With fufu and sambusas, Rochester students counter misinformed ideas about Africa – Post Bulletin

Senior Adina Campbell lined up plates at a food station during a recent lunch period at John Marshall High School in Rochester.

Sambusas, Jollof rice, fufu and a whole range of traditional African dishes were on the daily menu.

“Fufu is in almost every African country and they all do it in a different way,” said Campbell, whose mother is from the West African country of Togo. “My mom, she made it with peanut sauce and chicken, spinach, tomatoes, onions – lots of things.”

It’s usually pretty spicy, Campbell said. But knowing the audience, she said her mother toned down the mood for the event, which was one of several planned by members of the new Black Student Union during Black History Month celebrations at school.

Junior Avery Lenz was one of dozens of students who crowded the room for snacks.

“Lots of different cultures have amazing foods,” she said. “And it’s great to be able to discover new things.” Because you might find something that won’t be your new favorite food, but that you never knew about before. It’s a great way to show people that you can step out of your comfort zone and try new things.

That’s the whole point of lunch.

The group organized the meal to counter school programs that they believe misrepresent their culture and traditions.

This is especially true for recent immigrants to America or first-generation college students, said Olandis White, advisor to the Black Student Union.

“We wanted more activities and more events that would really reflect who we are,” White said. “And let’s help dispel some of the myths that people have about Africans and African Americans.”

“Africa is not what you think”

Student Hannah Boakai lived in Ghana and then New York before coming to Rochester. She said she experienced some of these stereotypes.

“You have children who are poor, you don’t live in a house, you have to hunt for your food,” she said, referring to some statements she encountered. “It’s not really Africa. Africa is not what you think.

Boakai wants her peers to know that they have all these things – it’s just different in Ghana, and she’s proud of it.

African and African American students are sometimes seen by their white peers as a monolithic group with identical life experiences because of the color of their skin, said Rodney Sharp, an equity specialist at the school, who assisted the Black Student Union in its programs.

And these uninformed opinions have created tension among students.

“A lot of people on the outside only see the color of their skin,” Sharp said. “And they say, ‘Oh, they must be African-American,’ whereas a lot of Africans say, ‘Well, don’t take away from our culture and say we’re African-American.'”

Common ground in a shared history

Dispelling stereotypes that white students have about their African peers is one of the goals of the Black Student Union.

Another is to help group members dismantle the stereotypes they have about each other.

The aftermath of Sudan’s long-running civil war still pits some students with ties to the region against each other, said Abuk Adeer, a native of South Sudan. The predominantly Christian country separated from the predominantly Muslim northern region of Sudan in 2011.

Adeer said old stereotypes and misconceptions frequently surface in his conversations with other students in the Black Student Union.

But she said group members continue to talk and students find common ground. In fact, her best friend is from the northern region of Sudan.

“We always had long conversations where we would sit and talk about wars, about our families, about the struggles that we’re going through in the same way, because both of our families are home right now. They both struggle with floods, bombings and war,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have lost their families. We bond over this.

There is one thing, however, that members of the Black Student Union say they may never agree on, and that is which country has the best food.


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