At the age of 29, Derrick Ashong, writer, musician and actor, has quite possibly traveled more than most people will in their entire lifetime.
Born in Ghana, a western African nation, Ashong moved to Brooklyn at the age of three. Since then, his life has been a cultural cornucopia, as he has lived in New Jersey, Boston, England, Saudi Arabia and part of the Caribbean. These aren’t your everyday moves from Philadelphia to New York.
“My parents were mad crazy,” Ashong said.
His travels have given him an open mind and a respect for people of different cultures. However, it has also given him the immense challenge of finding a sense of identity in an ever-changing environment. The requirements for social acceptance changed every time he moved.
Even through college, Ashong could not find a sense of belonging in any of the places he lived. Finally, he tried returning to his birthplace, Ghana, and there, with his family, he found the sense of home and identity he had been looking for.
He also found that the identity of those in Ghana and Africa is misrepresented in popular media in the United States, as they are labeled as rich in money and opportunity. When Ashong came to the College on Feb. 15, he lectured on the impact of hip-hop music and culture on Ghanaian life to correct the stereotypes.
According to Ashong, hip-hop music paints an inaccurate portrait of African Americans to the world. It is a common misconception in Ghana that African Americans are all rich and powerful because the only glimpse they see into African American life comes through hip-hop music.
Through his program called the Sweet Mother Tour, Ashong tries to change the way Africa views itself and attempts to change the world’s conception of Africa’s identity. He wants to create an image of Africans in the United States that is real rather than a version provided to the public by pop culture.
Music is a major part of his program. He recently directed a music video to the song “Sweet Mother,” sung by Soulf?ge, that speaks against stereotypes and encourages people to learn more about what Africa has to offer.
“There is a power in the performed word,” Ashong said.
He believes that there is something profound and special about music and that it is the only way of communicating with the human spirit. He wants to use hip-hop music to correct people’s misconceptions about Africa and the people who live there.
Ashong believes that the way to solve this problem is to start talking about the problem. “We need to start being a little more real with ourselves,” he said.
He says that people need to stop supporting things such as music records that do not reflect personal ideology. He is calling on the people to “boycott the bullshit.”
The major message that Ashong tries to relay in his public lectures is that people need to broaden their horizons, ask questions and be critical of everything that is presented to them in life. Oftentimes, he feels that people just accept what is given to them by the media as the truth without scrutinizing the message behind it.
The audience reacted positively to Ashong’s powerful message. “It was a great insight into hip-hop and the influence of Ghanaian-African culture,” Aikins Aryee, sophomore biology major, said.
“It was interesting how he showed the perspective of young Ghanaians who watch hip-hop, and how they believed everything they saw,” Cheryl Davis, freshman history major, said
Ashong’s lecture was sponsored by the African American Cultural Awareness Association (AACAA) with the African American Studies and International Studies Departments in honor of Black History Month. It was part of a series of multicultural lectures that the organization is holding throughout the month.
Sonya Spann, a freshman English major and publicist for the AACAA, said that the organization was grateful for the opportunity to promote cultural awareness to the campus community.
“It was important to expose the campus community to someone as influential as Derrick Ashong in terms of his contributions to dispelling misconceptions that people within and outside of the African diaspora have about each other,” she said.