All posts by Fatoumata Sylla

My favorite art of this fellowship has undoubtedly been the wealth of readings provided by my fellow fellows as well as those provided by alice. This is not to say that navigating global communication has not been a true joy albeit challenge, but there has been so much meaningful discussion surrounding our readings and so much insight that I’m sad to see go at the end of  this fellowship. Without the constraints of a classroom, we have the freedom to discuss and explore our readings to new depths I have yet to experience in class.

This week, we read the article “Letter to my Son” by  Ta-nehesi Coates; a beautifully written article dripping with harsh realities, and unbounded hope and want for Coates own son and in my opinion, the black community across America. Coates says several profound and poignant things in his article but his declaration that “this is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it”, a phrase no doubt meant to instill a want to survive and thrive for his son, has stuck with me days after reading and reflecting on the article.

If we agree that we live in a completely egalitarian community, then yes, the countries, world,and  bodies we inhabit do belong to us  and exist to serve us, but history and experience has proven that for many people that don’t fit into a specific western ideal, our countries, our worlds, our bodies aren’t really our own; an acerbic realization. For many african americans,  being black means that the country we call our own, exploited and abused black bodies, the worlds we live in refer to our communities as third world or suffering, as if to suggest otherness and inferiority, and our bodies, though physically our own, are subject to mistreatment and systematic oppression.

This being said, Coates  doesn’t accept this as defeat and  says that we have no choice but to find a way to live in it.  And find a way to live in it, we shall.  It’s not advice for the lighthearted, but advice for those willing to navigate hard conversations, uncomfortable spaces, and unknown territories. A willingness that I see in all the fellows and counterparts despite or differing back grounds and histories.

1/2 of the race finished!

This week, we met with Nell Anderson which was very interesting and engaging. She talked to us about our project and was extremely invested in what we had to do, but she also had great words of advice for moving forward with this fellowship. One thing she said to us which was extremely helpful and sort of restored the vigor and excitement I initially held for this project is that everything new we begin, is foreign and unfamiliar at first, but the more we engage and participate in it, the more important it becomes to us, and the more involved we become with it.

This was not a miraculous discovery but it was so true and fitted to my experience thus far that, that it really resonated with me, The first few weeks of this fellowship were great but there were points where I was unsure and frankly a bit unenthusiastic, I was discontented with not being on the ground but throughout the following weeks, this mind set has changed quite a bit.  I’m not so afraid of everything not working out and I think this has given me more courage to suggest projects that are really ambitious but could also take unexpected turns.

As our fifth week comes to a close, I’m filled with emotion, mostly excited and at ease. At this point in the game, the half-way point that is, I feel like I have a better grasp and understanding on what is expected and what direction I want my projects to go in. This being said, I am still nervous and unsure of how the projects I come up with during this phase of the project will go, but am ready to finish the next half and put those fears aside.


How much do we really know?

Coming into this fellowship, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what the program would be about and what my job would be as a fellow. Of course I envisioned that I would learn something, but only on a very scholarly level and although this has been true (in just 3 weeks I’ve learned a tremendous amount of information on the academic discipline of history), but the learning and gaining of knowledge that has been occurring throughout this fellowship has not only been academic. So many lines of dialogue and  communication have been opened during these first few weeks and I can say that the learning I’ve done for extends. Exploring and reading have no doubt been part of my learning this summer, but I think the things that have forced me to think the most critically are the films, the dialogue between my fellow peers and I, and the dialogues we have with our guest speakers and those who have contributed to this program in some way.

For the longest time I always saw films as a luxury; a pleasantry that can distract the mind from things. Although my shift in thinking didn’t happen spontaneously throughout this project ( a change has been coming for years), the films we were assigned to watch definitely proved that this mentality of films is sometimes blatantly wrong. As I watched the film ‘Traces of the Trade’, I found myself upset, in shock, and yelling (along with Mia who watched the film with me) at the sheer ignorance some of the people featured in the documentary displayed.  As I watched them express disbelief and shock at the conditions in which slaves lived in and how many slaves their family had actually traded, several questions came to my mind and in a way forced me to analyze not only the film, but also my conception of slavery.  Again as I watched the film ‘Shankosa’, several of the same questions came to mind.

How had so many people gone through so much formal education, in the case of ‘Traces of the Trade’ and yet still failed to realize exactly how slavery had played out? How could an entire family be so blind to its dark and perverse legacy? For ‘Shankosa’, a few of the same questions came to mind. But the overall looming question that still remained was, “how much do we, as community members and scholars, really know about our past?”

This question ties almost perfectly into my topic of history, but it also ties into my personal life, as well as the personal lives of millions of people in the world. As this fellowship progresses, I challenge myself to explore these questions, and hopefully com up with some answers.


2 Down, Many More to Go

As the second week comes to a close, I’m both excited, pleased, and invigorated by the progress my colleagues and I have made. It takes a motivated student to take of their summer and dedicate it to an internship, but it takes truly brilliant and passionate students to not only participate in an internship, but also dedicate and fully throw themselves into learning and progressing towards a collective goal. I’ve watched my fellow fellows at home contribute so much work and dedication to their topics and it has been refreshing, but I am truly thankful and grateful for our counterparts in Ghana.

When Alice told us we were going to be working with counterparts in Ghana while we were in the United States, I was a bit concerned. How would we effectively communicate was my major concern and now I see that it shouldn’t have been an overwhelming concern at all. From what I’ve observed and seen, the UDS counterparts as well as the fellows here have been completely dedicated to effectively collaborating and communicating (in all honesty the communication in this fellowship has been better than some I’ve had in academic classes).  It’s been truly tremendous and motivating to see everyone doing so well and working so cohesively.

Seeing the collaboration going on brings me to think about something Susan Sutton said in her talk to us earlier this week. She mentioned that every partnership, in order to be a truly meaningful experience, has to have a sense of reciprocity on both ends. This got me thinking as to what each group, the fellows in the United  States and the fellows in Ghana were offering each other and I’ve come to realize that each group offers new and amazing perspective. With the second week closing out, I cannot wait to see what else is in store for us.