Change Maker

Becoming Water: Qualities for Impact in the Age of Wakanda

Every year on the heels of World Water Day, Africa’s leading change agents, influencers, entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists, and professionals gather to highlight FACE Africa’s vision to build water wells in Liberia and to raise money to support their effort. One year after Adebola Williams’ call to action for the 8th Annual Gala attendees to “become water [for Africa] and nourish the continent so that it flourishes”, FACE Africa hosted its 9th Annual WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygenie) Gala on March 31st, 2018 at The Current at Chelsea Piers. This year’s theme was “Water Fuels the Future” and the future is looking bright for the Pan African community with the levels of cross-cultural comradery that has been spurred by Black Panther the movie however, is it really possible for us to become water and in essence, fuel the future of the Diaspora and the continent?

Most of us determine if water is digestible by assessing how clean it is based on its level of transparency and most people consider water to be toxic and indigestible if it is not transparent. Similarly, there is a level of toxicity prevalent between Pan African cultures that was birthed from the experiential gaps created primarily by the Transatlantic slave trade. The transparency of water can be easily associated with the human quality of authenticity, which requires one to interact with others with a certain quality of purity and genuineness. In an era where Pan Africans are rallying across continents in support of the “Wakandan” culture, it is imperative that we choose to be more transparent and authentic about our experiences in an effort to pull our social dynamic out of its toxic state.

Representation will also be imperative as we begin to re-present ourselves to one another in a more digestible manner. CeCe Olisa, a Nigerian body positive lifestyle blogger, shared that “there is something very important about representation. There is something very important about seeing people who remind you of you or your family or the people that you know. I think in some ways that can be refreshing and I find water to be very refreshing.” CeCe has built a community around transparency and because she uses her platform to authenticity share her journey her story resonates, and her community relates. Replacing our walls with windows will allow us to see each other more clearly. Windows call forth curiosity, curiosity makes less assumptions and asks more questions, and authentically representing our experiences by approaching the answers to these questions from a space of transparency will inevitably lead to a rapport that will be as digestible and refreshing as clean water.

On the flip side of refreshment, water is a necessity because it sustains life and induces growth. It is a key contributor to the development of our bodies, our food sources, and our environment. Sustainability requires that development be maintained at a certain level over an extended amount of time and Co-founder of Shea Moisture, CEO of Sundial Brands, and now owner of Essence Magazine, Richeliu Dennis believes combining business and philanthropy directly funds sustainable development by creating “the components that allow growth, that allow development, [and] prevent stunting”. Dennis says, “we see our work as not business and philanthropy. We’ve built a business model that is one in the same, where the business that we run simultaneously funds development and invests into women entrepreneurs in our community.” Shea Moisture’s concept of “Community Commerce” is most like water in that it is sustaining the life blood of most Pan African communities; the women. Shea Moisture gives 10% of its sales to women-led businesses to support communities that supply the ingredients for their products and to provide training and infrastructure to help them manufacture high quality goods. These investments cultivate the skills, businesses, and successes these women need to support their families. Becoming like water to sustain growth will take more purposeful creation of social enterprises, like Shea Moisture, that use resources in our communities to make profit and then invest those profits back into our communities worldwide.

Flowing water creates an energy that is captured and turned into electricity. A very similar energy can be recreated in Diasporean communities by taking the time to serve in the areas we are most passionate about. The state of thrill and excitement that is possessed when an individual is in the flow and doing something they love transfers to the people they serve and inevitably ignites a charge that is electric in those communities. This year’s WASH Gala Honoree, Masai Ujiri has found ways to use his passion for basketball to create an energy that educates, empowers, and elevates young men in the US and in Africa. Masai is the first African born General Manager in the NBA and he uses his perspective to recruit African players, champion African causes, and take the game into African countries that are using it as a tool to develop youth. Ujiri says “I fell in love [with the game] at the age of 13 and once you play and [get] involved at the highest level in the NBA, [you] have to go back and give to the youth. Whether it’s the youth of the world or the youth of Africa I think it’s important that we pass [it] on.” Masai’s ability to create electricity both domestically and on the continent around the sport of basketball is proof that giving in the area of your passion and purpose is indeed a simple but impactful way to bring the hydroelectric quality of water to life in the Diaspora.

Becoming water for the Diaspora requires us to exhibit the qualities of water in the Diaspora to a point where our outcomes are so far-reaching that they affect the continent as well. For FACE Africa, water is the vehicle for impact, however there is an opportunity for all Pan Africans to embody the qualities of water to become a vehicle for impact as well. As Claude Atcho stated in his Black Panther think piece on “The Witness”, we must use our “resources to bear each other’s burdens across national, global, and political lines and to inspire blacks across the diaspora to act in righteous self-sacrificing service and solidarity here and now”.

Article by Inez Nelson and Photographs courtesy of Oluwaseye Olusa