Kunga Kihohia went to one of the best schools in Florida. He graduated, was making money, and then one day lost everything. He ended up homeless in Miami, sleeping in his car. Then a trip to Kenya would change his life.
His parents are from Kenya, but he was born and raised and spent most of his life in Florida.
He traveled to Kenya for the first time at the age of 10 and stayed there for about five years, where he learned his parents’ native tongue. He traveled back to the US for high school and college, where he graduated from Florida International University in Miami.
Kihohia didn’t travel to Kenya for more than 15 years once he was back in the states. After spending some time working in corporate America, he told Travel Noire in an interview that he realized he was “psychologically unemployable.”
“I was in the business-world chasing money, making a lot of money, but I was really unhappy because I had moved away from my purpose,” he said, adding that he found himself overweight and overall, unhappy.
So, Kihohia went on a journey to Kenya to find himself and, ultimately, save his life.
“I started this journey of coming back to nature and coming back to my own peace, which involved coming back to Africa. The lifestyle I had gotten involved with was putting me on a path of self-destruction.”
The trip was only supposed to last for three weeks. It took him some time to adjust, as it was his first time back to Kenya in more than a decade. As he began to settle, he realized that people in Kenya were far more content despite some challenges, than people in America.
Back To Nature Organic Farm
Kihohia said he’s always been a serial entrepreneur, but Back To Nature Organic Farm grew out of his interests and passion.
“The farm is only part of a larger vision, and a larger movement called the “Back to Nature Movement.” It’s part of our philosophy and ideology that states, “the closer we are to nature, the more whole, happy, at peace and at ease we are.”
Through the organic farm and the movement, Kihohia said that his mission is to inspire, motivate and encourage Kenyans, East Africans, Africans, including those from the diaspora, to adopt a more natural holistic lifestyle approach towards maintaining or regaining health and wellness.
With a few other like-minded individuals, Kihohia decided that they wanted to control the food system as they saw a rise in diseases in Kenya, such as cancer, hypertension, and more.
“When there’s a will, there’s a way. We started learning all the components about the soil water systems, harvesting and post-harvest losses, markets, dealing with human resources, human capital […] there are so many components, but we belly-flopped into it.”
2021 will mark the fifth anniversary of his journey back home and back to nature. During this time, Kihohia went from obese, stressed, and homeless to the founder of one of the largest organic farms in Kenya, where he’s happy and living life with no regrets.
“My advice to anyone looking to make a move abroad, especially to Africa, is to follow your heart. At the end of the day, this life is temporary. No one gets out alive. We all sign a contract unwittingly that no one leaves alive. It’s vital that while you have your time on this earth, to make it as significant as possible, give it meaning,” said Kihohia.
In 1816 when the American Colonization Society (ACS) was founded by a group of Quakers and slaveholders, its mission was to help relocate freed Black people. And between 1821 and 1838 after the ACS had helped 86 freed Enslaved Americans leave New York for the British colony of Sierra Leone, the ACS developed the first settlement, which would be known as Liberia.
The ACS had chosen relocating freed Black people over having an increasing number of freed Black Americans demanding rights, jobs, and resources at home. Some leaders in the Black community and abolitionists opposed the relocation of freed Blacks outside of the U.S., questioning why they should have to emigrate from the country where they and their generation were born.
Yet, the colonization idea received notable support from many, including Lott Cary (otherwise spelled Carey), who would become one of the first African-American Baptist missionaries to preach and work in Africa after helping found Liberia.
Lott Was Born into slavery in Charles City County, Virginia, Lott Carey (sometimes spelled “Cary”) was one of the first African American Baptist missionaries to preach and work in Africa.
At the age of 24, Cary was sent by his owner to work as hired slave labor in a tobacco warehouse, where he later got promoted to a supervisory position, enabling him to earn more than other enslaved people. Cary started to save as his main objective at the time was to buy his freedom and that of his wife as well as two children. Along the way, Cary got baptized at the First Baptist Church in 1807 after hearing a sermon based on the Bible’s third chapter of John that changed his life. He couldn’t read and write but he wanted to read the chapter on his own so much so that he eventually learned to read and write.
