Nyanseor unfolds his heart and mind in
a ‘heart to heart’ Conversation with his son as he
turned 60 July 22nd – Part I
BYLINE: Didwho-Twe Jlopleh Nyanseor
Saturday, November 29, 2007
Editor’s Note: This is a two-part interview; an abbreviated version was published on The Perspective’s website on October 8, 2007. Mr. Didwho-Twe Jlopleh Nyanseor conducted this conversational/interview of his father, Elder Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Sr. who turned 60 on July 22, 2007. This conversation took place during the weekends of July 14 & 21, 2007. Part I consists of his father’s relationship with his parents, his experience growing up in Liberia, and other personal and social issues. Part II consists of his father’s views on current political, economic and relevant issues regarding the Diaspora, Liberia and Africa.
Introduction: I will start this conversation by first introducing my father, Mr. Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Sr. Mr. Nyanseor was born in the City of Monrovia, Montserrado County, Liberia, on July 22, 1947. He came to the United States at the age of 21 – December 1968. As you can see, he spent most of his adult life in the United States. Mr. Nyanseor is a poet, journalist (graduate of the Poor Richard School of Journalism, Philadelphia, 1978), and cultural and political activist. He is a founding member of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA), Inc. He served as its eleventh president (1986-1988). In the 1970’s, Mr. Nyanseor helped establish, and also served as Chairman of the defunct AWINA National Association in the Americas; the organization that had the first protest demonstration in the U.S. against the Liberian government’s repressive and unconstitutional practices in Liberia. He was the Associate Editor of its newsmagazine, the AWINA Drum. In addition, Mr. Nyanseor served as Vice President and President of the Liberian Community Association of Pennsylvania; Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), USA; member of the Movement of Justice in Africa (MOJA – Liberia), member of the Board of Directors of Africa’s Children Fund, Inc., founding member of the African Association of Georgia (AAGa) as well as its Human Resource Chair; he served as the first Co-host of AAGa’s Radio Show – “The African Experience” in 1991 (now the African Experience Worldwide) on WRFG (Radio Free Georgia). He served on the original Steering Committee of the All Liberian National Conference (ALNC), the Committee that organized the 2005 national conference, which was held in Columbia, Maryland, U.S.A., April 14-16, 2005 at which the current President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivered the keynote address.
Mr. Nyanseor is co-founder of the Liberian History, Education and Development (LIHEDE), Inc. and its current treasurer. Presently, Mr. Nyanseor is a member of the following organizations: the Liberian Association of Metropolitan Atlanta (LAMA), Georgia; the Amunyahn Bassa Association, Inc. of Georgia, the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), U.S.A., the National KRAO Association in the Americas, the International Christian Fellowship (ICF) church, and is the publisher of The Perspective, the Atlanta based web newsmagazine devoted to reporting and analyzing issues related to Africa and the Diaspora.
Presently, Mr. Nyanseor is employed as a MH/DD Clinical Team Leader and Instructor for the Department of Human Resources’ Georgia Regional Hospital located in Decatur, Georgia. He has worked in the field of Mental Health/Mental Retardation for over 30 years. He teaches Mental Retardation, Person Centered Planning and Cultural Issues to new and current employees at the Hospital.
Mr. Nyanseor resides in Dacula, Georgia with his lovely wife, Janet Damali Nyanseor and their daughter, Sankan Worhwinn Nyanseor who is a junior at Georgia Tech Institute, Atlanta, Georgia.
Below is the first part of our conversation:
Didwho-Twe: Dad, how many persons are there in your immediate family, and how will you describe our extended family?
NYANSEOR: “D”, as the result of intermarriages, our family is like a tapestry. It is an integration of the human family. For example, Bassa, Krahn, Sapoe, Dan, Kpelle, Grebo, Ghanaian, Togolese, Sierra Leonean, Americo-Liberian, Congo, Lebanese, British, German, Caucasian American, African American and other nationalities that I may not be aware of are part of our family. This makes us very unique. There are four siblings in my immediate family, and they consist of my senior brother Korlah Wleh Nyanseor, and then me, my sister Menia Jugbeh Nyanseor and the last is, Sarkpah Fahnseah Nyanseor (formally known as Jackson Sarkpah Myers). Also included in our immediate family is, my first cousin Rebecca Titee Korlah Wisseh, to whom I refer as my sister because she was reared by my parents (we are two brothers’ children).
