I used to say all the time that our names truly are our destinies. But back then, it was an observation that I made without necessarily understanding the sheer gravity our names have on the trajectory of our lives. It was not until right before my life crumbled apart—as I was on the last stretch of my senseless partying phase—that the absolute power our names have on us hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s fitting actually, the story I’m about to tell you was but a prelude to my journey and the hard lessons I learned through adversity I could never have dreamed of while I was living in the lap of luxury.
One day, as I was busy running around trying to tie up loose ends before opening up a shisha lounge in DC that I ironically named Oove Lounge—intent on inverting the meaning of my last name by peddling darkness instead of love—I ran into a homeless man on 9th Street near Sankofa bookstore. I did not know this man but something about him touched my heart so when he asked me for money to get something to eat, I went to the ATM machine and gave him a twenty dollar bill and told him to get some food from the Indian restaurant next door. I did not have time to waste; I wanted the exchange to be transactional so that I could tackle the copious tasks that were wafting through my mind.
Except one thing froze me in place on that cold January evening; the homeless man instantly shed a tear when I handed him the money and then asked me to have a meal with him. Much as I wanted to though, business was calling and I spent a few more minutes talking to him and explaining to him that I had prior commitments but that I would be back another day to treat him to Ethiopian food. But he would not let me go, he kept talking to me and I could not get myself to walk away so a few minutes ended up being a half hour of conversing with a man whose name I did not even know. He started to open up to me—how he was alone by himself and he had no one else in his life—and told me that he was the last surviving member of his nuclear family.
The walls we put up to protect us from the pains of other people are a means of self-preservation. I learned a long time ago, after experiencing numerous pains and seeing mind bending injury and suffering of the closest ones to me, to put up a guard and be close to people from a distance. But this homeless man was taking a hammer to my wall as if he was in Berlin in 1989. So I made a decision to not see him as the adjective of indigent but instead know him as a human and a fellow brother. Instead of giving him $20 and walking away, I took the first step we all take before we open up our hearts to know others. I asked him what his name was and he told me his name was Joseph.
Joseph then went on to tell me how both his parents passed away a long time ago and his only sibling passed away in a car accident. This was the root of his pain; he drank all the time to numb the harm of remembrances and memories of loved ones who faded into the recesses of his mind. I wanted to do what I always do—to talk and to find a way to help this man—but something deep in my heart told me to just be silent and listen to this man and to let him be heard. And it was this kindness above all, letting him know that he did matter and not seeing him as a Leper of sorts, that gave him more joy than the money I tried to give him from a distance. Two strangers thus bonding on the streets of DC in 2015—the barriers of class and station melting away by the souls we had in common.
But at one point a revelation of sorts hit me; though I listened to him talk for half an hour, at the end I decided to tell him something that bloomed in my heart as I was hearing him speak. Maybe others can understand this but there are times we speak and it’s a higher power that is speaking through us. If we just be quiet and be still and stop using religion to prove points, we could actually feel the love of God within all of us. I told him that his name was not an accident, that there were two Josephs in the bible and both of them found solitude’s embrace. Joseph in Genesis was sold into Alavert by his own brothers and went from family to property toiling away in a land that was not his own. The other Joseph was Mary’s husband, I shared with my new friend how Joseph also must have felt the pang of solitude when he found out that Mary was pregnant without his seed. Joseph became a vagabond as he took his family on an exodus to escape persecution from Herod.
I then shared with him a nugget of hope while acknowledging his pains. Just like Joseph in Genesis and Joseph the father of Yeshua experienced hardships and the solitude of taking on a tremendous burden that splintered them from others, they were nevertheless blessed for both of their stories became an example of fruitfulness in the midst of loneliness. So I looked into Joseph’s eyes and told him that his pain is temporary and to stop drinking if he can because his family lives on through him. I implored him to not let their memories be his crucible but to instead honor their lives by living a blessed life. At that exact moment, Joseph hugged me and said I was an angel sent to him. I instantly dismissed his praise and hugged him back in silence and told him that I would be back to treat him to some Ethiopian food. Sadly, life had other plans for me and I still have on my mind the promise I once made to Joseph.
In hindsight though, I realize that I was in fact an angel to Joseph the same way countless people since my chance meeting on Georgia Avenue were angels for me. God truly does exist in us and through all of us, we can choose to be angels to others or we can choose to be indifferent. I know it is hard and seems too much—the problems of the world so onerous it is easier to disconnect from humanity and instead plug into this virtual abyss. But the bytes and bits of the internet have nothing on the profound love and healing that is found when we connect with other humans. This is what I have dedicated my life to; to transcend the walls of class, race, gender, religion and ideologies and instead hold tight to this precious notion of humanity and what makes us one.