In 1819, Carey received approval from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions as well as the American Colonization Society to set up a mission in West Africa. Two years later, Carey, his wife and two children, and 28 adult members of his church and several children set sail for Liberia. Despite material hardships, Carey and his group established a mission in Liberia. Carey’s missionary work among the Africans in the region resulted in the expansion of the congregation by 60 or 70 new members by 1825, despite frequent armed resistance from other Africans who objected to the colonists’ presence. In 1826, the congregation constructed a new meeting house. Cary established schools, a joint-stock company and also became Liberia’s health officer before being elected vice agent of the colony in 1826. Two years later, Cary became governor of Liberia after the previous governor died.
Cary’s dream of spreading the gospel throughout Africa while helping to extend the settlement’s territory was cut short when he was killed in an accidental explosion of gunpowder in November 1828. Nevertheless, he left behind a legacy of leadership, commitment, and perseverance that continues to guide many, including Christians of all races.
Forty-eight year-old Carey was killed in an accidental explosion in 1828. Pan-Africanist John Brown Russwurm emphasized Carey’s importance to the Liberia mission project when he mourned Carey’s death with these words: “In the death of Mr. Carey, the colonists have to deplore one whose loss will not easily be supplied.”
Victoria Santa Cruz was born October 27th, 1922 in Lima, Peru and a Afro-Peruvian choreographer, composers, and activist. She is called the “the mother of Afro-Peruvian dance and theater”. She grew up in a bilingual household, her mother only spoke Spanish but her father spoke both English and Spanish
Victoria was 7 years old when she had her first personal taste of racism. The Afro-Peruvian was the only Black person among her circle of friends growing up. “One day there was a little girl among them with blond hair who stated to her friends, ‘if this little black girl wants to play with us, I’ll leave!’”
To the shock of Santa Cruz, the rest of her friends agreed and asked her to leave. That was a painful experience she never forgot, but it did change her view of life. She took her story and found pride in it, realizing how ideal it is to appreciate one’s heritage, roots, and culture. And through her work and art, the woman, now considered the “mother of Afro-Peruvian dance and theatre”, demonstrates how beautiful and strong her fellow Afro-Peruvians are despite the discrimination they endured.
Afro-Peruvians were transported to Peru during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Spanish conquerors or conquistadors brought them over in 1521 followed by a larger number transported in 1537. The second group was transported after permits were issued to Francisco Pizarro González – a Spanish fighter who led a mission that obliterated the Inca Empire.
Santa Cruz was born in Lima, Peru, on October 27, 1922, to a Peruvian family of 10 children that included musicians, artists, and intellectuals. Santa Cruz’s mother, Victoria Gamma Ramirez, was an accomplished singer and dancer of traditional Peruvian styles. Her father, Nicomedes Santa Cruz Aparicio, was a playwright who, during his adolescent years in the U.S., read many Shakespearean plays and learned European classical music.
All these deeply influenced Santa Cruz. Along the way, she would teach various styles of theater, dance, and other art forms. One of her major achievements to date is co-founding and directing the first Black-owned theatre in Peru with her brother, even without prior formal education. She then went on to produce three plays, all of which highlighted the struggles of Afro-Latinas. In fact, her first play, Malato (1961), which she wrote, choreographed, and staged, infuriated authorities as it looked at the relationship between enslaved men and women and their oppressors that had been erased from Peruvian history.
While at the Université du Théâtre des Nations and École Supérieur des Études Chorégraphiques in Paris in late 1961 to study theater and choreography, she was widely received for her plays but also for her “unique, Afro-Peruvian styled costumes.” In no time, she was being sought after for her costumes. But by 1965, she had to leave Paris after graduating. She headed to Africa [exact country not stated] that same year, where she staged the ballet La muñeca Negra which looked at the cultural memories that had been lost due to slavery.
The performance was well-received but what was even bigger was a performance in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympics by a group she founded, Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú. That performance, which earned the group an award after only two years of the group being formed, brought back to life Afro-Peruvian dance forms such as the zamacueca (an ancient dance with roots in African, Spanish, and Andean) and landu, essentially making visible the historic contributions and culture of Afro-Peruvians.
Santa Cruz went on to refine her talents in the arts, releasing her first song, Cumanana in 1970 and then her well-celebrated poem a decade later — Me Gritaron Negra – where she started by cursing her dark skin, kinky hair and thick lips before ending it with the fact that being Black is a blessing. After 53 years in the arts, the Afro-Peruvian activist, choreographer, and composer passed away on August 30, 2014, but is well remembered today for reviving Afro Peruvian culture in Peru.
