Over the years, I have trained many Liberian brain trusts and now most of them are grown and are in various professional fields in life, meaningfully contributing toward the advancement of their various communities across the globe. Some are diplomats, ministers of government, medical doctors, lawyers, educators, priests, soldiers, and the list goes on and on. However, not only did my students benefit from me but I gained a whole lot from their love and support that motivated me to be the Rabbi I am today in life. Fortunately, while going through my archives, I came across a photograph of some stalwart sons and daughters of Liberia who were then students at the University of Liberia thirty-one years ago that stood by my side when I was going through the stormy sea of life under the reign of my ‘own people’ who despised me because: (1) I married an Americo-Liberian lady during the early days of the Liberian coup d’etat: and (2) because they were illiterate and envious of my popularity and close contacts with the rest of the Liberian people!
I am sharing this story with you not because I want to bring back old wounds but because it is good to praise God when he lifts you up and when he prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies! Forty-one years ago when the Lord called me to become a writer, a theatre director, actor, producer and cultural expert, he gave me the power of self-expression and taught me through his Holy Ghost to be fearless and sincere and to be humble. Through his guidance and dictations, I have gradually and persistently guided the Liberian nation and people, and all Africans and the peoples of the world, to appreciate their rich cultural heritages and to love one another as one people.
Further, I have advocated and continue to advocate for equality of opportunities for all Liberians, including the underserved of society, not only in Liberia but on the continent of Africa as a whole, as well as globally, through my literary productions and publications. And, the first theme the Lord laid on my heart forty-one years ago was ‘national integration.’ God wanted me to tell the Liberian people that we were one people: “Kukalay-Kukontonon” the Kpelle people put it.
In this light the first play I wrote, directed, and produced was entitled “Life Story of Kekula” in which a Kpelle Boy married an Americo-Liberian girl and they had children that were descendants of both Americo-Liberians and Natives. Well, not knowing that nine years later I would be in Kekula’s shoes to marry an Americo-Liberian lady who is the apple of my eye! So to me the whole experience and story is divine, not concocted by human design.
What I have observed is that leadership cannot be bought with blood money. Leadership comes from the Lord. If God does not approve you to become a leader of his flock and you force your way through the barrels of the gun, you may get there but whatever you lay your hands on will be a great failure. I hope the situation in Liberia sheds a shining light on what I am discussing with you because most Liberians I have also observed just do not know the difference between the letter "A" and "Bull Frog".
As a result, they go with the wind and consequently support the wrong people who do not even know how to relate to the people they want to lead.
For an example, the sheer neglect and abuse that Liberians are suffering at the hands of their elected officials is partly supported by ignorance and intimidation perpetrated by the atrocities that were visited upon the Liberian people by Liberian warlords and economic criminals. The only way we can move forward is not by so, so, talk, talk, but by galvanizing concerted civic action that will bring our problems and deplorable living conditions to prominence on the international stage. Further, this cannot be done when the leadership of foreign based Liberian organizations like ULAA, and other county associations are not vocal about the plight of the Liberian people and cannot motivate their citizens and memberships to call for drastic change in Liberia through peaceful protests and negotiations, as well as lobbying with the U.S. Congress and other humanitarian organizations to bring perpetrators to books for the crimes they have committed in Liberia. Regrettably, they are bent on lobbying for government jobs and betraying the trust of their electorates in the diaspora and back home in Liberia. I am glad ULAA has a new leadership that has extended me an invitation to collaborate with them. I hope they will listen when I advise them because Liberians want tangible results from their leaders and not “de-de-bah”!
I tell you the fact and truth, if I can get good ten persons to commit themselves to the task of promoting peace and reconciliation through cultural awareness and if I can get your financial and material support, I can help turn things around in Liberia by creating cultural awareness and national consciousness via literacy and performing arts programs. But the only thing I do not want from any Liberian right now is “sweet mouth”, such as: “Uncle Joe, keep up the good work” because I have had enough of that empty praise without action or substance for more than forty-one years and so I have to tell you like it is because I spent over a million dollars just to keep our culture alive while you have a government that demolished our national cultural shrine to build a hotel not owned by the Liberian government but by a foreign businessman!