Didwho-Twe: Dad, how was it like growing up socially in Liberia?
NYANSEOR: It was not that easy! My parents, especially my mother provided the best for us. While we did not have some of the best things in life that money could buy, which those who were “well off” provided for their children; my parents made sure we had enough to eat and had roof over our heads. As a matter of fact, my older brother Korlah Wleh attended a private school (St. Patrick’s senior high); later, I too attended Zion Academy, a private junior high school.
Didwho-Twe: Based on what you told me, and what I read about Liberia, socially and economically, the Liberian society was divided on the basis of two groups, those who were referred to as Americo-Liberians or Congoes and the indigenous population; how did this happen? Is it still the case today in Liberia?
NYANSEOR: Son, this is a long story. However, I will attempt to answer your question as brief as I can. The founders (settlers from North America) of Liberia, some people say, they had good intentions; and I don’t dispute it. But to me, they made a big mistake by claiming to be what they ran away from in America – masters over other people, which I believe derived from not knowing whether to be Africans or to continue to see themselves as Americans. It was this confusion that started their identification crisis and the legacy of ‘false start’. In fact, it was the lack of clearly defined goals and objectives for the colony of Liberia that made the settlers to treat their African Liberian brethren in similar ways their slave masters treated them in North America. Rather than leaving the antebellum southern legacy behind, the settlers reintroduced the master-servant relationship in Liberia. The indigenous Africans became the servants and they, the masters.
Ironically, in their quest to be different from their African brethren, the settlers called themselves Americo-Liberians. As a class, they considered Liberia as a country that was exclusively theirs. Their concept of political sovereignty was the same as the United States and the Western world. They entertained some residue of the once prevailing view that the native population of Africa, because of their so-called ‘primitive ways’, was a people apart, not fitted for the same full citizenship they themselves enjoyed. Guess what! To complete the imposition of their cultural hegemony, indigenous African names of towns and individuals’ names were replaced with so-called “civilized” or “Christian” names. The settlers were of the belief that African-Liberian names were not “good” names, because they were not “civilized” names, meaning they were not of European origin. According to them, only names of European or of Judaeo-Christian origin were considered appropriate or “good” names. This I believe is the origin of the problem Liberians are facing today.
To answer the other part of your question whether this exists today in Liberia, my answer is yes, but in a different way. This practice has caught-up like a wild fire. The worst civilized or Kwii people are the wards of Americo-Liberians (Congoes). Wards are individuals that were reared by Americo-Liberian (Congo) families. These are the individuals that take this practice – as we say in Liberia – “to the far extreme”. After becoming so-called civilized individuals, they do not want to be identified with their ethnic groups, nor speak their native languages, and some even denied that their indigenous parents are not their natural parents.
Didwho-Twe: What a tragedy! You mean this still exists?
NYANSEOR: Yes, in some cases, with impunity.
Didwho-Twe: As an adolescent, what are some of the things that you were involved in?
NYANSEOR: I did some of the things most young people do; got into unnecessary troubles, i.e., fights, played ‘hokey’ on some school days to go swim and play soccer at a place called “Coconut Plantation” or at “Bad-Happy-Land”. These were some of the things we got into as boys I did not get into much troubles because my parents were, as they say in America – from the old school. They did not tolerate foolishness from their children. In fact, were disciplined by the entire community. Secondly, I was a good student. On the other hand, I was involved in extra-curriculum activities, such as, soccer, track and field, basketball, volleyball, trampoline, dancing, etc., name it, I did it all.
Didwho-Twe: If you were to select a sport, which one will it be?
NYANSEOR: It is hard to say because I excelled in many things. For example, during the period you want me to comment about, I did many things; for example, I played for a soccer team in the junior league in Monrovia called DV (David Vah) as number 5 (in those days, the position was referred to as backman). Those who knew me then, say I was really good. It is what is referred to today as a student athlete. In addition, I was an excellent dancer – both Western and African. I once danced as a Liberian Santa Claus known as “YGC” (Young Girls Chaser). The late Yango Gibson and Lott Carey Mooney of the Liberian popular dance band – “The Shade” were part of my entourage. There were other things that I was good at that I need not mention.
NYANSEOR: They were youthful indiscretions; like having children at age 16, etc. With popularity come these indiscretions.
Didwho-Twe: What were the things you did for which you feel your parents were proud of you the most?