Thanks to her activism and others, Peru celebrates Black History Month every June to highlight Afro-Peruvian Culture, with scores of cultural activities and conferences. In 2009, Peru became the first Latin American country to apologize to its people of African descent for the discrimination they previously endured. But after many years, experts say the country must step up its efforts to fully embrace its Afro-Peruvian heritage and end discrimination.
Dr. King may have never delivered that speech if not for Henderson Travel Service breaking borders to become the first Black-owned full-service travel agency established in the United States.
Transatlantic travel by plane in 1964, at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, was not easy for Black Americans. It was only nine years prior that Rosa Parks was arrested and charged for breaking segregation laws for refusing to move further back on a bus to allow 4 white people to sit in her place.
Black people traveling through airports often faced discrimination. While the individual airlines were not legally segregated, airports often were.
Congressman Charles C. Diggs Jr. of Michigan supported a bill in Congress to desegregate federally-owned Washington National Airport, but the bill did not pass. In December 1948, after direct appeal to President Truman by a member of his Committee on Civil Rights, National Airport’s restaurant was desegregated. Subsequently, other airports started to follow after legal and political pressure.
But it was the help of Freddye and Jacob Henderson, the co-founders of Henderson Travel Service, that ultimately made travel for Black Americans easier.
Courtesy of Gaynelle Henderson
The birth of Henderson Travel Service
Mrs. Henderson’s desire to start an association of Black women fashion designers inspired the creation of the company. The Atlanta-based fashion designer and Spelman College professor founded an organization called the National Association of Fashion and Fashion Accessory Designers at the suggestion of Mary McLeod Bethune.
After launching NAFAD, Henderson wanted to host a fashion convention. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt suggested that she try to have it in New York City because it was the epicenter of fashion as we see it today.
But it wasn’t going to be easy.
She wanted to host the convention inside Midtown’s luxurious Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. Even in the north, which was often viewed as a safe haven for Blacks in the south, the hotel initially denied Henderson’s request to hold a convention because of her race— until First Lady Roosevelt stepped in.
“They were able to hold the conference in one of the ballrooms, but they were not able to stay in the rooms,” Gaynelle Henderson, heir and now president of Henderson Travel Service told Travel Noire. “There were women from all over the US who came together in New York for this convention.”
Despite the challenges, it was at this convention where Mrs. Henderson connected with the French Ambassador to the United State’s wife, who suggested that the group travel to Paris for the Christian Dior spring fashion show.
“My mother ended up organizing the travels for this group of Black fashion designers where they sat front row of the Christian Dior show,” Gaynelle added. “Since they were already in Europe, she also arranged for them to go to London to see one of the biggest designers at the time, and then on to Spain.”
Henderson returned to the United States with her eyes wide open. She was amazed by how well-received the group was in Europe compared to the US, especially in the deep south.
“She told my father that if more Black people knew how easy it was to travel internationally, and how well-received they would be in Europe, that more would travel internationally,” said Gaynelle. “That was the driving force for starting a travel agency.”
Similar to the difficulty with organizing the travel convention in New York City, the Hendersons came across some roadblocks when launching the company. White men owned most travel agencies at that time, and to be a recognized company, sponsorship was needed as well as an Airline Reporting Commission bond
Mrs. Henderson met a woman at a familiarization trip for travel agents who helped her get the ARC appointment, and she officially opened the doors to the first fully appointed African American travel agency.
Founded in 1955 in Atlanta, the agency is responsible for getting Dr. King safely to Oslo, Norway, where he became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at that time, for his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice.
“We were the official travel agents for Dr. King and organized his travel to receive the Nobel Peace Prize,” Henderson said. “That was an interesting project because he and his wife never traveled on the same plane just because Dr. King’s life was always being threatened. They always chose to travel separately, so someone could be there for their children.”
The Henderson heir said the Kings were dear friends to her parents, who handled most of the Civil Rights leader’s trips to Europe and other destinations.
Like the Kings, many of Black history’s most notable figures and prominent organizations relied on Freddye Henderson’s travel planning expertise. Everyone from The National Medical Association, James Baldwin and Olympic track star Jesse Owens, utilized Henderson Travel Service to get them safely to their destination.
Two years later in 1957, Mrs. Henderson took a small group of travelers to the Ghana to celebrate its formal independence from Britain.
It was her hope that Black Americans would become more educated about the Motherland by traveling there, and in turn African Americans and native Africans would begin to foster meaningful relationships.
