ATLANTA, USA — This year’s Liberian Independence Day celebration was particularly special for the members of the Liberian Association of Metro Atlanta as this was the inaugural celebration under its recently elected leadership team.
Earlier this year, a new president was elected to lead the organization despite a tense campaign and voting process. Since taking the reins of the organization, President Yahsyndi Martin-Kpeyei has been strategically appointing young Liberians to key positions in the organization.
In an effort to continue engaging Liberians, young and old, LAMA sponsored a three-day independence celebration which included a meet and greet, cultural expo, soccer tournament, dinner gala, and family day at the park.
“We wanted to bring the community together to celebrate our independence,” Martin-Kpeyei said. “During the electorate process our young people came forward with a lot of new ideas and while there were some people that were skeptical about the changes, we know there is no change without some resistance. Ultimately what we do is about the community, and that’s why we’re hosting these events this weekend.”
After the daytime festivities at the soccer complex in Lithonia, GA, later that evening the community was invited to attend a gala at the Joseph N. Boakai Community Center. Liberians and friends alike were treated to a seated dinner as well as remarks from special guests: Liberia’s Honorary Consul General for Georgia, Cynthia L. Blanford; Rev. Dr. William BGK Harris; and President of the Ghana Council of Georgia, Kwaku Appiah, along with other distinguished guests.
Guest and longtime member Basiru Sony was in attendance and said despite the contentious election process, he is hopeful that the president will gain the support that she deserves to execute the initiatives of the organization. Sony said, “You know, Africans don’t always handle defeat in the right way, but this lady [Martin-Kpeyei] is a strong lady. In time more people will come back to the organization.”
Guest speaker Appiah felt it was important for him to participate in some of the weekend’s activities to show support and unity among African nations. “Africa is divided, and I think it’s time that we come together and unite,” he said. “It’s time for us to join together to build our continent. So I came to congratulate them on their achievement and let the community know we are all in this together.”
Some of the challenges faced in Liberia are not unique to that country, according to Appiah. Pooling resources and talent to face some of these obstacles would be beneficial to all Africans in the larger scheme. “By coming together we can be one voice and approach partners making needs requests on behalf of Africa rather than as one united front,” he said.
On Sunday the weekend of festivities closed with a Family Fun Day at the Park where Liberians in the Metro Atlanta area were invited to a family-friendly cookout. Liberian favorites like roasted meat and frozen Kool-Aid were on hand, and the event featured a DJ to keep the crowd entertained. Liberians of all ages were in attendance along with a few vendors, one of which was writer Manseen Logan with Village Tales Publishing.
Logan said she decided to participate in the event to help bring awareness to the culturally sensitive literature her company promotes as well as come out and fellowship with other Liberians. “I think it’s important to support the people whose stories we’re telling, and that’s why I wanted to be involved,” she said.
Logan also felt that it’s important to celebrate the sometimes flawed history of Liberia. “Every year we’re celebrating liberty and freedom and that despite all the things we’ve gone through we’re still here.”
Another attendee and member of LAMA who was in attendance was Danielle Knuckles, the organization’s acting secretary. She shared her thoughts about the importance of celebrating July 26 and bringing Liberians together. “We wanted to encourage patriotism, community involvement and incite a sense of pride and also to encourage Liberians to get involved in the community.”
Her advice to Liberians back home about the upcoming electoral process was to remain peaceful and respect the outcome of the vote. “We may not agree with the majorities choice but we can’t move forward if were not willing to work together,” she said. Knuckles hope for Liberia was that one year from now there would be increased transparency in order to keep the needs of the Liberian people at the forefront.
First generation Liberian-Americans Issac Taggert Jr. and Matthew S. Wulukau Jr. were in attendance as well as visitors from California. Taggert felt it was important to be in attendance because of the history of Liberia and what it has overcome, he felt it was only right for him to come out and show his support. “You can never forget where you come from and we need to do whatever it takes to ensure that all Liberians excel,” he said.
Matthew Wulukau was excited to participate in this year’s events particularly since he was previously involved with Liberian associations in Northern California. His hope for young Liberians’ engagement in the upcoming elections is that they take time to reflect on what the culture is really about. “We have to understand what we’ve been through as a country and overcome. To raise awareness and engagement we have to continue networking and really looking inward to do what’s best for Liberia.”
Because Liberia has so many areas for improvement, Wulukau felt that the most pressing area in which he’d like to see measurable improvement by next July 26th is education. “It’s not just the government’s responsibility. Liberians in the diaspora can come together, bring resources together and really make an impact.”
At the close of a successful Liberian Independence Day weekend, Martin-Kpeyei wants to leave Liberians with the following message: “Change starts with all of us.”
“Change is a process that often comes with bottlenecks and resistance,” she said. “It doesn’t happen overnight and along the way there may be some hurt feelings. But we have a responsibility to our community to do the work. People died in the process of us getting what we have and with that comes with great responsibility. We need Liberians to be determined to help take the steps so we can all succeed, I certainly am.”
Featured photo by Amelia Bangura