Taking Ownership

August 17, 2009

This has been my second trip to Liberia this year and my fourth trip since 2007.  However, the most intense exposure to Liberian culture has come by way of my most recent adventure.  When I returned in April, I was sitting in a meeting deep in thought.  A friend of mind leaned over and asked me what was going on because they had never observed me being this quiet before.  Once I told them that I had just returned from Liberia, she quickly understood my lack of interest in discussing a mission statement more appropriate for a group of 3rd graders.  Don’t get me wrong, organizational mission is important…but, certainly not as critical as organizational effectiveness.  Based upon what I have observed and experienced on my trips to Liberia, call me when it is time to deal with effectiveness..not just babbledigook…(that is a word isn’t it, well since I have a Ph.D…it is one now)… 🙂

One thing about being out in the interior is that it gives you serious opportunity to think…to reflect…to go deep inside of yourself!  It is said in the Tao that it is what goes on inside of us that interprets for us those things that are in our environment.  Being outside of the constant bombardment of stimuli, distractions, daily routines in the U.S. and deep into the heart of Liberia allows plenty of time to deal with what is going on in the inside.

During Dry Season, the sky’s are clear and at night the stars are so bright and innumerable as if someone spread Elmer’s Glue on a paper and sprinkled glitter.  But, during the rainy season it is quite a different story.  The clouds are thick with rain which blocks the view of the stars…and with the thickness of the bush and forest, it is as if you were in a place where there is the total absence of light.  On these nights, it is difficult to even see your hand in front of your face.


No TV, No Radio, No Electricity…no distractions…these are times when it is just you!  I had three keys for my front door…one worked…there is a 33.3% chance that any of them would be selected and that the one key would be picked.  I found myself keeping tabs to determine how over time the probability would stack up…ok, ok, ok…I know…I’m a bit different…ok, I’m a bit strange…anyway, whatever!  🙂  But, you get my point!

There are many interesting things I could say about cultural differences, nuances, etc., but I’ll leave that for your future reading!  Suffice it to say, that my own personal experience has given me much to intellectually chew on for the ages.  Suffice it to say, there is a book called ‘A People’s History of the United States.’  It opens by stating that often times history is told from the perspectives of Government, Dominant Powers, etc…rarely though is it told from the perspective of the people.  In looking at Liberia, much could be said about the Americo-Liberians, the Tribal Chiefs, Presidents Doe and Taylor, or even Madame President Sirleaf…however, the people of Liberia is the more necessary perspective.

Learning can come from many different sources.  I could write about foods, universities, globalization, traditionalism versus modernization…but, these are subjects that you can find somewhere in a book.  The human experience is less likely to make that book.


One human experience came about as a result of meeting the President of Cuttington, Dr. Henrique Tokpa…the gentleman to the left.  As Black Americans, we are often times socialized into being caught up in race and the mystery behind our African roots.  President Tokpa is a Kpelle Man 🙂 and the Kpelle are the largest group in Liberia.  It is said that they migrated from Eastern Africa, near the Sudan, around the 1500’s.  While Dr. Tokpa is the President of Cuttington, he also grew up only about 5 miles away in a local village.  It was quite the enticing sight to see on his wall pictures of his mother and father in their village. It made the thought cross my mind of what my forebearers looked like, where they were from…but, it also brought to mind the importance of respecting what you do know about your family.  It doesn’t make much sense to complain about what you don’t know, when proper respect isn’t even given to what you do know 🙂

This is the type of experience that makes you continue to dig down deep inside.  Experiences such as this really do so much more to help you learn about yourself…to place things into perspective… So as we were leaving I thought about all of those human experiences that I had, how well I had been treated, and my ‘New Life’ experience.  Driving by that section of the road where the accident took place,

The Site

I quickly reminisced…I remember getting out of that car and immediately looking back at the place where I had been sitting…it was most surreal!!!  As if a section from the movie ghost was in play…I remember getting out of the car and looking back at where I was sitting wondering if I was going to see myself still sitting there…I saw nothing…I saw everything…if what goes on inside of us is what defines what is outside of us, then when I looked back it was like looking at the ‘Man in the Mirror’…spending my time in Suakoko was like looking in the Mirror…and the beauty of how I was treated while at Cuttington allowed me to look at myself as reflected from my hosts.

