I am going to share a bit of my journey with you, a story I am sure many share. You see, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been convicted in my heart to make a difference. For most of my life, this yearning to be a part of a change was always focused through the prism of my homeland Ethiopia. I used to say that Ethiopia has been my hope and my drug, a constant in my life that has at once been a source of tribulation and the root of my last name—Fikre means my love in Amharic.
I am not sure why Ethiopia has had such a strangle hold on my heart; I left my native land when I was seven years old and have not been back since. Perhaps it’s because I have been away for so long that I have such a bond with a land that only exists in my mind through vague memories and distant flashback. It’s human nature, I guess, to cherish the things we no longer have as we overlook the treasures in our hands.
Growing up in America as an immigrant was thus quite the experience. I witnessed first hand the chasm that separates most African-Americans from Africans and the power that media narratives have in perpetuating misunderstandings and bad blood. Too Americanized for most Ethiopians and too different for most African-Americans, I grew up observing from the outside more than I ever felt accepted. This seeming curse of unbelonging was actually a blessing in disguise, I adapted by feeling comfortable everywhere I went even if I never quite felt at home.
Moreover, feeling a sense of disconnect conferred in me the compassion to feel the pains of people who suffer. My determination to make a difference was grounded in my need to stand up for the little guy the same way I wanted people to stand up for me in the past—motivation starts at home. I attended college intent on pursuing Mass Communications as a major and a profession so that I could acquire the means and the ability to produce media that narrowed the divide between Africans and African-Americans. I likewise joined Omega Psi Phi, an African-American fraternity, so that I could have a base from which to drive home this message.
The election of Barack Obama was the spark I was waiting for. That is why I traveled to sixteen states and drove myself into physical and mental exhaustion in 2008; I saw in Obama a way that the African diaspora could come together as one. This same motivation was why I launched Brown Condor in 2009 and why I spent a small fortune organizing Ethiopian-American Appreciation Day at the National’s Baseball Park. My soul could not rest as long as I felt like I was not doing my part.
Yet as much as I accomplished in the past, I was equally destructive. What started off with an aim to make a difference morphed in time into a means to assuage my ego. A taste of power can corrupt all; the little influence I attained went to my head. Instead of leading by serving, I was determined to lead by dictates. The more my efforts were met with indifference and the more my kindness was greeted with silence, the more I grew bitter and despondent. My ego got the better of me. Though I’ve given to a higher power the need to justify why I ended up on the streets in Greenville, South Carolina, I will say that I was just as complicit in my own undoing as were outside factors.
Yet, in the most sublime way, my date with adversity and homelessness in the not too long ago past was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. Through tears and loneliness, I finally stopped seeking acceptance. More importantly, I learned to be grateful; seeing humanity broken by poverty, solitude and hopelessness across multiple states taught me the value of gratitude and being thankful for the small things I have. We can revert to pain or invert pains, I thank God that I chose to invert pains and pass on kindness where I was met with malice.
The other thing I realized through a two year journey sponsored by shelters and missions is that suffering comes for all. After seeing a seven year old “white” child at the Greenville Rescue Mission in 2015, I could no longer view injustice through color and politics. I put away my tribal lens and decided to focus on our common humanity. Rhetoric like “white privilege” or “Republicans are racists” was erased from my mind, it was replaced by the urgent need to fight for inclusive justice.
A long journey has led me to this realization. If we want to make a difference in this world, we can only do so by standing together as one people. We all have a common blood, common pains and a common hope; either we will succeed together or we will suffer apart. When I write articles about Ethiopia or about Haiti, as I did two days ago, it is not to blame others who struggle too. The story of one who suffers is the story of all who hurt even if the way we feel pains are different.
It is with this knowledge that I write this communique to the readers of the Ghion Journal and beyond. I learned that I can’t will the world to change nor can I fight for justice through ego. I will just do my part and leave the rest to others to likewise do their part. Change will not come by way of imposition and by force, it will have to come through incremental acts of kindness and by spreading love instead of partaking in anger and hate. Click To Tweet
I return to one hope I had when I first launched Brown Condor in 2009. What I wanted desperately was for us to own our story and to make a story of Ethiopia trend not driven by mainstream media disinformation but through collective actions from the grassroots. I return back to this audacious journey of mine, I ask each one of you to read Greater than Wakanda and then use social media to make #GreaterThanWakanda trend. Will this happen? Who knows, but the victory is in trying—we make a difference even if we don’t see it.
No one is greater than the other; we are all the greater when we love and help one another::
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Check out this Ghion Cast I produced when I was still in the throes of uncertainty while living at a farm mission in Wellington, Colorado. Hardship births knowledge.
Check out this latest Ghion Cast where I discuss how the status quo divides us at all times so that we don’t see our common struggles.
Ghion Journal Announcement
We will be hosting a video premier of “Adwa: How Unity Can Overcome Tyranny” at Kaldi’s Social House in Silver Spring, MD on Wednesday, March 21st. More details to come.
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.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
- Ethiopia’s Choice: Poverty through Grievance or Prosperity through Unity - September 9, 2019
- Bloody 60s: the Decade that Aborted Leadership in America - August 22, 2019
- A Matter of Life or Death: We Cannot Afford to Ignore Mental Illnesses Any Longer - August 17, 2019