Let me circle back though to the power that our names have on us. Not too long ago, my cousin went to Ethiopia to do research on our family’s genealogy. Way before I found out the results of his endeavor, my hero of heroes has always been Atse Tewodros II, the emperor of Ethiopia during the 1800’s who, through sheer will and determination, united Ethiopia into one nation. Before Atse Tewodros’s reign, Ethiopia was in an era known as Zemene Mesafin—the age of princes. Ethiopia was fractured by endless tribes and prince after prince who sought the throne for the sake of self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Ethiopia was nothing more than a balkanized entity, a procession of royals impoverishing the country as they nurtured themselves at the cost of the people—sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Tewodros, who before he became emperor was named Kassa Hailu, grew up in this fractured and factious environment. Life circumstances intervened and he too, like the two Joseph’s in the bible, became an outcast and refugee in his own country. He sought protection in a monastery and in the process his faith in God grew in abundance but so did his hatred against injustice. It takes a dance with tribulation to know and understand the plight of those who are fated to a life of hardship. In time, Kassa became what the elitists in Ethiopia call a shifta (a bandit) yet what he was actually doing was taking from the powerful and giving to the people—he was Robin Hood in reality instead of a myth. His kindness and benevolence was so great that his followers became many and he raised an army of fierce warriors who would walk through hell at his command. While most “leaders” rule with an iron fist and through sheer ruthlessness, Kassa led with giving and caring for the least of his people. His kindness became the most potent of power—instead of pontificating apart from the people, he cast his lot with the people against the powerful.
Not too long ago, I read about Atse Tewodros’s kindness and how he always gave equally to his people instead of hoarding the riches for himself. I shed a tear for I started to understand in a way the root of my own burdens; in a lot of ways it was my giving nature that led to my present circumstance in life. When he took the throne he changed his name to Atse (emperor) Tewodros II, attempting to fulfill a prophecy that foretold of a man named Tewodros who would restore the Ethiopian Empire to greatness and rule for 40 years. And restore Ethiopia he did, from a fractured country he united the nation and replenished hope into a people who were being bludgeoned into hopelessness by the aristocracy and gentry who lorded over the them. I admit my bias in advance since I was born with Ethiopia imbued in my heart, but there is in fact a restoration due to Ethiopia and her people who have been hurting for centuries. By the way, did you know that the continent we now call Africa was actually once called Ethiopia before Scipio Africanus committed a genocide against the people of Ethiopia (the continent) and the continent was renamed to honor the deeds of the monster Scipio. This is what educators don’t teach you as they feed children and adults alike dogma and historical lies.
Let me tie up this story into a narrative that people can understand. I have in my life, even during my wildest days of debauchery and parties, always wanted to fight for the “little guy” and to be a revolutionary. But my vision of revolutions was never one based on bullets because bullets do nothing but kill people—there is no healing that comes from gun shots. The revolution I always wanted was one of the heart and the mind and a revolution where love overcomes oppression. Before life cratered and swallowed me into a state of indigence and paucity, my concept of revolution and redemption was based on Ethiopia and “African-Americans”—which I now need to start saying Ethiopian-American. But after almost two years of seeing the broken masses who huddle in the shadows of poverty, homelessness, and poverty, I have shed the blinders of identity and instead grasp on to the struggle of universal justice.
In a way, I have traveled the path of Malcolm X; he too once sought justice through the prism of exclusion and used fiery rhetoric to vilify others. But his journey to Mecca showed him the universal nature of humanity and he decided to fight for all instead of speaking for only a few. This is why he was murdered by the way, the powerful love you as long as you talk grievance to a few but they immediately kill those who speak of our oneness for the powerful can’t oppress the people if the people ever unite. Countless prophets throughout history have been assassinated and their existence nullified because they decided to stand with the people instead of serving the powerful. This story is biblical to be honest for Yeshua (Jesus) my savior was crucified because he defied the pharisees (powerful) who were bilking and oppressing the masses.
