About the project

“Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.”

― Toni Morrison, Beloved

Creating a poetry exchange between West Oakland and West Africa has been many years in the making. I worked with the idea of how rap is connected to the griot tradition and how initially hip-hop was a phoenix for the Black community to rise from the ashes, fists first. Long before Wakanda, and many years after the Ten-Point Program of the revolutionary Black Panther Party in the 60’s, and right about the time of Wanda Sabir’s first African American Celebration of Poetry at the West Oakland (aka Huey Newton) branch of the public library, and before Youth Speaks, there was a movement to get our people together using the tools of wit and voice.

Inspired by so many great thinkers whose works have come before this —June Jordan and Poetry for the People, Ishmael Reed and Multi-America, KRS1 and so many, many others. However, back then, I was not thinking about Africa. I was only thinking about Oakland. I was thinking, how can we stop black on black violence? How can we love each other again? And the wind whispered, “Sankofa.” Plus, there was that movie of the same title that changed my life. 

Fast forward to 2013. We now have moved fully through hip-hop and have Youth Speaks, Brave New Voices and Beyonce! We also have 3 strikes. Mass incarceration. Gentrification. Ebola. We have mass shootings and ethnic cleansing taken to new levels.  Obama is president and I cannot predict the 45th. I am living in Cote d’Ivoire, and then I meet Sir Black. Sir Black has a goal to work with youth in Ghana. For him, the youth of Ghana need to stay connected to their African roots. Some are infatuated with American influences of hip-hop and rap, so, he uses the art form spoken word to teach young Ghanaians about their roots and the oral tradition. As fate would have it, I attend his first poetry slam.

Karla Brundage, founder of West Oakland to West Africa

I am but one person, but I had an idea. What if there was an exchange between youth in Oakland and youth in Ghana? What if the Sankofa journey could be made using technology and words?  Could we host an International poetry slam in Africa?  What kind of healing would then arise? 

After the deaths of too many friends’ sons by gun violence, I asked myself, where is my path? But, with my vision of an American Sankofa and Sir Black’s commitment to African youth, could we bring healing to the world? Would these authentic returns be able to quench something within?

I believed so. And so did Sir Black. Together we spent endless hours facilitating poetic dialogue with the partner pairs. We had Skype meetings, weekly exchanges, and technology support sessions. And, when we arrived in Ghana, he was there at the airport. We arranged a beautiful program, which included the poetry slam.  His team of poets accompanied us on our cultural tours and arranged our visit to Ghanatta Senior High School, where we met with students and attended a film opening. 

So, this is how it began.

Head shot of Karla Brundage, founder of West Oakland to West Africa

Karla Brundage is a Bay Area based poet, activist, and educator with a passion for social justice. She believes that in order to restore balance and to reclaim our humanity as Black people, racist structures that uphold this belief, must be dismantled. Her writing is primarily for Black women and people disenfranchised by poverty, abuse, neglect or violence. She is the founder of West Oakland to West Africa.