There are moments in our life that give us pause and call for a period of reflection. Moments that stop us in our tracks and demand our immediate attention. This is one of those moments for me. Today, something big happened. And I mean BIG. President Xi read my letter – and replied!
Opening of President Xi’s Reply –
A couple of months ago I was invited to the Second International Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage along the Silk Road, organized by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Applications were open to youth involved in the creative arts. Admittedly I’m an arts and crafts aficionado. My room is littered with supplies ranging from purple knitting yarn to gold paint. But trust me, my doodles are not suitable for public consumption and can’t be referred to as art in any meaningful sense. What I do feel comfortable sharing, however, is my writing. It is something I consider as my go-to form of self-expression.
Although my work had been published by outlets such as From Africa to China, China Daily, and CGTN, it wasn’t until March 2018 that I began to think of myself as a writer. At the launch party of Beijing’s first Africa Week (hosted by Kente & Silk) a dear friend introduced me to someone as a writer. This external recognition was such a surprise that I immediately gasped “I’m a writer?!” The conversation took a turn from an introduction to an existential moment.
Back to the forum. On the agenda it reads “(the forum provides) young women and men from Silk Road countries in Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe, with the opportunity to experience first-hand the power of culture in its various manifestations – literature, media arts, creative industries, art, museums, and local heritage sites – to promote human dignity, understanding between peoples, peaceful coexistence, and sustainable development.” Thanks to the boost my friend gave me, I had the confidence to apply as a writer and was invited to participate.
Over the course of the forum, 73 youth representatives from 51 countries shared their experiences, stories of their home country, and their dreams with one another. There was a chemistry between us that took me by surprise. We were as different as they come, it was a real intersection of women and men from various countries, socio-economic backgrounds, political affiliations, religious convictions and sexual orientations. There were plenty of factors that could have kept us reserved towards one another, but we clicked and bonded almost instantaneously.
It’s fitting that this forum was in China as it is home to millions of young foreigners who collaborate amongst themselves and with Chinese people to change the world. The vibrancy of this forum bears similarities with the energy of the African community here. Once Africans relocate here, we organically form continental groups through which we strive to sculpt a bright future for ourselves and our treasured African continent. As a result, China has become a dynamic space for cultural exchange amongst Africans as we are often not exposed to such a variety of peoples from the continent in our respective countries.
China is home to a bustling African community of pioneers in their respective fields. Beijing, for example, has transformed into a melting-hub of Africans joining forces to realize their academic, professional, and personal passions. Since the start of 2018 Beijing has been home to the most prominent Black Panther premiere in China, the first BlackEXPO in China, the first Africa Week in Beijing, and the first ‘China-Africa Career and Employment Bootcamp’ in Beijing. Peking University, from which I recently graduated, is home to active student organizations such as the Peking University Africa Think Tank (PATT) and the Peking University African Students Association (PUASA). The dynamism and vibrancy of this community birthed the platform ‘Black Livity China’, whose mission is to capture the full breadth of the black experience, in, around, and in relation to China.
My enthusiasm for the expanding potential in the Africa and China space is what pushed me to write to President Xi. Emboldened by the young people I met at the forum and our shared passion for sustainable development I put pen to paper. I wrote to him about the exuberant people in the Africa-China space and their genuine desire to join hands and work together.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine he would answer.
In his reply to me, President Xi further elaborated and “pointed out that the BRI has transformed from an idea and vision to action and reality, and yielded fruitful achievements since he put forward the initiative five years ago, and this was not possible without warm responses and active participation of young people.”
It’s not much of a stretch to say that my Mom is one of Maya Angelou’s biggest fans. She’s often deep in contemplation over one of her books. There’s a quote of hers that Mom is particularly fond of; it goes “We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us.” My parents raised my brothers and me to carry Ethiopia with us, no matter where we choose to build a life for ourselves. As kids, every few years we would relocate to a new country with Ethiopia in our hearts and family by our side. As the multi-cultural children of parents who emigrated from Ethiopia, we are wary of groups who advocate against inclusion. Our family resists populism and all forces trying to convince us that we are more different than alike.
Ethiopia and China share more similarities than readily meet the eye. Both take pride in their cultural heritage, strong national history, fast economic growth, and optimism for the future their youth will inherit. I tried to capture these similarities in the letter to President Xi and wrote to him on Africa, China, and building bonds between them.
Africa and China are linking their economies together, thereby tapping into an immense potential for cooperation. As the Belt and Road Initiative is poised to be the primary avenue through which they engage with one another, and as such is where my professional interests lie. President Xi himself replied “that the BRI has injected strong impetus in China-Africa cooperation.” Surely through the right enabling environment, we can accomplish more together than apart.
My background is somewhat nomadic; I’ve never lived anywhere for more than five years. Frequently people ask me which country/city was my favourite. Truthfully, I’ve been blessed to have lived in the right place at the right time. The grace of God is boundless, and He has placed me in a city that nurtures me. My home is in China, and my heart is in Africa. My dream is for both of them to flourish.
This story has been reported in almost 40 media outlets, see my LinkedIn profile here for the latest news.