Yrneh Gabon Brown Joins Mama at the Round Table

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A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of being in L.A. and headed to the CAAM (California African American Museum). By chance, it was the final day of an exhibit called Visibly Invisible, by artist Yrneh Gabon Brown. As it turned out, Yrneh was there talking to visitors and greeting some acquaintances with a big smile on his face and a charming Jamaican accent.  After taking the time to move through the exhibit, which was brilliantly designed, I went over to say hello and tell him how much we’d enjoyed the artwork. The pieces were so varied, from multimedia incorporated in sculptures to bronze pieces that made me think of the amazing ancient bronze work of Benin. This piece, called Out Cry, is something I’ve quite literally dreamt about since the show…

The art was beautiful; but what I found most memorable, was the message it conveyed. Subjects like this one make people want to turn and run rather than face it head on. After all, it is depressing to think about the fact that such atrocities can happen. Facing the details of the torture, abuse and maiming of people suffering from albinism in Tanzania are so difficult to discuss. Who wants to come out on a sunny day and bring their children to encounter what could be such heavy information to digest?

You might be expecting me to say something about how the suffering of others ultimately affects us because we are all human. The thing is, you already know that; so I won’t insult you by giving speeches and standing on a soapbox.

What I will say is this: Yrneh’s work has certainly inspired many conversations. His sophisticated, yet simple ability to tell the story of so many through his art was moving. The pieces are done in a way that cause people to do what matters most: Dialog.

It is my prayer that museums worldwide will see the merit in inviting Yrneh to exhibit his work in their cities and nations. Because just as we see albinism in species of plants and animals; so too do we see it in peoples of every nation and culture on Earth. Perhaps (and fortunately) most don’t face the prospect of being hunted, abducted and killed like in Tanzania. But, many face discrimination and ill treatment due to their lack of pigment; as if facing the physical and economic challenges of the disorder aren’t already enough to bear.

If we trace our roots back far enough, we are all Africans. The fact that our skin is black, white, yellow or red is simply a detail. So, to all of my brothers and sisters across the world, no matter what your quantity of melanin… be safe, be well and be blessed.

Your comments are welcome below. After all, the motto of Mama’s Round Table is “Dialog matters!” So, let’s talk…

To learn more about the Endangered White project, follow the link at the end of our interview.

If you’d like to learn more about the Visibly Invisible exhibit, I highly recommend the catalog which you can buy on Amazon or heading over to see a video of the exhibit

You can support Yrneh’s efforts in another way, by helping him continue his training and research by funding him on GoFundMe.

From “Street Kid” to Dream Builder:

Our next Round Table guest hails from Pretoria, South Africa. His name is Tendai Sean Joe he and describes himself as a: former street kid, Trail of Hope Foundation founder and director, friend, activist, youth leader and writer.

1. You are a self-described former “street kid”; can you please tell us what inspired the positive change in your life?

Well firstly, I use that term not to let people feel sorry for me, but to inspire! Being a street child was not a choice, so neither was it going to determine my destiny. Life in the streets was always filled by hopelessness. As I was there with other children, including my brother, in the public eye we were like the social outcasts. I was still young and confused, but I could not stand the abuse and poverty in the streets. At home there was poverty and so was home. Sometimes the police brutalized us, sometimes it was the public. Our major source of food was two chain stores: TM and OK. At OK they would throw away perishables like meat, polony, sausages, fruits and other foodstuffs. But they would make sure that they poured petrol on the food and burned it; so that we could not eat it (we ate the food anyway and we were never sick). Worse thing is, we were street children in a town without a Soup Kitchen. Seeing other children in uniform was painful for me. I told myself that to be able to tell my story, I had to get an education, no matter the challenges.

Tendai Joe as a child

2. When many people imagine girls living on the streets, they think of how their misery is compounded by sexual abuse. What can you teach us about the subject?

Yah I think that’s so wrong for people to think that way. Selective attention is not a sustainable solution to the social problems that children face in the streets. Pedophiles are not that selective. Both young girls and boys are vulnerable to abuse. If girls are raped, young boys can be sodomized. So no child has to be in the streets. However young girls are more vulnerable, as they are easy targets.
3. Youth. They are clearly near and dear to your heart. What are you hearing in your interactions with them that they want us to know? What topics are most important to them in your part of the continent?

