Students can earn up to three college credits by successfully participating in the “Introduction to African American Studies” course through the University of Minnesota’s “College in the Schools” program. U of M professor Dr. Rose Brewer and doctoral candidate Vanessa Abanu (mother of Ayinde ‘16) join Casey and Reed in teaching the course. The course will study people of African descent, the evolution of African American culture, and comparative race relations in Brazil.
“We will examine changes over time and employ sociological, economic, cultural, and political tools for understanding the historical and contemporary positioning of African descendants in the U.S. and Brazil again with connection to other diaspora Africans. We will be centrally concerned with how domination, race, gender, and class shape African descendants lives in the U.S. and Brazil and how resistance has occurred” to systems of oppression, explains the course syllabus.
Students will prepare a portfolio of materials that express the historical and sociological understanding they gain from the course. Students will display their portfolios during a community celebration open to the public on Saturday, September 26 from 11:00am-2:00pm.
- Tuesday, July 28
We arrived at Salvador's airport at 9:00am after an 8-hour overnight flight from Miami. After clearing customs and immigration quite quickly and smoothly, we were met by our guide Marcos and DeLaSalle grad Adam Bledsoe who here working on a PhD from North Carolina University in Geography.
We're staying at the beachfront Bahia Othon Palace Hotel, a short walk, city bus and charter bus away from the main activities here in Salvador.
Tuesday afternoon we went to UFBA - the Federal University of Bahia - and one of the best universities in Brazil. Our lecture was from Dr. Magali de Almeida, who is a professor in the Social Work department, an influential voice in the Black Feminist movement and one of only 200 female PhD's in Brazil.
Several of Dr. Almeida's students joined us and described the areas they were working in and we ended with a question and answer session.
The federal universities in Brazil are the top schools in the country (the are also free!!) but, in a country where 51% of the population describes themselves as black and, in a city where nearly 85% of the population is black, only 2% of this university is black. It is a shameful reality of Brazil that we continue to witness.
- Wednesday, July 29
The morning started with a visit to one of the most important spiritual experiences these students will ever experience. Candomble is a religion that combines elements from West African and Catholic beliefs and practices. Our guide, Marcos, has deep roots in Candomble. His family has been both prominent and persecuted. We heard the history and philosophy of Candomble and participated in an important ritual with the 91-year-old high priestess of the temple.
Wednesday afternoon we went to the Steve Biko Institue where we heard first hand of their efforts to make higher education accessible to more Afro-Brazilians. Eight of their students were there and they shared their stories of struggles to realize their dreams. All come from public high schools and, to hear the obstacles they've had to face, was a sobering reminder of the good fortune of De students. The last two hours were filed with lively question and answer by the students; it gave each group a chance to further understanding, challenge stereotypes and recognize the vast similarities between youth.
Wednesday was a long, demanding, intense day. We stuffed ourselves with pizza and took the city bus back to the hotel in order to rest up for Thursday.
- Thursday, July 30
Brazil has more than 5,000 miles of beaches and Brazilians take full advantage of this incredible natural resource. In an effort to be good guests, we felt a powerful obligation to join our Brazilian hosts on a beach.......so we boarded a 60 foot schooner at 9:00am and spent the day on the sand and water. We returned at dusk and will sleep well tonight.
- Friday, July 31
Friday's visit was to a Quilombo 30 minutes outside Salvador. Quilombos are settlements established by free, and runaway slaves, that date back hundreds of years. Our hosts today were Alto do Tororo, a community that Adam Bledsoe works with looking at their present day history and struggles for territory.
Alto do Tororo is a fishing community that harvests mussels, shrimp and fish from the Bay of Aratu - a smaller part of the larger All Saints Bay that Salvador sits on. Nearly 75% of the seafood eaten in the area comes from this bay and the members of the Quilombo have been fishing these waters for well over 100 years.
Quilombos in Brazil have been engaged in efforts toward governmental recognition of their land rights, which began with the 1988 constitution, and it continues at a frustrating pace. Nearly 2,000 quilombos across Brazil have been culturally recognized and only 200 have been territorially titled. Alto do Tororo is one of 4 quilombos in Brazil that are in conflict with the military - in this case the navy - and we heard about their struggle.
The morning began with a capoeira class. Capoeira is a uniquely Brazilian combination of martial arts and dance that evolved from West African roots. Four students - Ayinde Abanu, Sarah Bordsen Bailey, JT Baker and Asante Samuels - volunteered to participate and impressed our hosts with their skill and athleticism.
Afterwards we walked down to the bay where we heard about the mangroves and saw one of our hosts harvest a bag of mussels and oysters. Mangroves are a critical part of coastal environments, providing nurseries for many animals and protecting the shoreline from erosion. Like many places around the world, these mangroves are under threat from shorefront industry and development.
Lunch was delicious. We shared a variety of moquecas, which are a typical Bahian stew made with seafood. Plus, feijoa fraldinho (black eyed peas) vegetables and guava, peanut and passion fruit ice creams for desert. The hot sauce was hot, hot, hot and the morning will reveal its effects....
Today was a potent learning experience. We were taught about Brazil by Brazilians on a context no high school students may ever experience.
- Saturday, August 1
We traveled today to Cachoeira, which is an important city two hours west of Salvador in the Reconcavo region - a fertile agricultural area producing sugar cane, tobacco, cotton and bamboo. Cachoeira (waterfall in Portuguese) and its sister city, Sao Felix, are on the Paraguaçu River and they were the cities where Brazil's struggles for independence from Portugal began.
We arrived Saturday afternoon and checked in at the hotels - a converted convent - and walked across the bridge to the Danneman cigar factory where the best cigars in Brazil are still hand rolled. We were given a lecture by the factory director and he took us from tobacco seeds all the way to the final product. These are world class cigars. And expensive.
Sunday began with a city tour and a visit to a samba de roda house. This music is the very roots of all Brazilian music; it comes from the West African slaves and permeates almost all modern Brazilian music. Dona Dalva later opened her home to us. She is the most famous musician of samba de roda and a beautiful, sparkling woman well into her 80s.
Like many Bahian cities, Cachoeira contains a mixture of Catholic churches and Candomble temples. We visited perhaps the oldest Catholic Church in Brazil - dating to 1540 - and several Candomble temples.
After lunch we returned to the convent to relax. The students wrote papers, some napped and later an epic foosball tournament erupted. Sleeping here is a little on the strange/creepy side. Bats flutter around at dusk and the tile roof makes for ideal bat houses - you can hear them squeaking at night.