Talibah Aquil MA ’19 (conflict transformation) talks about her first journey to her ancestral home, Ghana; the captivating performance art capstone that was borne of that experience; and her calling as a bridge between the North American and African continents.
Aquil first decided to travel to Ghana after research through ancestry.com revealed that she had more ancestors from there than any other African country. For her capstone project to her graduate studies at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, she spent three weeks there, interviewing Black Americans and others of the African diaspora who had returned to their homeland about how those experiences shaped their identities.
Aquil used those stories to create “Ghana, Remember Me,” a poetry, dance, and music performance that speaks on healing historical trauma within the African diaspora community. The project brought together her experiences and a diverse skill set: A graduate of Howard University with a BA in musical theater, Aquil toured with a professional dance troupe after college.
Performing “Ghana, Remember Me” “brought to my attention how many people really need spaces to talk about identity … and the complexities of it,” she said.
That work has helped Aquil face the present as well as her history.
“Something about me connecting to the root of my identity gave me such power that when I came back to the States, it was almost like I was prepared to endure all of the racial chaos that was happening in America, because I knew where I came from,” she said. “I saw the power of my people and it gave me strength. It gave me strength. It didn’t take away the pain, but it gave me strength to endure.”
She recalled a feeling of homecoming, even on her first trip to Ghana.
“Your cells remember … the body knows,” Aquil said.
Aquil moved to Ghana last year, and lives in the capital city of Accra.
“I knew in my spirit that I was supposed to be in Ghana and, again – not knowing the puzzle pieces, just like my journey at CJP – I knew that I was supposed to be here. And listening to that intuition, I’m so grateful because it has been wonderful,” she said.
Aquil is now a lecturer at CJP, where she introduced a course titled “Re-imagining Identity” that examines the intersections of identity, storytelling, dignity, and the arts. In that same vein of re-imagination, she is also developing an organization called “We Are Magic.”
“The goal is to bring diaspora people of color to Ghana – to connect, to history, to identity, and to heal from historical trauma,” Aquil explained. “I want to do this at a little to no cost for them. I want to build a place where folks can stay and it be a resting place, a restorative place in Ghana.”
Talibah Atiya-Najee Aquil has a rich and varied background using the arts as a vehicle for social change. She graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre and earned her Masters in Conflict Transformation at The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Whether in performances, community organizing, or teaching and facilitating, Talibah cultivates spaces for trauma healing and transforming conflicts that exist both within self and within communities. Ms Aquil has facilitated Restorative Justice Circle Practices centered around racial healing and presented her masters thesis as an arts-based independent research project “Ghana, Remember Me,” which uses poetry, dance and music to speak to healing historical trauma within the African Diaspora community. Talibah is also an adjunct professor at The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU, where she created a course entitled “Re-imagining Identity” that examines the intersections of identity, story-telling, dignity, and the arts; in this course she created safe spaces for student-teachers to explore the complexities of identity as it relates to oneself and others. Ms. Aquil currently lives in Accra, Ghana where she co-created “We Are Magic,” an organization focused on creating healing tours for people of the diaspora who wish to travel to Ghana.