Getting back to the States…gave me an opportunity to identify what I saw when looking in the Mirror…After making sure that I avoided the irritation caused by my reintroduction to the constant bombardment of convenience…I realized the ‘nothing’ is the value of many of the things that have been a major focus in my life…my daily routine, my constant worries, the battles with depression…work…not that work is not important, but when that car was flipping end over end…I didn’t think about that project I need to finish…and the nothing I saw in that car was everything that I no longer wanted to be my primary focus.  Continuing to reflect, I thought about how even when walking on that dirt road to work every morning, each person that walked by either spoke or waved…even though I may not have understood the language or terms they could of used…it is amazing how the acknowledgment of another persons humanity is somewhat of a universal term 🙂  I thought about how when things happened, people whom I didn’t know from ‘Adam’ came to check on me and apologize as if they were personally responsible for what happened…so many times, I saw people take responsibility and ‘Take Ownership’ of each other…so many people took the time to cook, to bring food, to make sure that everything was as it was supposed to be…at the July 26th event where President Sirleaf was speaking…a man approached the door with a cat in a bag…I’m not sure why, but people started to smack him and push him…and eventually the soldiers came to get him and escort him away…there were social rules…that if they were not followed then the entire community implemented the social rejection…

After spending significant time with the people of Liberia, it is difficult to see how a civil war with such magnitude could find a home amongst these people.  But, again…history doesn’t always include people…but, it does include those with a quest for  power.  Now, admittedly, I am more on the conservative side of things…but, let me be clear…not conservative in terms of the misdirected argument about the ‘constitution being in exile’ nor the type of conservativism that really is more of an imposition of personal values on everyone else…being in Liberia watching so many people doing whatever it takes to survive and thrive…really hits home regarding giving people the freedom and opportunity to make life better.  Coming back to the States and seeing the vociferous debates about health care, the constant labeling of liberals and conservatives, and the constant type of politicization that fails to include a respect for humanity as a critical precept…illustrates that on the inside the people who are most fearful of  being judged, are the ones who are most judgmental…those who are the most insecure are the quickest to rush to judgment…and those who have forgotten or who have never known what it feels like to be in need of mercy or a helping hand are the ones who are most distant from their own humanity…

When the war started…there were a few thousand Marines sitting in ships of the coast of Monrovia…the U.S. decided that it was an African issue so the carnage was allowed to continue?  Then after the easing of the war, we are now spending billions of dollars to rebuild a country after a war we could of stopped, saved a lot of money, and saved a lot of people…one hell-uva political philosophy huh?  (if you have questions about the relationship between the U.S. and Liberia, do the research…the U.S. has a unique responsibility to Liberia)!

So what about the people where are they heading:

The BabyThe BoyThe Troop

You can tell quite a bit about a person based upon how they treat people they think they don’t need!  Do we follow through on our responsibilities? What about our responsibilities to each other?  Well, those questions will continue to be answered…In Liberia, I found my answers!  Hopefully, if you have followed along…you have found some of your own!  Either way, keep looking for your answers…even if you don’t have them…the main point is…we all should be looking for answers regarding the much broader issue of humanity.

Another main difference learned deals with the specific points of conflict the pop up when societies still functioning with a high degree of traditional culture are touched by modernization.  This goes way beyond the superfluous points touched on by those who stand on the surface…but, it goes into many deeper cultural issues relating to youth, labor, values,  families…not to mention religion.  Liberia is an excellent place to identify the deeper structural problems in the conflict between Western societies and some Islamic communities.  You can get another take on this by reading a book by Stephen Ellis I mentioned previously:


Not sure when I’ll be heading back to Liberia, but I most certainly will be…

From time to time, I will post more information…but, if you are interested in learning more and continuing a discussion please join me on a new web-site called Taking Ownership…www.takingownership.org.  I would certainly appreciate any comments you have on the site that I can use to help build it to become a valuable resource for those wanting to become more informed..I  also have a book coming out over the next month…look for me 🙂

Eventually 🙂 there will be more pictures and some pretty amazing video’s of my venture in Liberia posted on the site…

See you at Taking Ownership!

Ciao! 🙂


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