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Exploring The Ark of Return during Kwanzaa celebration at African Burial Ground National Monument

27 December 2017 – The United Nations Remember Slavery Programme helped celebrate African heritage with a presentation during Kwanzaa, the annual African-American celebration, at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City, this week.

“Exploring The Ark of Return” helped visitors gathered at the U.S. monument’s Visitor Center discover the meaning and value of The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at UNHQ
The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at UNHQ. Photo: DPI

Unveiled at United Nations Headquarters in March 2015, The Ark remembers the 15 million African men, women and children who were shipped as slaves across the Atlantic Ocean during the Middle Passage over the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries.

During two half-hour sessions, presenters Rustam Makhmudov and Aamna Rashid used slides, a video and a trivia quiz to help the audience learn about The Ark and the events, activities and exhibits offered year-round - around the globe - through the Remember Slavery Programme.

Amna Rashid and Rustam MakhmudovRustam Makhmudov and Amna Rashid

Audience members also had the opportunity to learn about an exhibit “A Legacy of Black Achievement” and the accomplished people of African descent featured in the display.  The United Nations partnered with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England to show the exhibit at United Nations Headquarters in 2017 as part of the year’s activities to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Kwanzaa is a week-long African-American celebration observed from 26 December through 1 January each year to rejoice in the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce and self-improvement. Kwanzaa is derived from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza”, which signifies “first fruits of the harvest” and has been celebrated throughout Africa since ancient times.

Dancers at Kwanzaa celebration
Celebrating African heritage during the Kwanzaa celebration at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City. Photo: DPI

“Explore the Ark of Return” was one of several activities the Africa Burial Ground National Monument had organized during the 27 December celebration of Kujichagulia, or self-determination. The principle of Umoja, or Unity, was celebrated on 26 December while Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, was celebrated on 28 December.

The African Burial Ground National Monument is built at the site of a 6.6-acre burial ground where both free and enslaved Africans were buried from about the 1690s to 1794.  The burial grounds were rediscovered in 1991 during the planned construction process of a federal office building in what is now Lower Manhattan.

Rodney Leon is the architect of the exterior portion of the U.S. federal monument as well as The Ark of Return. The video shown during the Kwanzaa celebration, Rodney’s Journey: Making the Ark of Return, lays out the arduous effort Rodney undertook to make The Ark a reality and remember the millions of men, women and children who left their homes as slaves.

Rustam is a staffer in the Remember Slavery Programme, which is part of the Education Outreach Section in the Department of Public Information’s Outreach Division, while Aamna is an intern completing a four-month internship in the section headed by Kimberly Mann.

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