Back on October 4, I had posted on my writer’s blog,” What’s in a Name?” The purpose for that particular post was to challenge those who have changed their name from what they perceived as a “slave name,” to what they perceived as an African name or no name but only a letter. In that post, I questioned does the name make the person? One of the most profound responses I received was from Brother Andrew Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako), Executive Director, Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center at the Queens Library in New York. His synthesis of both the African American and African names is worth posting so that all those who read my post can also have the pleasure of viewing his analysis.
Greetings, Brother Man!
I’ve been asked that same question during my years here at Langston Hughes Community Library, and Cultural Center, especially since I share the name of our 7th President and one who’s record with both enslaved Africans and Native Americans is questionable at best. In 1994, I received the first three of the five African names given to me, (Sekou-Warrior, Molefi-He keeps Tradition and Baako-First born-of the Jackson Triplets),.My mother asked me if I was giving up the proud family name Jackson and Andrew-after her father, and Preston-after my uncle for “…some names she could not even pronounce?
It was then that I made a decision to put into practice the Second Principle of Kwanzaa’s Nguzo Saba, Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). I decided I would not give up my American (slave) names out of respect for my ancestor grandfather and uncle and the other ancestor Jacksons who had suffered in one of the most racist states in America, Mississippi. They suffered so I might have a better life and privileges they were denied. I would keep both sets of names to connect my African past with my American present. Together they make me a complete human being. I use both sets of names interchangeably and am known by both. Both sets of names appear on my signature block, on my business cards and stationary. I am Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako)! (The other two names I was given are Bhekizizwe-take care of your people and Orbai-teacher. They suffered so I could have the choice of keeping both names or changing them. The made that possible, not the names. and not me.
So, this question is a common one, but it is not what names you have, but who you are through action and deed. I wholeheartedly disagree with those Afrocentric brothers and sisters who believe you have to have an African name to be truly Black or African; in order to respect, acknowledge, understand and practice your African heritage. I know too many brothers and sisters with African names who disrespect their ancestors and ancestry and their love of self and other Black people is questionable at best. Too many hypocrites who carry African names but disrespect our women and themselves, our people and their names. I know too many brothers and sisters who spit the rhetoric but don’t commit themselves to building a strong Black community for tomorrow.
Each of us has the blood of Africa flowing through our veins. We are African people, descendants of enslaved, kidnapped Africans and brought to the New World to build this country, the Caribbean Islands and worked in the mines of Brazil. Our ancestors suffered, overcame and survived for us their children and great grand children. We come from strong stock of humans who survived in spite of 400 years of slavery and many more years of American oppression. Yet, too many of our brothers and sisters know little of their rich African history prior to being enslaved, know nothing of the rich history of the Ancient African Empires or the contributions we made to the world and America. Africa, the second largest continent, where most, if not all of the natural resources the world needed and still needs can be found today. Africa, located in the middle of the world map. Africa where life on this planet began.
What’s in a name? Indeed! I am Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako)! A Proud African man living in America. An activist librarian, an educator, an author, an African Man, a Proud Black Man, descendants of slaves.
What’s in a name? Each of us has to ask ourselves that question and answer it for ourselves. That is not the right of others. And, yes, you are so right did that make Crispus Attucks, Mary McCleod Bethune, Salem Poor, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Marian Reginald Lewis, Wright Edelman or James Baldwin less because they didn’t have African names? Our lives are not measured by the names we carry, its based on the lives we live and what we do during our lifetime.