Atse Tewodros II was murdered for this same exact reason, he stood up to the imperial British empire and that act of defiance against the depraved royals ended up being the death sentence to the greatest of Ethiopian kings. This one playbook the imperial devils have perfected, they always send “thine own” to betray their own brother. It was a fellow Ethiopian who did the bidding of the British crown and betrayed Atse Tewodros II. The powerful can kill the messengers but their idea lives on; the oppressors can only rule for so long, in time the blood and ideas of martyrs will awaken the masses to rise against oppressors and restore justice. Ethiopia is currently being rules by a ruthless band of jackals who are lording over the people as they serve their colonial masters. I speak of Ethiopia in two ways in this sense, Ethiopia the country is being bled by the butchers who call themselves TPLF led by an imp named Desalegn Hailemariam. Likewise, Ethiopia (Africa no more) is also being led by a cohort of clowns who rule with iron fists as they enrich themselves at the cost of the people.
These things are all interconnected, the injustice in Ethiopia (both the country and the continent) is the same root of injustice that is bleeding the rest of humanity throughout the world from Chicago, Hebron, Johannesburg to Shanghai. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, add to this axiom those who control currencies rule with absolute maliciousness. If we are ever to loosen ourselves from the blight of poverty and injustice, we can only do so if we come together as one people instead of being led by demagogues who profit from our misfortune. The change we have been waiting for can only happen when we look within ourselves and realize our destinies and become the very names we were given for everyone reading this article has a name that is powerful.
Yet too often, we do the exact opposite; instead of coming together, we willingly submit to nefarious wolves in expensive suits who have titles and credentials. I don’t know what it is about us, we keep following the rich and powerful expecting them to care for the least among us. But the rich and powerful got powerful by spitting on humanity and taking advantage of the rest of us. I don’t mean to lump in those who, through hard work and determination, became wealthy for all of us should aspire to multiply our blessings. Who I am referring to are a fractional few within society who are rich to the point of depravity. These malignant ogres are a cancer of this earth for their wealth is dependent on the rest of humanity suffering. There is an abundance of riches and resources to feed and nurture 20 billion people, yet because this cancerous capitalism and greed requires scarcity in order to create value, a few continue to perpetuate injustice so they can swim in opulence.
These are the wealthy swine are the misbegotten lot I am talking about, vile billionaires who start charities to hide their deeds—giving a few dollars as they pillage entire continents. I’m referring to the politicians they deploy to fracture us into islands of separable grievances and the pundits on TV who shatter humanity as they peddle outrage and sensationalism. Yet we submit to these dark souls because they have fame and walk in fancy shoes. We worship those who pretend to be nobility disregarding that these devils are at the root of our misfortune. All the while we keep ignoring the noble people who have the least, I can attest through first hand testimony that the kindest and most giving people in the world are the ones who have the least. To this day, what I remember the most about Ethiopia were the poor people away from the city who share their last bit of megeb (food) with strangers even as they struggle to feed themselves. Love is found at the bottom rung of society for the top rung are too busy chasing more even as they are blessed with all.
It is within this context that I bring up my name and the legacies of my first and last name that bless me. What my cousin found out when he came back from Ethiopia was that my father Fikremariam Million, who before he took his Christian name was actually Biserat Million, was the grandson 4 generations removed of Atse Tewodros II. Now I don’t write this to claim royalty of any sorts nor am I about to start calling myself a prince. I make no secret of my circumstances and if I do take on a title it’s that of being a pauper. Nonetheless, it makes more sense to me now, I understand now why I have always loved Ethiopia and spoke of the beauty of the land and her people since I was five years old in Addis Abeba (Finfine). My roots go back to Gonder and the man who fed others instead of feeding on the hopes of the people. Though I am flawed in many ways and my flesh has always been my weakness, in my heart—no matter how much some have tried to bleed me of it—I am someone who loves to give and that kindness (what some call naivety) still beats strong in my heart.
So my first name is my destiny, I was named after an emperor of Ethiopia whose blood flows in my heart. But what I inherited was not the title but his idealism and his love for his people. Ironic how life is, it took my own exodus and living in a monastery of sorts to grow my faith in God and in the process shed the labels of isms and instead speak up for the love that is common in all of us. Which leads me to my last name, in Ethiopia we take our father’s first name as our last. Fikre means “my love” in Amharic, so while my first name gives me the audacity to think that I too can make a difference, the most powerful part of my name is not my first name at all. As much as I honor my grandfather 5 generations removed, the most powerful influence in my life is my father Fikre who instilled in me the love that endures. God has blessed me with the ability to write and communicate, most of my life I wasted this gift chasing acceptance and materialism. At the age of 40, life took a turn that was injurious but now I realize the blessing of hardship. May God give me the wisdom and endurance to share the culture of a nation that is mentioned on countless occasions in the bible but above all may I be the very same bridge that once longed to be before I gained the wisdom to know how. And if I am able to do that, to do my part to bend the arc of history towards justice, it will not be because of my first name but because of my love that is my last name.