NYANSEOR: Respecting others, the elderly, especially my parents because as Moses in the Bible said, “Honor your father and mother, and who curses his father or his mother shall die without mercy”. For this reason, and for not bringing shame to the name of the family, I had to manage my behavior; because a “Good name is better than riches.”
Didwho-Twe: What were some mistakes you made for which you regret?
NYANSEOR: Not too many! But the most important ones are what I lump as youthful indiscretions. These mistakes could have ruined my future; if I did not have a mother like mine, I don’t know what would’ve become of me. Therefore, if I had to do it all over, I’ll be more careful this time around.
Didwho-Twe: Would you care to elaborate on the role your mother played in your life?
NYANSEOR: Certainly! But in order not to take the entire time allotted for our conversation, let me tell you briefly about the magnificent woman I call mother. It happens that I wrote this poem about her. Let me read it for you. The title is: “Thank You Na Dee” (meaning, thank you my mother in the Klao/Kru Language):
Na Dee, I want you to know
How much you mean to me
I also want you know
That you are my first love
And indeed, my best friend
And a good teacher, too!
Words are inadequate
To completely say,
what‘s on my mind
‘Cause you’re too valuable to me
Your love and smile of approval
Means so much to me
So thank you Na Dee
For all that you’ve done.
Na Dee, I could spend the rest of
My entire life, searching
For the right words
To let you know
How much you mean to me
Understanding my feelings
And inner thoughts
Along with the encouragement
And confidence you’ve given me
For these and many more
I say, thank you Na Dee!
Na Dee, for being there
When I needed YOU
So, I am devoting this time to you
In order for the world to know
The kind of person you’ve been
To me, my brothers and sister
The fact that you believed in me
When no other person did
And the assurance you provided
In telling me that
I can be whatever I want to be
For this and other reasons
I want to say to you
I love you, Na Dee!
Yet, these words are inadequate
To describe my feelings for you
But thank you, anyway!
For being such a great teacher
And a devoted friend
To my brothers, sister and me.
Didwho-Twe: Whoop dad, it is a wonderful poem; now I see why she means so much to you.
Didwho-Twe: Now, tell me what made you decide to come to America?
NYANSEOR: Son, the way going to England was for those from the former British colonies (Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, etc.), coming to America was every Liberian youth’s dream. We used to refer to the United States as “State Side” or “Abroad”. Liberians who studied in America, and returned to Liberia for vacation or went home to stay were known as “Beentos”; their style of speaking was referred to as “Collor”. They were highly admired and imitated by those of us who had not come to America. During summer vacation when these “Beentos” returned home, there was trouble in the city; many relationships were ruined; the local females and males fell in love with them for the simple reason that they wore the latest fashion out of America, and they danced the latest dance from abroad. It was not a common practice for some guys to wear winter coats in the summer on Broad Street, Monrovia, pretending to have come from America; and besides coming to America for school, many of us wanted to come to America to be a part of that group. So my answer to your question is, I came to America to attend college; in addition to that, I was fortunate enough to have met your mother. As for me, I am blessed to have graduated from college and had the two of you, you and your sister.
Didwho-Twe: Having said that, how did you meet our mother?
NYANSEOR: “D”, why are you’re putting me on the spot! I thought I told you this story sometime ago!
Didwho-Twe: I have forgotten; tell me again!
NYANSEOR: “D”, how long is this interview?
Didwho-Twe: As long as it will take! I am recording this conversation/interview for posterity so that some time in the future for it to be read by my children – about their grandfather.
NYANSEOR: Well, if that is the case, I will tell you all you want to know. First, let me tell you how deeply touched I am by the questions you’ve asked me so far, and the sentiments contained in your last statement; for that, I thank you.
Didwho-Twe: You are welcome; now how did the two of you meet, you and my mother?
NYANSEOR: “D”, immediately after completing my vocational training in 1967 at the LAMCO Vocational Training School (LVTS) in Grassfield, Nimba County, I worked for about a year with the Ore Handling Section (Station 8) of LAMCO Ore Handling and Palletizing Plants in Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa County as a Station 8 Control Room Technician. In December of 1968, the lady to whom I was to be married joined me in the United States after 9 months. We got married in 1972. She’s now deceased; therefore, I prefer not to mention her name. Prior to going out with this young lady, she had been disappointed by a Liberian fellow to whom she was engaged; he went to Germany to study, but got married while there. It was after that incident that she and I started dating. But when her former fiancé returned to Liberia, they renewed their communication unknown to me. One way or the other, they reestablished contact. As a result, we began having marital problems. However, I was fortunate to have intercepted a copy of a telex she had sent to him in which she stated, “I am not in love with my husband anymore; honey, and I can’t wait to be with you”. Finally, the marital problems we were having led to our separation and divorce in 1973.
