symbol ‘Sankofa’: the belief that learning from the past can help us create a brighter future. “My hope is that Friends of all races/ethnicities will have a better understanding of how we have been racialized in a way that separates us from one another by keeping us from understanding our interconnectedness. The key to eliminating White Privilege is bound in our remembering our common humanity.” Vanessa received a grant from PYM’s Travel & Witness Granting Group to support the costs of travel. She will be leading another trip to Ghana from July 31 to August 13, 2021. We are grateful for the leadership Vanessa has taken to connect today’s Quakers to the past.
Reflections from the Trip’s Participants
Gathered by Vanessa as part of her grant report to the Travel & Witness Granting group.
“I learned and appreciated everything we did. Especially in Elmina and Cape Coast Dungeons, to be there and experience the history and legacy of the Transatlantic Massacre was traumatizing but strengthened my commitments to continue my work for racial justice.”
“The castles of course, walking in those very spaces, below, where so many Africans were brutalized, and above, where white Europeans prayed to their god to bless their “commercial” undertakings. Our group meeting after Elmina,for its honesty and openness. The home of W.E.B. Du Bois, of whose works I had read only one, and whose connection to Ghana I didn’t know about–his contribution to Ghana and connection to Nkruma. The Manhyia Palace and learning about the living Ashanti matriarchy.”
“I saw what it is to be related, to acknowledge that we are inseparable community and impact one another. During the layover at JFK, I was struck by how infrequently Americans made eye contact with one another, let alone smiled. Our Meeting is notoriously bad at welcoming any newcomers–Carl Magruder once lovingly called us out as awkward nerds, which freed people up that Sunday to be less stiff. Somehow now, strangers don’t seem so forbidding to me. This may be from having been in Ghana, and also from being with our group, almost all of whom started out as “strangers” to me. I am now reading African history and literature, which I had avoided, without much effort, awareness, or interest, being white. There is no question that being a witness at two castles has created change in me already. I fear I cannot do justice to what I saw and felt, but I have to try.”
“It was important to have caucuses and caucus leaders–thanks for this. The leadership team was important in holding space for worship sharing at the end of the day at the Elmina castle. That was a highlight for me of the group experience.”
I very much appreciated the opportunity. “For me it was “a trip of a lifetime.” I will be processing the lessons for a long time. The things that were challenging for me didn’t override the deep importance of the experience. Thank you.”
The Travel and Witness Granting Group (TWGG) provides grants to support active service and witness by individuals following leadings of the Spirit. Funds are available to members of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting traveling within the U.S. or abroad; to United States Quakers traveling abroad on Friends concerns; and to international travelers coming to the United States on Friends Concerns; and, in some cases, to organizations arranging or providing such travel. The next deadline to apply for a ‘TWGG’ grant is June 1. For further information or if you are interested in applying, contact email@example.com.