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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
February 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 5

Voices: The Teacher / Bridges to Africa

      Although ancestral pride is an important underpinning of a child's self-concept, it is difficult for African-American children to grow up with a sense of their African identity; knowledge of their ancestry is filtered almost exclusively through the Western media. The Building Bridges Project, which I initiated, was an effort at awakening self-determination, a vehicle for African-American children to learn the wonders of their heritage. For non-African Americans, it was an opportunity to reach beyond their own backyards and make friends in a different culture.
      Twenty-five students at Winn Elementary School in Austin, Texas, composed letters to their “Unknown Friends in Africa.” As intermediary and message bearer, I set forth in the spring of 1992 on a pilgrimage to the Motherland, carrying these letters with me.
      When I arrived in Nigeria, the University of Lagos Staff (Primary) School greeted me with enthusiasm. “This is the kind of thing I hope more American blacks will do!” exclaimed Headmistress O. A. Adewusi. Nigerian students and teachers were equally supportive and encouraging. Even parents of students not originally involved in the project requested letters for their children.
      Following are a few of the children's letters: HelloMy name is Demetra I am nine years old I go to Winn Elementry My teacher's Name is Ms. Jones Yesterday we had track-and-field. I wonder do Yole have it. I always wanted to go to Africa to see the queens and kings. Now we are in division and time-tables. It's sort of hard and I like to read also I wood like to see Africa. I think I have some antsestors. I wish I was in Africa. I always dreamed to come there
      Dear DemetraMy name is Nike-Akinfenwa I am a girl. I live in Nigeria a country in West Africa I attend University of Lagos Staff-school The name of my teacher is Mrs Desalu She is a nice, kind and hard working. I am in the 5th grade I am a cristian and I love christianity. We have kings but we have no queen in Nigeria and we have a President and governors. I have four brothers and a sister and my family consists of 8 and I hope I will see you soon. I think I better drop my pen nowLove from Nike Your friend
      Dear freind,My name is Ray. I live in Austin, Texas. I'm eight years old. I live in Aparments. I have one sister and two brothers. My mother just had a baby My Day is fine I [have] do[ne] half of my work. If I don't do all of my work I will have to stay after school. If I Do, I stay until 3:00 or 4:00. When I get out of school I walk home.Love, Ray Ramos
      Dear friend RayHow is Texas? How is life and school? I hope fine I live in Nigeria in West Africa I have two brothers and a sister All my brothers and sister are in the secondary school I am the only one that is in the primary school. Iam the last born of my mother. Everytime I finish my work, when we close at 1 o'clock I stay for the coaching classes at school. we finish [our] lessons at 2:30 pm And I go home I would like to come and visit you In Texas but I can't because I do not want to leave all my good old friends in Africabye for now Ray love from-Ademola Omoegun
      Hi my name is Erika C Alexander. I'm 8 years old. I Lik school My hobbies are jumprop and climing rope. I am a girl. ILive with my sister [and] Mother I Live in anapartment I Love to read. We do: Math, Englis, Socilstudies, Spelling, and handwrighting and reading. On the May the 1Oth is mothers day. What is your name?Sincerly Erika
      Hi, Erika AlexanderMy name is Belinda Bello. I attend University of Lagos Staff School. I am 10 years old. I love hot dogs and Green Salad. I am dark in complexion. My favourite game is netball. The name of my best subject is Art. In our class we normally do comprehension, S/Studies, Science etc. The name of my classteacher is Mrs. Quartey. I have a little sister called oito and a small cat called Pitty. The name of my best friend is Fise Akirniyi. She is fair in complexion. Well tell me your best friend in another letter. Bye!Yours faithfully Belinda
      My name is Latrisha Renee FisherI am 9 years old. Every morning we do English, Math, Reading Social Studies, Sceince, and Spelling. In math we do divion. In English we learn about using to, two, and too. My teacher's name is Mrs. Jones. She is my third grade teacher we love her very very much. We all hope that you have a great day in Africa.P.S. please write us back as soon as you can.Sinserly, Latrisha Renee Fisher
      Dear Latrisha.How are you? Your letter was given to me by my teacher. That is how I got to know you. My name is Damilola Aina. I am 9 years old and I hope to be 10 yrs old on October 22nd 1992 by the Grace of God.I like your letter it's lovely now let's talk about my family. First my father is an accountant and my mother is a doctor. I have two sisters and one brother.I had my National Common Entrance on the 16th of May 1992 and I hope I pass so that I can be admitted to Seondaary School in October.Greet them in America and send my regards.Please don't forget to write backYours Sincerely Damilola Aina
      Dear Friend,My name is Carl. I live in Austin Texas with my mother two brothers, and two step sisters and step dad. We have three dogs. One is a grayhound wich is a big dog the other two dogs are smaller a corkerspainal, and a mix dog that my mother bought home for chistrmas. I'm in the third grade. I can walk to school because w[hlere we live is only two blooks from the school. Soon school will be out and I will be free to go swimming.
      Dear Carl:My name is Biola, I live at Lagos Nigeria. with my mum and Dad and with my two brothers, two sisters, we have two dogs one is a big wild dog call, pepp and other one call dothest. My favorite food is fried rice and chicken, and my best subject is Mathematics. I like Mathematics because it is very intresting and I am in the fifth grade. The name of my school is University of Lagos staff school in Nigeria. I can't walk to my school because it too far away from my house. My teacher's name is Mr BabsPlease write.about your country
      Today the Building Bridges Project continues, helping new groups of students grow in their understanding of Africa. These exchanges can be used creatively by the astute educator for boosting self-esteem and fostering interdisciplinary instruction and self-directed learning. They are immediately relevant to students' lives, and they can help hone research skills in young learners. Collaborative learning emerges as peer answers peer—explaining, questioning, and describing respective cultures and universal subjects—speaking to each other in a common language with different accents. The teacher simply guides, validates, and expands the learning taking place.
      The letters also demonstrate how universal are the concerns of children; kids are kids. And for most or all of the African-American participants, this bridge is as close as they will ever come to their roots. Perhaps these simple, rudimentary texts are the blueprints of the bridges that will connect the world. Perhaps their writers are the architects whose bridges will transcend ignorance and bind the world's people into brotherhood, sisterhood, and an abiding peace.

      Willia Bailey has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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