I was inspired to think about virtues when I heard an excerpt from Maya Angelou, as interviewed shortly before her death by Krista Tippett of the podcast On Being.
Angelou said, “I would encourage young men and women, black and white and Asian and Spanish-speaking and all, to look at Dr. Du Bois and realize that courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving any of those without courage.”
Her words stopped me for a moment. In addition to loving Maya Angelou's profound wisdom, and the wonderful quality of her voice, I found myself ruminating with a feeling from the Du Bois Center in Accra, Ghana. I have had multiple opportunities to enjoy the Du Bois Center there, because it often serves as a venue for art fairs, that I have attended both as patron and as a vendor of handcrafts. The last time I was there, a wedding party was creating a vibration of celebration. The trees growing throughout the center have a particular kind of presence, and I enjoy the winding path between the buildings. I like that the place is not austentacious, but that it has a heartbeat that keeps in rhythm with the legacy of Du Bois. It is a place with a purpose.
Dr. Du Bois was a scholar, activist and Pan-Africanist, and I find resonance with his feeling of bridging multiple worlds, as an American who truly loves Africa. While his reality as a black man from the United States was different from mine as a white woman, as different as early 20th Century life is from early 21st Century life, the connection remains. I aspire to work within Africa for Pan-African trade and artistic collaboration, beyond my current work marketing African goods in the United States. And I believe Africa calls us to wake up, and is itself called to lead that awakening. I honor the ways that Du Bois can provide a path for my own discovery along that call to awaken.
Ghana is the center of my activities in Africa, and feels like home to me, mostly due to the incredible spirit of welcome that forms regular interaction in Ghana. But my sense of home also stems from Ghana's particular dance with the United States and places outside its borders. Ghanaians exhibit a style of incorporating experiences with foreigners and foreign places into life and art that has an independent voice. I love the depth and breadth of expression, whether in fashion, music or contemporary art. Ghana weaves experiences abroad and foreign influences within its borders, without ignoring the foundational weft of cultural traditions.
This ability to welcome all people, the ability to incorporate new perspective without losing one's center, and the ability to take risks in creativity, are all acts that require courage. I believe that working with ones hands, the center of the work of Fair Trade, is an expression of that courage. How we choose to combine our experiences into creative pieces that have a purpose, for maker as well as buyer, affects our hearts and minds. In this way, our creative work in Africa, is subversive, celebratory and a call to connect with people around the world.
I wanted to write about the virtue of courage today to help ignite my courage to share the work of World Peaces with the world more effectively. With this reflection, I begin a new chapter of writing about my work collaborating with artists around the world. Each week I will use a virtue, value, or approach to our work as a theme for exploring the work we make, sell and enjoy on a regular basis. World Peaces' social media pages will highlight some aspect of this theme through an artisan partner, a particular product, and a place.
Thank you for the opportunity to be courageous with you. I would love to hear how your own courage is expressed in your work. May we together explore people, products and places with purpose.