In 1973, I went to Liberia. While there, I was served with my divorce papers, which stated, we were divorced on grounds of “incompatibility and cruelty”. When I returned from Liberia in 1973, I met your mother. A friend of mine named Wilmot “Sunnyboy” Williams, to whom we refer as Al Green (he was a fan of Al Green, he could sing all of his songs). He had a girlfriend who said to me, “I’ve a girlfriend that I would like for you to meet; she is single and very attractive; I’m sure you will like her”. I accepted her offer to meet your mother, so we planned a doubled date. On that day, we were to meet at a party hosted by one Solo Thomas, a gentleman from Freetown, Sierra Leone. The party was held in the vicinity of either 48th or 49th Street and Baltimore Avenue, in West Philadelphia. When this tall slim and beautiful chick arrived, lots of the guys at the party were after getting her phone number, but for one reason or another she refused to give out her phone number to any of them. Later on that evening when her friend finally introduced her to me; she asked me why I was pretending as if I was not interested in meeting her, since I was the one she came to meet. My response to her was, “What is mine, will be mine; I don’t have to fight over what is already mine”, and she laughed. That’s how I met your mother. She was 20 years old at the time and I was 26. We got married the following year – 1974, and you were born 1975. Like most marriages, especially, crossed cultural marriages, we had our share of problems, but we were able to resolve them amicably. We’ve been married now for 32 years & 7 months, and we have you and your sister – two smart, wonderful and respectful children that we are very proud of.
Didwho-Twe: Thank you! Dad, what do you consider your passion? It could be a hobby or some other interest.
NYANSEOR: Let me state my interest or passion in this order, storytelling, reading and writing, especially, writing poetry and stories. Painting – African arts was once a hobby of mine when I was growing up. Also, as a youth, I was fascinated with history, especially individuals (Griots) who had the knowledge and gift in passing on information to us. As far as I can remember, there were three persons that had such impact on me: my maternal grandmother, Vahnboeh Waydeh Verdier, my mother, Worhwinn Mardea Sarkpah, and a cousin of ours that we used to refer to as Sergeant Moore. I don’t have the slightest idea why he was called Sergeant Moore. Based on my recollection, he never served in any militia or army. Of the three that I mentioned, Sergeant Moore had the greatest influence on me regarding the folklores, tradition, history and politics of the Klao (Kru) ethnic group. Also, I spent a lot of time painting; but since I came to the United States, I’ve not done any painting; may be when I retire in two years, I might renew this hobby of mine.
Didwho-Twe: How would you classify your painting?
NYANSEOR: African arts, which include painting of African villages, bridges, for example, “monkey bridge. My paintings were done on canvas and with enamel paints, not with watercolors. My cousin Samuel Dureng who lives in Acworth, Georgia was one of my salespersons. I think we sold my paintings for $5.00 or $10.00 apiece.
Didwho-Twe: What key advice do you have for your children and other young people who want to make the most out of their lives?
NYANSEOR: Well, I was raised in a home where at an early age my parents instilled in me the principle to treat others, as I would have them treat me. As children, we were taught to love and respect our fellow humans. We were not born this way. These were lessons we received from the entire community. These values need to be passed unto our children; values such as – caring for one another, respecting their mothers and fathers, women as a whole, the elderly, loving their children too, and taking pride in their African heritage and culture – including their African attire, food and accent (the way we sound when speaking). Our African accent is unique; therefore, it ought to be maintained. Moreover, since children are the adults of the future, our children need to be properly trained in order to take the place of their parents or elders, and to maintain the family unity for the common good of the society in which they live. This is my advice to both my children and young people in general.
About the Interviewer: Didwho-Twe Jlopleh Nyanseor is the elder brother of Sankan Worhwinn Nyanseor. Mr. Nyanseor is co-owner of Secret Enlightenment Gift Company, a customized candle producing company in Tucker, Georgia. Many of Secret Enlightenment candles are personalized to the customers’ preference in order to ensure maximum pleasure. Didwho-Twe has a BBA degree in Finance from Georgia Southern University and a MBA degree in Business Administration from the American Intercontinental University (AIU). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org