African ambassador empowers U.S. military audience
February 5, 2010
[Editor's Note: This is the second story of a three-part series on Black History Month and black economic empowerment.]
MONS, Belgium - The color of a person's skin shouldn't determine their fate was the message of empowerment given by the keynote speaker at the Black History Month observance at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Feb. 3.
"I don't look at myself as a black man. I look at myself as somebody who can produce. Who can compete with every other person," said Ambassador Christian Kargbo, the Republic of Sierra Leone ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium.
Kargbo was born in a five-house village in the African country of Sierra Leone. He said he studied in school by the light of firewood. When he was older, he pursued his education in the United States at Southern Illinois University.
"Everything I saw was bigger than I ever thought of. That would have just turned me off. I refused. I told myself, this is an opportunity to fight this discrimination this concept of being pushed aside so that I will not be economically empowered," he said.
He gave a glaring picture from his time in the states when a restaurant refused to serve him and the two Caucasian professors who were with him. After 45 minutes, one of the professors took a stand.
"That empowered me," he said.
"If you're going to succeed as a black person, you have to walk 10 times as much. Even in the classroom, to gain an A, you have to make an A plus, plus," said Kargbo.
"Everybody was looking at the opportunity for me to drop. Fortunately, I did not. As soon as I graduated, I was picked up as an assistant professor in the department.
"That taught me that yes, government will create the institutions, the policies for empowerment, but you have the ownership, the responsibility to create the empowerment for you to be recognized. For you to be considered as an equal," he said.
Kargbo said the concept of racism against blacks is not limited to the western world. "Even in Africa where we are all blacks...there is still this concept of discrimination," he said.
For that to change, he said attitudes have to change.
"The picture they have about us is either we are entertainers or we are criminals," he said. "You go to the black section in Brussels, that's the picture you see. They don't know me. They don't know you. We should let them know us. Let us change our attitudes. Let us change the picture.
"Don't let anybody decide your fate. Your fate has to be in your hands," he said.