Thus, what we need in Liberia today is not Liberians that have big degrees and cannot produce. Rather, we need Liberians that will deliver and not those that remain pregnant all the days of their lives without justifying their inclusion. So, when it comes to leadership, you can count on me to help guide you in the right direction but you will have to sacrifice your beer and stout money and invest it in educational and cultural programs that will help to revitalize your bodies, minds, and souls so that you may get closure to all those atrocities you experienced during the worthless Liberian civil war that is still ongoing in different shapes and forms. If I an individual can invest over a million dollars in the promotion of Liberian arts and culture over the past four decades at home and abroad, I want to challenge you to stop the empty talk and be patriotic enough to put your mouth where your hands can reach.
A shining example of an educated leader is not the amount of lies he tells; or the amounts of public funds he embezzles. Instead, you can tell a good leader from the fruits of his performance. A good leader lives by example and he bears fruits in due season. Above all, a good leader humbles himself or herself and serves the people he leads instead of lording over them because the only Lord I know so far in life is Almighty Glaypor and his son Jusu! Other than that we are all humans and fall short of the glory of God! Finally, a good leader is one who is willing to share his meager resources and expertise for the common good of society–one who is willing to share with others who are still in darkness the light he has received from the Lord. Pekins, this is what is meant in Liberia when we say: "When chicken white; it white!”
Let me close by sharing a photograph of Dehkontee Artists Theatre production of one of my plays entitled: "The Resurrection" that was staged at the Monrovia City Hall Auditorium in 1984. I had just returned to Liberia in 1983 after receiving my Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and married my wife who is Americo-Liberian during the Doe era. I was unemployed and did not have a job even though as a Liberian government scholarship recipient I returned home after I completed my studies to help develop the nation. Mind you, many Liberian government scholarship recipients who traveled abroad to study never returned home to serve the Liberian nation and people as I did. Yet, the status quo ostracized me and gave me the run around because during that time it was a taboo to be connected to Americo-Liberians. However, as is my nature, I swallowed those humiliations from individuals from the same region of Liberia that I come from with bitter pills and still found time to train some University of Liberia students because I did not want the knowledge and skills I obtained from a top notch American University to go to waste. Neither did I find it necessary also to waste the taxpayers’ money due to nieve individuals who did not know the difference between night and day!
Nonetheless, you know when God calls you to perform a task he provides all you need to do his job. So, he provided some very loving and conscientious University of Liberia students that you will see in this photograph. They stood by me through thick and thin when I did not have a job. They were my everything besides God and we had great times together. We performed in Monrovia; we traveled to Cuttington, and held many public performances that made many patriotic Liberians to question the government why my skills and expertise were not being used at the time. Hence, it was when the French government had extended me an invitation to go to Paris on a three-month orientation to advance myself in theatre and cinematography that I received some quasi appointment from the Executive Mansion to serve as Special Assistant to the Director-General of the National Cultural Bureau–a position I held for less than a year before I took a teaching position at Cuttington.
Ladies and gentlemen, hatred and jealousy will carry us nowhere as a people. Neither will segregation and tribalism or nepotism. Sometimes the best people in your lives will not be your biological brothers and sisters, or your fellow tribesmen or women. Rather, those persons that you might regard as strangers or outsiders may be your best friends that will treat you better than your own brothers and sisters. That is why I am open and willing to work with all of you because I have “been there and done that”, the African Americans say.
As I close, I want to give credit to my actors in this photograph. One of them passed away–Lawrence Sharpe–may his soul rest in peace; and there are others who are not on this photo that I also want to say “Thank you” to. I say "Thank you" for being there when I needed you most. The task is not over. It is just beginning. Therefore, I am calling on all of you (Ben Payne, Merrill Badio, Tomo McCritty, Caleb Domah, Vella Carey, and Gloria Butler, as well as all members of Dehkontee Artists theatre, wherever you are, to join me so we can get our country back! Tell the Liberian people I am getting ready to come back home and I want law and order when I get there! I want peace and reconciliation and anybody who is not prepared for peace and reconciliation must step aside immediately–no go-come, because, “when chicken white, it white!”
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
November 18, 2015