Liberians honor Angelou and pray for homeland
West African nation caught in Ebola’s net
(pictured above: Sylvia Haith watches as Liberian Organization of the Piedmont President James Hunder lights a candle in honor of Maya Angelou.)
Saturday was a night of festiveness and tribute, as the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont (LOP) celebrated Liberian Flag and Independence Day at the Odd Fellows Club House.
The West African nation’s Declaration of Independence was adopted the same day as its constitution – July 26, 1847 – by the former American slaves who settled the country. Flag Day is Aug. 24 and is celebrated with grand parades in Liberia. A shadow was cast on this year’s celebrations, though.
Liberia is one of the West African nations in the gripes of an Ebola outbreak. Of the reportedly 1,350 Africans who have died, 576 were Liberian. Part of the proceeds from the weekend banquet will go to efforts to fight the deadly disease, organizers said.
LOP President James Hunder said many in his native land didn’t believe in the outbreak at first, thinking the government was lying about it and the precautions that needed to be taken to aviod contracting it. But he’s confident that with the help of the international community, Liberia will soon be Ebola-free.
“I think in the next, a maximum of six months, that Ebola will be completely eradicated through the grace of God and the help of the international community,” he said.
The late Dr. Maya Angelou was honored with poetry and song selections. Hunder said the world-renowned poet had visited Liberia numerous times and was friends with the late Liberian President William Tubman.
Angelou, who called Winston-Salem home, was an advocate of the LOP and Liberian causes. Her support included aiding refugees during Liberia’s decade long civil war.
“The passion she had for Liberia and the Liberian Organization of the Piedmont, I think it was just tremendous,” said Hunder. “We’ll miss her; we’ll all miss her.”
After guests dined on traditional Liberian fare like pepper chicken, collard greens and a variety of savory rice dishes, they heard from Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., who has developed a reputation for turning around financially-troubled schools.
Since he became the 12th president of Livingston in February 2006, the institution has lowered its debt by $10 million, increased its net assets by $14 million, increased student enrollment and built its first new residence hall in 35 years.
During his keynote speech, he touted the value of education, which he often tells Livingstone students is better than winning the lottery.
“Education is the surest vehicle for upward mobility in the world,” he said.
Education isn’t the only thing students get at Livingston, a historically black college in Salisbury. They sign contracts when they enroll that requires them to register to vote, participate in a health and wellness program, attend financial literacy classes and learn a second language.
“The contract requires us to look at what are the challenges that our people face when we talk about why we are in the predicament we’re in,” Jenkins said.
The program ended with a festive grand march, where attendees, in pairs of two, danced in a procession from one side of the banquet hall to the other.
The march was led by LOP member and Liberian native Ralph Pearson and his wife, Comfort.
Pearson has lived in the United States for 30 years. He came to this country to attend Winston-Salem State University. He still visits Liberia every year and says the country has been transformed tremendously for the better since the end of the bloody civil war in 2005.
“Liberia is the country in West African other countries look up to,” he said.
He said the recent Ebola outbreak got more attention when it hit Liberia because of the country’s successful recovery, its ties to the United States and the two American missionaries – Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly – who became infected there. He said he hopes the attention the disease has gotten will result in a cure that will help end its global threat.