I am currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a book in the form of a letter to Coates’ son talking about the experiences of being black and a man in America. I would recommend each of you to read it, but lemme not turn this into a book review.
Instead, I want to talk about something in particular that captured my attention when reading the book. It was this idea of him having found his Mecca at Howard University. Big expression, eey? Well let me attempt to debunk this search in my own small way.
We all make our pilgrimage in one way or another. For some of us it is physical while for most, it is an inner travel that transforms the way we view the world. This inner search is critical as it is a continuous journey through which we are able to improve ourselves and gain a better perspective of the world. However, my challenge to all of us is to find our own physical Mecca. In what spaces do you feel comfortable to express yourself and explore other identities? Where do you feel safe and challenged at the same time? Where do you go to find your peace? This may seem like so many expectations for just one place so I will encourage you to find intersectional spaces.
For Coates, it was in a predominantly black institution with people who were tired of being the first black person or the only black person in their class and other social spaces. Maybe like me, they were frustrated about ignorant remarks about their hair and culture. He wanted to be in a space that appreciated black culture and pushed him to be the best version of himself.
Similarly, my Mecca was in the form of a small school down south. There I found my identity as a Pan-African and my sense of responsibility in contributing to its development. And it was not because of the curriculum taught in class (no offence to some of the best educators in the world). To use Coates’ narrative, the learning was the school I got into, not the Mecca I found. Instead, I found it in the deep conversations I had over whether Nigerian jolof was better than Ghanaian. Okay maybe not that, but even such trivial stuff reminded me that life is never that serious and that yes even POTUS takes a shit like the rest of us.
Anyway, my Mecca was in being surrounded by many exceptional black women who had never known what it meant to be the best woman, all they knew was the best person. I found it in the deep conversations on how best to transform the continent and the realization of the multiplicity of the solutions. I found it in bouts of raw vulnerability, the few times I was comfortable enough to release my -sassy, well-put together self- and let someone else take care of me, not because I was weak but because the journey ahead was long and we all needed to rest regularly to ensure we did not burn out. I found Mecca in the acceptance of my spirituality outside structure. And then just like Coates, there came a time to leave.
There were times, I thought there would never be as good of a time as that particular season, but I guess there is a time for everything. I am at a place where I don’t know whether I am better off but I am sure I am different and that too can be progress.
For many of you, Mecca may not be a school. Maybe it will be a group of friends, an internship, a person, a course in college, a new relationship or a new stage in life. It does not matter the form, just seek it! And once you find it, do not limit yourself to that one interpretation of Mecca, enjoy it yes but when you are done, know that there will be many that await your coming. Embrace the journey!