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Youth spend summer in Africa

WARREN –Throughout the summer, area youth learned about Africa, particularly Ghana, as part of Inspiring Minds’ youth-learning program.

Several recent graduates of Warren G. Harding High School, who did research on Ghana, had the opportunity to see first-hand the country they learned about this summer as part of a week-long trip to Africa.

The trip was organized by IM and had 29 people — including high school students, college graduates, and Inspiring Minds staff and volunteers — visiting Africa.

Deryck Toles, executive director of Inspiring Minds, said this is the 400th anniversary since the first slave ships came from Africa to the United States. The year 1619 is known as the “Year of the Return.”

That event is what is bringing many people to Ghana.

“Thirty percent of all slaves came from Ghana, on the west coast of Africa,” he said.

Toles said the one-week trip was showing visitors “the power in truth and in knowing who you are.”

He said the trip was designed to connect young people back to their roots.

Asia May, a recent Warren Harding graduate attending Akron University, said the group met elementary-age children at a boarding school in Ghana.

“We helped make bracelets with them to raise money for their schools. They don’t have free public education like we do so that is why many children there do not go to school. Their families can’t afford to pay for school,” May said.

She said the students’ school work was on the walls which showed what they have learned.

Jordan Wilkins, program coordinator at IM, said they went to two slave castles, called Cape Coast and Elmina.

“The castles were where they kept the Africans when they captured them before they sent them to America. They kept them in dungeons and made them into slaves. I had a lot of emotions. I felt sad and angry. I feel fortunate to what I have in America,” Wilkins said,

He said the castles were tourists sites for people to see.

The British used the castles to keep the Africans there until they either died or were put on ships.

Jalaya Provitt, high school program coordinator for IM, said they visited the mausoleum of the first Ghana president, Kwame Nkrumah, who helped the country claim its independence. There was also a statue erected to him.

“Ghana’s Independence Day is March 6, and there is a huge celebration,” she said.

Provitt said because this is the “Year of Return” there are a lot of Americans visiting the country, including celebrities like Steve Harvey.

Eyan Taylor, a recent Warren Harding graduate who has participated in IM since eighth grade at McGuffey School, said they also toured such places as Botanical Gardens.

“The people in Ghana are very nice and very welcoming. At the markets they would ask us what we had to trade,” he said,

Andreanna Taylor, Eyan’s mom, said she did not go on the trip but her son sent her photos and she followed the trip on IM’s Facebook accounts.

“It was a little scary sending my son there. He is my baby. I was excited for him because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s nice for him to be able to make a journey like that,” she said.

Taylor said she was excited her son and other youth had the opportunity to travel to Africa which she herself and other family members were never able to go.

“For him being part of the Inspiring Minds organization he has learned to have the belief that he can do anything he wants to do,” she said.

May said many students who went on the trip were friends from Harding.

“Having been to Ghana I have more of an appreciation to what I have. Me and my friends have a better relationship having experienced this together,” she said.

Eyan Taylor said it was an “eye-opening” experience and allowed him to appreciate the knowledge he received.

Provitt said the 10-hour trip allowed everyone to see what it is like to get passports, yellow fever vaccinations, and prepare for an out-of-the-country experience.

“I have never traveled out of the country before. Other than flying before, everything was a new experience. The trip bonded everyone. It was nice to experience this with our students. The trip was life changing for everyone,” she said.

Provitt said there are stereotypes of what Africa is like which going over helped change that view.

Toles said Ghana has many modern cities.

Wilkins said Ghana is four time zones ahead of the United States. It was winter season but hot. He said the communities they visited the people seemed very laid back and casual in their daily lives.

Toles said those on the trip were ages 18 to 80, who will now speak on their experience to others.

“Everyone has come home and goes back to their circles and have conversations of what they saw and experienced,’ Toles said.

He said the entire IM programs for the year have revolved around Africa starting with a gala and the summer youth program. Students learned of the history, culture, people, customs and food of Ghana.

Provitt said the high school students presented information on Ghana during the summer program.

Toles said each school site was a different tribe focused on culture of Ghana.

He said the trip and experience was a once in a lifetime chance for many of the youth.

May said there is a lot of love shown by the people in Ghana calling each other “brothers and sisters.”

“The students and teens there were very outgoing,” May said.

The group said there are malls and hotels, gardens, beaches, historical sites and rural areas with farming.

Toles said while Ghana has some undeveloped rural areas with many villages and towns with no water there are other areas with million dollar homes.

“There is a misconception of what Africa is. It has a lot of diversity with many parts very advanced,” Toles said.

Andreanna Taylor said although her son is no longer in the program she will continue to support it. She was worried most when he was away of what he would eat.

Eyan Taylor said he ate a lot of fish, rice, chicken, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Toles said “Africa is so massive you can go to Egypt and see pyramids, South Africa has beaches and waterfalls. There is such diversity and differences to experience.”

Inspiring Minds, which also has a chapter in Youngstown, offers free after-school and summer programming to youth.

bcoupland@tribtoday.com