This was so important to her that the agency’s motto became “education through exposure.”
“My mother had to charter a plane from Paris to Africa because there were no commercial airliners flying to Africa. During that time, Africa was still considered the ‘dark continent.’”
In 1984, as the US transitioned from segregation to integration, Gaynelle moved her parents’ company to Washington, DC, after graduating from Howard University.
“The beauty of a business like Henderson Travel Service, is when you look back at the times in which they were founded,” said Shellée Haynesworth, founder of Black Broadway on U Project. “A time of segregation and blatant racism. We were often regulated to our own communities. Their business and the work that they were doing gave us an opportunity to move beyond our own communities to learn something new, explore and see the full possibilities waiting for us outside of America.”
Henderson Travel Service has been credited for pioneering African American travel to West Africa well before there was a “Year of Return,” and the company has received numerous awardsfor its trips to the Motherland.
The agency has also partnered with Landtours, a travel agency in Ghana owned by Mona Boy, to continue Black cultural heritage trips to Africa.
They managed to create and open a lane for Black Americans to travel to Africa when it wasn’t possible
Henderson Travel Service present day
“That [creating a lane] is a major contribution of our tours throughout these last six decades,” said Gaynelle. “I’m really interested in encouraging more tourism to West Africa and through this partnership with Landtours, we will continue to thrive as Henderson Travel Service here in the US, and continue sending hundreds of people to Africa.”
Even though she’s now in her 70s and her parents have transitioned, Gaynelle continues to oversee the day-to-day operations of the business and is still very active in helping groups plan trips. She was recently credited for helping a semi-large group of Black lawyers plan a trip to Ghana and Senegal.
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans
Who started Black History Month?
Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” developed Black History Month. Woodson, whose parents were enslaved, was an author, historian and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University.
He recognized that the American education system offered very little information about the accomplishments of African Americans and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
In 1926, Woodson proposed a national “Negro History Week,” which was intended to showcase everything students learned about Black history throughout the school year, King said.
It wasn’t until 1976, during the height of the civil rights movement, that President Gerald Ford expanded the week into Black History Month
Why is Black History Month in February?
Woodson chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a famed abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and President Abraham Lincoln, who formally abolished slavery.
Feb. 1 is National Freedom Day, the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Richard Wright, who was enslaved and became a civil rights advocate and author, lobbied for the celebration of the day, CNN reported, citing the National Constitution Center.
Woodson believed it was essential for young African Americans to understand and be proud of their heritage.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history,” he said.
Before the country can move past racial harm, there needs to be “truth, then accountability and then maybe reconciliation,” said Dionne Grayman, who trains schools to have difficult conversations about race.
Failing to understand the history of race and racism and a strong desire to overlook the worst aspects of racist violence in the United States has fueled resentment toward civil rights activism, said Dan Hirschman, an assistant professor of sociology at Brown University in Rhode Island.
That resentment is cultivated by groups including right-wing media and white supremacists, he said.
For example, Hirschman said he sees calls to move past the storming of the Capitol last month. He warned that achieving racial progress, such as electing Joe Biden as president, can trigger an immense backlash.
“We have to sort of assume that’s going to happen and try to work to make sure it doesn’t,” he said.
Hirschman said the outpouring of support, particularly from white Democrats, for the Black Lives Matter movement during the nationwide racial justice protests in the wake of Floyd’s death was a positive step toward recognizing more enduring forms of structural racism.
Like the protests, Black History Month provides an opportunity to center the curriculum and broader public conversation on these issues, but it shouldn’t be the only moment to do so, Hirschman said.
“It can’t do all the work,” he said.
Here’s how to celebrate Black History Month
The theme of Black History Month 2021 is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
Black identities – other than heterosexual, Christian, middle-class Black men
Black historical contention and the problematic aspects of Black history
One area to focus on is getting “an accurate understanding of Reconstruction,” the period after the Civil War, to help Americans better understand “contemporary forms of racialized violence like mass incarceration,” Hirschman said.
He said it’s important to recognize the many ways racism is baked into America’s foundational systems.
“It’s definitely deeply worked into the structure of the country,” he said.
Grayman, a staff developer at Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility in New York City, said teaching Black history should go beyond the month of February. A former English teacher, she suggested including more Black authors such as James Baldwin into the literary canon.
“The historical contributions of Black people need to be integrated into the curriculum,” Grayman said.