Yaa Opoku-Agyeman played an influential role in planning and hosting First Africa Day. She is the President of the Ghanian Student Association, Senior Peer Mentor for CLA First!, and an MGS DOSS Ambassador at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Farrin Khan: What were your hopes for this event and were they achieved?
Yaa Opoku-Agyeman: My hopes for this event turned out successfully. I wanted the school to actually show the presence of Africans on campus. One of the reasons that I came to UMass Boston was how diverse this campus was; when I took over the Ghanian Student Association I realized that there are Ghanians on campus but we don’t have a way of meeting with each other and it didn't feel as if Africans themselves had a real event on campus. I wanted all Africans to be celebrated, and more importantly, shown in an intellectual light.
FK: What inspired you to put on this event?
YO: Hosting the event had an impromptu aspect to it; I was covering another student who had put a lot of effort into planning the event; I felt ready to step into her shoes. If it wasn't for her, this program would not have been the success it was. I was inspired by her, wanted to be part of the intellectual atmosphere and felt honored to be able to bring Africa to the table. I made sure I had reinforcements in case I was going to miss the event because of class. I felt it was important to get the youth involved around academic individuals—the event allows for a lot of networking, resume building, and new gmails to add to your phone.
FK: You felt it was important for the students to be part of the conversation as well, then?
YO: Definitely. One of the talks mentioned that Africa has the largest youth population in the world and I believe the environment they are currently positioned in, isn't doing anything to cultivate that energy. In five years time, half of that youth will be of adult age—not only voting but also becoming part of the labor force, agriculture, service or manufacturing—the amount that Africa can do is pretty crazy. But if we don't start the conversation now, we won’t ever get started on those amazing things.
FK: Do you think these are critical to have on college campuses, and what effect do you think these events have on college campuses?
YO: If we weren't in the climate of political tension that we are today, this event would have the casual air of another cultural event, but I wanted the inclusivity; I wanted others to feel comfortable enough to join and learn something about other people. Campuses without inclusivity that is comfortable and fun are doing something wrong. With the political climate that we have today, it's important to have fun and be reminded of where we come from— and even if we are from different places, the dissimilarity doesn't need to tear us apart.
FK: What do you think these events mean for African-American and International students?
YO: Initially, it probably looks like a marketing ploy; but honestly, I want students to know that, ‘we can be your home away from home.’ I know how important it is to have an aspect of home, wherever you are; when I went to Ghana, where my roots lie, I was reminded of that. It’s important that international students (and all students, for that matter), feel safe, welcome, mentally and socially comfortable and feel included in the environment. And this is what I hoped to give to students through First Africa Day, and as President of the Ghanian Student Association.
FK: I noticed details like the different colored napkins to represent Pan Africa—were there any other symbolic details I missed?
YO: A lot of effort went into decorating the flyers. This school tends to lean towards West Africa rather than East; we wanted to ensure that everyone was included. The phrase, “Pan Africa Rising” was included deliberately because the West often forgets that we can be a collective—and it scares the sh*t out of them, honestly—but the phrase stands for unity and serves as a reclaiming of what it means to be African. Although I would like to apologize to the little islands—I'm sorry your flag could not be shown—I had to crop the photo for print. We also made sure the food was from all over—we had Somalian, Nigerian and Cape Verdean cuisine. The music choice was also very diverse and came from many different countries—I wanted to show that Africans are incredibly talented at creating various music types. The hosts all dressed up to show the diverse clothing of the continent, and how each fabric is so unique from each location; we wanted to show African-Americans, not that they are different from us, but how they can be included—I was at a massive advantage when it comes to clothes since I just came back from Ghana.
FK: Are there any hopes for an event like this in 2020? And if so, is there anything you would add, change or remove for next year?
YO: Planning for 2020 starts next week—I do need to sleep. It’s also the year I plan to graduate in undergrad and end my reign as President of the Ghanian Student Association, so I want to go out with a bang. I want more performers and food. I don't want to do a fashion show, not because it’s cliche, but because that’s everyone’s go-to; I want the academic event. I want students and professors on campus to ask “where are you from within Africa,” instead of, “You’re from Africa, right?” I want students to introduce themselves as being from Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria etc. I want this dialogue for 2020. I don't know what the theme will be at this point—it depends on what our leaders are going to do. We also have to decide on what topics we want to include. I’m also hoping we’ll be able to move the event from a Wednesday to a Friday—we couldn't do it this year because March 1 isn't in Black History Month. But for 2020, I want more culture, and I want First Africa Day to be the most talked about event on campus.
FK: If you could summarize the event in one word, what would it be?