New York bishop launches ‘The Wakanda Project’ to ignite Pan-African movement

EXCLUSIVE: Bishop Joseph W. Tolton, a renowned advocate, aims to build a movement at the intersection of Black Lives Matter movement and Pan-Africanism

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To say that 2020 has been a taxing year would be an understatement for some people. With the recent news of Chadwick Boseman passing away, some feel as if the wonderful Wakanda embodying superhero has departed in a time when he may be needed most.

For those looking for solutions regarding the civil unrest experienced this year, there may be some light in the form of a new campaign with a name inspired by Boseman and the Black Panther film itself.

Renowned Pan African advocate Bishop Joseph W. Tolton has launched The Wakanda Project, a multi-pronged campaign seeking to ignite a 21st century Pan African justice movement.

Read More: Black Lives Matter forces South African sports to face racist past

The initiative has a focus on connecting people of African descent in Africa and globally in order to effectively leverage the collective power of Black people working for economic, social, and political justice on the global stage. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

(Photo: Courtesy of Bishop Joseph Tolton)

Tolton, who has spent the last decade living between New York and East Africa building a progressive Christian, pro-democracy, pro-LGBT movement through the international outreach ministry of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, said that he was inspired by the hit Marvel film.

He believes that for Black people to continue succeeding, we need to have a deep relationship with not only the continent of Africa but the diaspora as a whole.

“At its heart and core, The Wakanda Project is a project that is designed to work at the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement and Pan-Africanism,” Tolton said.

“I deeply believe that the American racial justice agenda today is very much the work of police reform, dealing with issues of mass incarceration and closing the wealth gap, access to quality healthcare, and reimagining the ways in which we finance our public schools so that it’s not a tax based proposition, and therefore we have such inequities. So I am very clear that this is the work that we must do today. But I deeply believe that while we are doing this work, we’ve got to keep our eye on ‘what is the work of tomorrow?’”

Read More: How American racism changed the map of Africa

For Tolton, that work is The Wakanda Project, presented by Interconnected Justice, an action-oriented global leadership organization dedicated to creating a web of connections and collaborative action within and among Africa and the diaspora in the areas of education, economics, politics, and culture.

(Photo: Courtesy of Bishop Joseph Tolton)
(Photo: Courtesy of Bishop Joseph Tolton)

The initiative launched on the heels of the United Nations Africa Group’s successful appeal for an emergency hearing by the UN Human Rights Council on police brutality in America, and the call of the Ghanaian government for African-Americans to come home.

Key elements of The Wakanda Project include a music video entitled “African Americans, Africa Loves You” music video by Congo Tomorrow, a Congolese youth group in support of Black Lives Matter; a video documentary entitled “COVID & The Cops… Is it time for Wakanda?”; and “JUST CONVERSATIONS” a show featuring Tolton interviewing guests regarding a variety of topics including state-sanctioned violence and the role of political leaders, tech entrepreneurs, educators, youth and young adult activists in building “Wakanda.”

Tolton, who earned an MBA from the Graduate Business School of Columbia University, has certainly been busy and hasn’t let the pandemic slow him down. In fact, COVID-19 may have helped set the stage for The Wakanda Project’s initiatives.

“I think that ironically what the coronavirus has lifted up is actually an incredible moment of opportunity for us to tap into why this new revival of Pan-Africanism is so needed,” Tolton said.

“If you look at America and Brazil where the coronavirus is disproportionately devastating the lives of African-Americans — I saw a statistic that out of every 1,000, I believe 500 African Americans have actually died from the coronavirus. That is a startling number.

He added, “And obviously the ways in which we’ve been disproportionately impacted economically is quite visible for all of us. The same thing is happening in Brazil. And what this suggests is that these inequities are incredibly real, and therefore the need for a revival of Pan-Africanism is more important now than ever.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Bishop Joseph Tolton)

Pan-Africanism is defined as the principle or advocacy of the political union of all the indigenous inhabitants of Africa. According to Britannica, Pan-Africanist ideas first started circulating in the mid-19th century and were led by Africans from the Western Hemisphere.

Read More: Africa is slowly peeling apart as new ocean forms, scientists say

Some of the most influential early Pan-Africanists included Martin Delany, Alexander Crummel and Edward Blyden. Delany strongly believed that Black people could not prosper alongside Whites and supported the notion of African Americans separating from the United States to establish their own nation. Seeing Black people lead a remarkably advanced nation was one of the many reasons why the film Black Panther was praised. 

This is something that isn’t lost on Tolton.

“I do understand that there are some who would critique me because they feel as if [Black Panther] is imaginary Black excellence and they think we should be grounded in Black excellence that is more real or tangible,” Tolton explained.

“My response to that is that 401 years of the type of oppression and the abuse physically and mentally and spiritually that we have experienced as Black people particularly in America necessitates a project that will subsume the heights of the oppression that we have experienced. And that means that we have to reach for something that is highly aspirational.”

Tolton says for that reason, he stands by naming the initiative The Wakanda Project. “I think it really speaks to the level of Black excellence that we desire to reach for and that we must reach for in order to really push back against the depths of oppression that we have experienced and continue to experience,” he said.

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