June 30, 2005

Live 8 struggles to draw US blacks to Africa roots

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Academics and civil rights leadershope Live 8 concerts to press for action on poverty in Africawill reawaken interest among black Americans in the continenttheir ancestors came from as slaves.

But in the city of Philadelphia, where schools are soon tointroduce compulsory courses in African history, and New York,many Americans believe the cultural gap between them and Africais too wide to bridge.

Others say that the Live 8 objectives of doubling aid toAfrica, forgiving debt and promoting fair trade were unlikelyto strike a chord with black Americans who are struggling withproblems of their own, from illegal drugs to gun crime andAIDS.

"We need to take care of home first," said Joyce Singleton,a nurse's assistant in North Philadelphia. "Africans need totake care of themselves before they start asking for handouts."

Irish rocker Bob Geldof has organized 10 concerts aroundthe world to take place on Saturday in a bid to raise awarenessof extreme poverty and pressure world leaders meeting inScotland on July 6-8 to do more to help Africa.

After London, the Philadelphia lineup is probably the mostimpressive, featuring acts including Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi,Destiny's Child, P Diddy and Stevie Wonder. Actor Will Smithand actress Natalie Portman are among the presenters.

U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, head of theRainbow/Push Coalition, said he hoped the event would helpblack Americans rediscover their African roots.

"Those ties were severed by slavery but now there is agrowing appreciation of Africa among African Americans,"Jackson said.

He said that although the United States and Britain hadagreed to forgive billions of dollars in debt owed by Africancountries, both countries had a long history of exploitingAfrica's people and materials.


In an effort to raise African awareness, starting thisSeptember Philadelphia schools will require students to takecourses in African-American and African history.

It is the first American city to mandate such a course inits public schools, where about two-thirds of students areblack.

Molefi Kete Asante, who teaches African-American Studies atTemple University and designed the school district's newcurriculum, agreed that Live 8 would increase awareness ofAfrica among the black community.

"It's about knowing where you came from," he said.

Despite skepticism among many that Live 8 will achieve itsgoals, there was plenty of sympathy for the effort to relieveAfrican suffering.

"You can never compare our problems to theirs. It's athousand times worse over there than it is here," said Rochelle Haynes, as she ate in Philadelphia's Oak Lane Diner.

James Carter, a retired city worker, said a concertedinternational effort to solve Africa's problems was longoverdue.

Calling it a "unified conspiracy to ignore Africa," hesaid: "It's a subliminal form of genocide."

But others said the cultural gap may be too wide to crossfor many American blacks.

In Harlem, Darren Sands said: "There's a huge gulf betweenAfrican cultural unity and black pop culture.

"There's no discourse on the issues in a way that peoplecan understand," he said. "At its best, it popularizes the ideaof pop culture activism for the MTV generation, but that'sabout it." (With additional reporting by Kenneth Li in NewYork)