By Ryan Nickerson
The ability to travel to the other side of the world doesn’t come often, especially for students who attend an HBCU. That’s why, in the summer, when Adonis Warren received the text: “Do you want to come to Africa?” His first reaction was, “Of course!”. Before he knew it, Warren, along with Marcus Nash, Trey Pope, and with 19 other students from across the nation, were hustling through a Liberian airport with foreign smells, unusual accents and men holding M16s.
Their journey began with the dean of students, Dr. Mophett, in the summer of 2018. Adonis was filling out paperwork in Mophett’s office when he fellowshipped with two Morehouse graduates, Isaac Taggart and Matthew Wulukau, who just so happened to be in Dr. Mophett’s office at the time. They bonded over the book “The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson” and a few weeks later, Adonis received a text from Isaac asking if he wanted to come to Africa.
Taggart and Wulukau are the creators of Planting A Seed International, an organization that hosts The Liberia West Africa Fellowship Program that enables students to go to Liberia and volunteer for nine days. The students “experience cultural immersion, live near the communities they serve, experience customs and deepen their connections to the land as well as the people”, as their website states. The students come from universities from across the country. That’s why when Adonis asked his friend Marcus if he wanted to go with him, there wasn’t any doubt about it. “Nobody in my family has been to Africa”, Marcus explained.
“Nobody I knew has ever been to Africa. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so why not take advantage of it?”
President Lane, Ms. Heidi Smith, Ms. Erica Robinson, “who in fact”, Adonis explained, “if it was wasn’t for her, [he] wouldn’t have received his Liberian visa,” played a giant part in helping the students raise money to go on the trip.
Through faith and a little luck the students got their travel visas and embarked on a journey to Africa an experience they would never be able to fully prepare for.
Their first plane was from Houston to D.C., then from D.C. to Casablanca, Africa, an eight hour trip that immediately proved to be a culture shock for the students. Stuck on an additional eight-hour layover, the students found themselves immersed in an Arabic culture far from their own.
“It’s very different. Everything over there is fast. People drive fast with no patience really”, Adonis remembers. The students remember a racial/social disparity in the country: walking into places and immediately being able to sense the tension in the room.
“You can walk in a room and they really wouldn’t acknowledge you. But if you see someone with their skin tone and speaking their language- they’ll be happy”, Marcus explained.
“We were in an airport twice”, said Adonis, “Marcus and I would walk up to security and an Arabic guy runs in front of us. He looks back and starts laughing and he goes right through TSA.”
Security was also starkly different for the students.
“They would walk around the airport with big M16s… they’re mugging you, hoping you would try something,” said Marcus, “and when we got to Liberia, the baggage claim was so crazy. People would steal your luggage. It’s not like America at all’’. Adonis even recounted how he almost fought someone for his luggage. Sure enough, traveling was not the most enjoyable part of their trip but it showed them the luxuries of traveling in America.
“I was ready to get back to the American airlines. Period.” Said Marcus.
The students got to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on Sunday, Dec. 16th, 2018, where they were immediately immersed in Liberian history and culture. Among many attractions, the group visited Providence Island, the place where the first enslaved Africans were forced to embark on the journey to America.
“I still reminisce about being there. There was something about that vibe that made you feel… Like damn..”, Adonis recalled.
It made them happy to experience a different culture. They were embraced by the locals and it caused them to be self-aware of the privileges they have in America. Marcus remembered how the locals enjoyed being in the photos and videos he would take of them.
“They don’t have cell phone and internet and clothes and shoes and stuff. I took off my Jordans and gave a dude my shoes. I gave clothes away and it was just a good feeling.” said Marcus. Seeing people who had jobs, everyday people of every age, having to sleep outside or sit on rocks had a visceral effect on him, a feeling he will never forget.
They will also not forget the danger they were in. They recount being escorted by presidential security throughout the trip, being told to wear their backpacks from the front to avoid pickpockets. If the locals even looked at them wrong, security would confront them. Or if there was a suspicion the students were getting ripped off, security would threaten an arrest.
The group went on to volunteer at a local school, teaching students hygiene and helping them build benches and teaching them games. They saw how the children were just like them: they love to have fun and dance. They just don’t have the resources to connect with the rest of the world like they do. Helping children humbled the students like nothing before. I remember I was on a bus”, Marcus said, “I looked to the right and there was a dude on a motorcycle, with a dude on the back of the bike with a mattress on his head. On a highway. A queen sized mattress! That’s ‘no excuses’ by any means.”
One of the most profound experiences the group had was in a place called Firestone County, a town owned and operated by the American tire and rubber company, Firestone. Described as a “plantation”, Adonis remembers the adverse conditions the workers went through.
Having to work for eight dollars a day (which the workers thought of as a privilege because the minimum wage is six dollars a day), the workers sometimes go days without pay. They can’t stop working because Firestone pays for their children’s school and they have to feed their family, but they work in adverse conditions tapping rubber from trees.
The trip proved to be an experience the group will never forget. The students felt like they are better people because of it.
“It’s made me look at life different, especially when I got back to America.” Adonis reflects, “It’s like, what am I going to do now? It made me want to take the steps to better myself and spread the knowledge around to help people understand what I saw. I feel like I’m going on a better path. I feel like I have some direction”.