THE ECONOMY OF HOPE: MANSA MUSA IN OVERTOWN
A few years ago, I was in an Uber, talking on the phone, per usual, when I let it slip from my hand in delight. I was somewhere in the Overtown area of Miami when, to my great surprise, I saw the image of a Malian King in full regalia hand painted on the side of a building. I almost yelled for the driver to stop the car. Instead, I asked him, do you know who Mansa Musa is?
He did not.
Mansa Musa is the richest human being to have ever lived, a 14th century Emperor, who gave away so much gold on his journey to Mecca that he is the only person to have ever single handedly impacted the value of gold. He is known in Africa, Europe and the Middle East for building the Great Mosque at Timbuktu. Not only is he the richest, but also the most generous to have ever lived, peppering the lands with new mosques on a regular basis.
For those who live in Miami, art is a way of life, from the Wynwood Walls to the naked woman on the side of Ace Hardware. Seeing Mansa Musa displayed with his gold staff ignited excitement and, moreover, hope, in me. Hope is controlled, dispersed, doled out, traded like a commodity, but it’s free. I call this the "economy of hope". Often, we allow others to define what it looks like, when we can have it and what we can do with it. Yet, hope is what we see in the mirror.
I grew up in Westport, CT, a beautiful, but not diverse, community. Black history consisted of slavery, Martin Luther King and Malcom X who was vilified. I hated history, always feeling disconnected from the stories. Fortunately, I went to Howard University, known as the Harvard of historically black colleges and universities, though every Howard alum will let you know that we stand on our own without comparison. There, I learned worldwide history as part of the regular curriculum and Black history as American history.
I read, Before the Mayflower, a seminal work by Lerone Bennett Jr., that traces Black history from Africa through the 1990’s in the U.S., exploring all areas of life including economic, educational and cultural success. I learned about Red Summer of 1919 where there were race riots in almost 30 cities around the country, mostly ignited by fake news, including Chicago where the South Side, home to our 44th President, was almost burned to the ground. I learned about Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a self-contained hub of affluence and influence that was destroyed in 1921 by the Klan via the worst terrorist event in this country prior to 9/11. Being a 9/11 survivor myself, I now know what it’s like to have endured terror first hand.
If you are an American learning this information for the first time, Black, White or otherwise, you personify an important problem with our educational system. The lack of diversity and inclusion in our American history results in a lack of knowledge, insight and hope.
Hope is generated through aspiration, experiences outside of ourselves, and inspiration, that thing inside you that makes you unique and intrinsically worthy. History provides us with the backdrop for who we are, where we came from and who we can be. One could argue that It takes more effort to exclude history than it does to share the full story.
Anybody who knows me, knows I’m all about solutions. In a city as culturally diverse as Miami, and country wide, I look forward to the day when public education embraces our comprehensive American history. In the meantime, I use media, specifically books and film, to make a difference, to educate and provide understanding that evolves from information and perspective.
I explained to my Uber driver who Mansa Musa was and he couldn’t wait to get home to tell his family, particularly, his son, and his friends. Leaving history out or separating it from the American story is a travesty. We may lose hope, temporarily, but it can always be revived. Unabridged lessons from history are the natural kindling that can light up a child from the inside out.
The next time someone talks with you about Jeff Bezos being the richest man in the world, contribute to the economy of hope in a positive way by asking if they know about Mansa Musa.
Seanne N. Murray, is the founder of Attain 9, Inc., Stop. All Violence, and is the creator, writer of the upcoming feature film, Chicago 1919, featuring director, Julie Dash, and actress Rosanna Arquette, and the unscripted show, The Elevator. She is also on the board of Cure Violence Global, the 9th ranked NGO in the world.