My heart will always belong to Chicago. But I hear Africa calling.

I left Ghana, vowing to someday return. During this trip, I intend to write dispatches from Ghana and other African nations. Stories, filled with the faces and sights and sounds of places I encounter.

SHARE My heart will always belong to Chicago. But I hear Africa calling.
John Fountain

John Fountain peering in 2007 at the Atlantic Ocean from the grounds of Cape Coast Castle in Ghana where Africans were held and shipped into slavery through the Middle Passage.


I won’t forget the Music — the songs and sweet melodies that fell upon my ears. Or all that I absorbed with my eyes. The sound of the drums. Even the silence, the air’s detectable peaceful hum …

The smoothing, clay-covered fingers of a potter’s hands. The rhythmic march of a torch-led band. The majestic weaving of dark brown hands.

The Beauty — in their faces. Of a people coal to brown. Of the winds and sound of freedom. So apparent all around.

The infectious Pride. Of being Black. Of being African. Of dwelling in this land home to the first known man.

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I won’t forget. The Agony — of white-stone slave castles. Of muggy dungeon enclaves where the souls of slaves still dwell. Of the libation poured in dim-lit darkness in this once living hell.

Of standing at the edge of the sea where slave ships once set sail. Of the agony, pride and history as our hearts swelled.

The Poise — as they carry their burden in the heat of the day: Head erect, iron-board-back-straight with the elegance of a runway model. Whether in a slow prideful stride or glorious gait. Under sun sweat, wind, weight. Strong backs don’t break…

These were my reflections on my first visit to Ghana in 2007, as I departed on my return home to America, having set foot in the land of my ancestors before we were slaves. I was unprepared for the feeling of walking the street for the first time in my life — of breathing and simply being — without the burden of race.

I left Ghana, vowing to someday return. “I’ve got to bring my family back here to see this,” I whispered aloud to myself, and to God’s ears while ingesting in living color one evening the awe of Ghana.

In Ghana, I was not a Black man. Just a man. Another face in a sea of Black faces. Not out of place. No racial hate or micro-aggressions to deflect. No police brutality to fear. No New Jim Crow or racism to fret.

Free. At last. I felt free. For the first time in my life, I tasted what it must mean to be free.

I visited Ghana during the West African nation’s 50-year celebration of independence from British colonial rule and found myself awed by the friendliness of its people, by their good nature and warmth, and by the absence of the inescapable lifelong anvil about which W. E.B. DuBois wrote 118 years ago, penning, “The Souls of Black Folk.”

Like many African Americans, I still bear the weight of what DuBois coined, “double-consciousness.”

“…A world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world,” DuBois wrote more than a century ago.

And yet, today, in the 21st century, there is still a longing among Black folk to be free. Indeed thousands now live in Ghana as expatriates, with others drawn by Ghana’s call for Black Americans in 2019, upon the quadricentennial of American slavery, to return home.

For some, going back to Africa is fueled by a quest for freedom from continued racial violence and injustice. For some, it is the sense that although American-born, they have always felt — and suspect they may always feel — like second-class citizens. For others, making a pilgrimage to Africa — even if not to permanently relocate — is requisite for the soul.

I, too, hear the call. The call to return — to Ghana to capture journalistically this unfolding story, if not movement, as narrative, photos and multimedia. As a Fulbright scholar to Ghana, this journey is being made possible.

Armed with pen and notepad, with my cameras and with the blessing of Roosevelt University that has given me a year’s leave as a professor to take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, my family and I are embarking upon this adventure to which my soul feels inescapably drawn.

I intend to file columns to the Sun-Times, as dispatches from Ghana and other African nations. Stories, filled with the faces and sights and sounds of places I encounter along my sojourn — human stories — even as I seek to learn from and share with the beautiful people of Ghana who upon first encounter made this Black man feel home.

This is my last column for a while from this side of the Atlantic Ocean. My heart will always belong to Chicago. But I hear Africa calling.

… The Pride. The glide. The joy inside. The ride to that distant land indigenous to the first man — a Black man, an African.

Land where beautiful black folks stand like golden sands. For as far as the eyes can see. And a clear blue sky is a canopy for the ocean, where the wind tickles mint-green leaves on coconut trees. And where I breathe as a man. Free.

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