Interesting subject, children and youths are the future. I chose to invest most of my time to them, as I am quite sure that my efforts will not go to waste. There is so much we talk about and share, having built a very close relationship with many of them. There are a varied issues affecting youths; but the most touching ones are Sexual Abuse and Poverty. In a country like South Africa, the chances of young women falling victim to abuse are very high and that insecurity affects many in the planning their future.

4.  Alright, let us widen our focus. I have heard you discuss a wide variety of issues facing Africa. What would you say are the top three problems that we Africans need to address immediately? In other words, what 3 things are most urgent in your opinion?

Sustainable Development, Education and the Empowerment of Women. With vast resources and donor investment in Africa, I think if we refocus our attention to the three elements I have mentioned; ironically they are also part of the MDGs that need to be achieved by 2015. The use of renewable energy is out of the question, we need that. Climate Change is impacting on the Third World countries more than other country; we cannot keep on contributing more carbon, when we have alternative resources. It’s time we started having Eco-Villages in Africa, where everything is run by green energy, where children could come and learn more on green living. Teach-1-Teach-All (giving education to many) will give us an educated, self-motivated and innovative continent. Hopefully we would not have many armed conflicts; we will be able to negotiate in boardrooms. Women are the primary caregivers, so educating them compliments the fight against a variety of issues including nutrition, Child-Health and other diseases that affect many people in Africa. Besides, mothers will most likely support their children to attain an education.
5. Tell me about your passion for Africa.

Its cultural and historical diversity. Having blood from different countries (Mozambique and Zimbabwe), it is easy for me to connect and identify with many African cultures and traditions. It is in Africa where I see the uniqueness of God’s creations. Besides, wherever I am in Africa, I am at home. When someone asks me who I am and where I come from, I say: I am Tendai Joe, I am an African!

6. What specific types of programs is your Trail of Hope Foundation implementing on the ground and what kind of results are you getting? What projects are you most proud of or excited about?

Trail of Hope Foundation’s pillars are: Advocacy, Partnership, Outreach, Empowerment and Leadership. Trail of Hope Foundation is a platform that highlights the desperate struggles which orphaned and vulnerable children face in order to survive against poverty, trafficking, abuse, crime, institutionalization, disease and recruitment into military conflicts. Thus, the international community can effect change. We are running different projects including e-Learning for the girls at an Orphanage. Due to challenges in funding, we have not yet achieved what we really dream to achieve; so there is not that much to write about. At the moment, we run empowerment projects that do not need any financial input. However we have projects like Dream Leaders Conference (is a leadership program developed by Dreams for Kids (Chicago, U.S.A) to celebrate and enhance the unique ability in every child by giving them opportunities of service while working alongside children of diverse backgrounds. Dream Leaders teaches middle school and high school students how they can use their struggles as motivation to help others. Dream Leaders gives teenagers the tools to see their challenges such as living in poverty, having a disability, facing discrimination, losing a loved one, or whatever else life has thrown at them, not as a limitation but as a guiding force in their journey to make positive change in the world.). All in all, we have six projects.

Tendai works vigilantly against the trafficking of women and children in the sex trade

7. What is your one wish for African children today?

I wish to see a non-politicized sustainable solution to Child’s issues. UNICEF does a great job; but that’s not enough, because they cannot help on all Issues. I look forward to an Africa with a collective stance on Children’s policy that will protect all of our children from harm and create a world conducive for all child to learn and play safely.

Well, that wraps up my questions for today.  TJ, I’d like to thank you again for joining me at the Round Table. It was a great pleasure getting to learn more about your childhood and your projects for the future. You are an inspirational man with a lot of care and concern for Africa’s children. They are lucky to have you on their side!  It was also nice to hear that kids in the US are able to reach out to their African peers and affect positive change. Finally, it was also of great interest to me to hear the connection you make between the importance of empowering Africa’s women and building a good future for their children.  I’ve always believed that the two issues are intertwined.

I now invite our readers (whom I consider important members of our Round Table talks) to share their thoughts with us so that we can continue this discussion about the future of Africa’s youth…