Life is poetic if we only take a minute to observe, Teodrose means “the weapon of God’ but Fikre means “my love”. All this time I thought I could make a difference through sheer will and my abilities, it took the most humbling of circumstances, for me to lose everything and everyone, to submit to a greater power than my ego. Though I have much to learn and my faith needs to grow, I hope and pray that I eventually rid myself of my ego and serve instead with humility and grace towards even those who have hurt me the most. I pray to God that I can forgive and have forbearance towards those who have animus towards me and others for they are only hurting others because they are hurting themselves. Let “my love” be the weapon for it is love that can defeat hatred.
We live in another Zemene Mesafin, an age of princes where everyone is trying to lead and think they know it all. We refuse to be humble, technology makes it easy to think we are all Oracles of Delphi. It is this ego that is making us spew hateful language against fellow victims of economic terrorism which has been unleashed on us. Just like the Zemene Mesafin in Ethiopia, we are being fractured and splintered by a powerful few who are trampling on all of us as we all struggle. As we try to be princes struggling to pay rent, the oligarch royals are using our collective backs as their thrones. So I will do my part and leave to God the rest and have faith that a seed of love planted will one day grow to overcome injustice.
I have learned a powerful lesson over these past two years educated by hardships and hard kicks. Within all of our hearts resides good and wickedness. Power is corrosive, the difference between tyrant and benevolence is thinner than the air at the very top of the Himalayas. I’ve had my taste of how the ego can fester in our hearts and how darkness can be unleashed the minute I had a small sampling of praise and power. Life’s lesson is thus wonderful even if it is heartbreaking, it took this most painful journey for me to shed tribalism and more importantly wash away my arrogance. There is a difference between leaders and leading, the former is self-serving and perpetuates injustice, the latter is all about giving and helping others instead of enriching self. May we all start leading out of good will towards our fellow brothers and sisters instead of trying to be leaders for the sake of serving our own egos. Click To Tweet
The power of our names, what makes us princely is not what I own nor the accumulations or the accomplishments we strive to check off. The royalty in me and all of us is the same royalty that the “homeless” man Joseph on 9th Street had. We all come from one source for we were created from dust and we will in time return to dust. But in this dust is the spirit and love of God within us, Fikre (my love) is really our love that only exists within the context of humanity. Our names are powerful, let us look inward and be love within so that we can love without and change the world through the power and destinies of our names. The poetry of life strikes yet again, what inspired this article was a stranger posting the picture of Atse Tewodros II and his son who was kidnapped by the same British colonialists who conspired to silence forever Atse Tewodros. Today happens to be the birthday of Atse Tewodros II, he was born a day before another future servant of God Martin Luther King would in time emerge and continue the legacy of fighting against injustice with love. They can kill the messengers but the seeds sojourners of love keep planting in spite of their persecution remains—hate can never kill my love. #MyLegacyMyLove
Our names are our destinies::
Below is a Ghion Cast which is my testimony of how I went from chasing my own happiness to saying “Send Me”, we all have it in us to change the world, if we change our hearts first.
This is a song I used to sing word for word when I was 5 in Ethiopia by Kuku Sebsebe, a song about the beauty of Ethiopia and her people.
See, life is magical and wonderful, the tear drops end up watering our hopes and the dreams of our children. For every burden there is a blessing, if only we look for them.
To my father Fikremariam Million, rest in peace, I miss you terribly and the ways we used to once debate, I am the sum of the lessons you imparted in me. You told me that mankind can take everything from you except the knowledge you learn, imagine that, you were preparing me all along no matter how I kept rebelling against you. May you rest in peace, I love you but you live in my heart always.
To my hero and my legacy Atse Tewodros, you look over me and your fierce soul lives on in mine. The legacy of kindness is one which will set the continent of Ethiopia free one day.
For the children of the oppressed and those who live in oppression, rise above our differences and unite around love. The revolutions of guns and violence is bankrupt, we need a revolution of kindness and love. Let’s not wait anymore for others to start this revolution and following wolves in sheep’s clothing, let US be the love that changes the world.
Egzyaber abate, ameseganalew le hulum neger, hagerachin ena hezbachen be desta, selam, ena fiker yenoru #Amen
Father God, I thank you for all, my our nation and people live in happiness, peace, and love #Amen
If you believe that only love can rid the world of hatred, in honor of Atse Tewodros II and Martin Luther King, two kings who were royal because of their kindness and love, share this article on social media using #MyLoveMissive
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.