By Naimah Abdullah Wells  

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – “Seeing is different than being told.” This African Proverb reminds me of what most people think about Africa, but don’t really know. As a Black American, we are missing the main ingredient to moving to the next level and some may say that it begins where we started, the African continent. 

In December 2019, roughly 59,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Africa, denoting an increase over the number recorded in December 2018. These statistics do not share what percentage of those U.S. citizens were Black Americans. 

One thing that I have found is when asking the average Black American if they have traveled to Africa, two out of 10 have visited the Motherland. There are some people in our communities who are crushing the stereotypes as it relates to travel, business, family, legacy and the visibility of Black American males in leadership on the world stage.

We have a giant in Atlanta, Georgia, who has emerged onto the world scene with great dignity and instilling pride on his mother communities; he is now known as “Ambassador Waleed Shamsid-Deen.” And his recent appointment as Special Envoy to His Excellency Dr. Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone is not a light matter.

Ambassador Waleed Shamsid-Deen

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen’s appointment comes with some heavy lifting and was five years in the making. Originally, he was presented with an Ambassadorship to Senegal. However, during that time there were political constraints under the former administration that delayed and ultimately canceled the process. Five years later, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen’s international advisor on the continent, Bachir Seck, proposed an opportunity to bridge the gap between Black Americans in the diaspora and Africa through Sierra Leone. This new opportunity would be a direct appointment from the Sierra Leone President. 

In reflective mode, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen recalled that his late mother, Edith Shamsid-Deen, traced her maternal DNA to Sierra Leone several years ago. The opportunity to serve the country of his maternal ancestry will serve as a powerful full circle moment not just for him personally, but the symbolism of “the return” would speak volumes for the community and the country of Sierra Leone. 

The Appointment:

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen was invited by the state house to visit Sierra Leone. During that visit, he would be introduced to government officials, ministers and heads of industry. Within a matter of a year, he made two trips to Sierra Leone, met with government officials, took tours and expressed his interest in service. Ambassador Shamsid-Deen was briefed on the history of the country, the culture, natural resources as well as the areas for public-private partnerships and development. He discussed his desire to connect the continent with Muslims and Black Americans in the diaspora, along with the National Muslim Business Council (NMBC), and The Collective. 

There is tremendous potential for knowledge transfer and development in agriculture, mining, construction, and housing. 

It is important to note that this appointment comes directly from the President of Sierra Leone, this is not a third-party appointment, it is a direct appointment. What does this mean? Ambassador Shamsid-Deen “has the highest level of appointed authority and all the instruments of power.” 

This relationship leaned into mutual respect on how they can grow, what they can teach and what they can learn from each other. And those attitudes make this appointment so profound. Ambassador Shamsid-Deen says, “As Black Americans, we often look at our history starting with slavery, and we as a people can’t get passed that.” 

Those who have traveled and have seen the “Door of No Return” in several countries on the continent, understand our history and its significance in the mindset and lives of Black American people. They understand our history does not begin with slavery. Slavery is just a part of the story.  

How Africa: Understanding Significance of Appointment:

Our brother Bachir Seck says, “This is an unprecedented appointment. This is an African American and a Muslim appointment. Within the appointment we must understand the mandate. The mandate portion is very important. 

“It is important to give articles of power to African American people, so that they will have the authority to work with and within the American government. This is something that we need to have more of amongst the African American people.”

We need to better understand our lineage. And during his second trip to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen was invited to visit his native tribe, the Mende people of the Lower Bombara District in Panguma. 

During a welcome and naming ceremony, he and his delegation: Dr. Quiana Shamsid-Deen, Barbara (BaSeemah) Calhoun-Hasan, Zakee Furqan, and Terrence Taylor, D’gogo O’Sele and Bashir Seck, were welcomed to the village by being given African names, the adornment of traditional garb and beads, and a traditional meal with the village.  

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen was given the name “Bambaga,” which means “son of the soil.” His wife, Dr. Quiana Shamsid-Deen was named “Bambanya” – meaning “daughter of the soil.”  Knowing where you come from gives you the confidence to step into the world with certainty, dignity, spirituality and a sense of community. 

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen says, “You don’t realize how disconnected you are, until you land on the continent. You see beautiful black people everywhere, the airlines, the tribes, the corporations, the government; you feel that sense of belonging and security.” 

In America, we are taught that everything in Africa is dangerous, with disease, famine, and Ebola. We can’t attribute one country, or even one tribe to the entire continent, when it has so much beauty, value and wonderment that we are missing. Some Black Americans say they are not from Africa or have adverse reactions to African names.

The disconnect to African culture makes it apparent that here in America, we as Black Americans still are not clear on where we came from, making it difficult to know how and where Black Americans will go.

There are 54 countries on the continent of Africa. As we re-educate ourselves about the continent and re-align our truths, we will disavow the falsehoods.  

Our Past Birthing Our Present Global Citizenship:

As a community under the leadership of Imam W.D. Mohammed and of his late father, Elijah Muhammad, the image on the masthead of their international newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, was of two African brothers with arms outstretched across the land and ocean, significantly reconnecting the two. This appointment and generation are living embodiments of that longed for vision. 

We were placed here to reconnect to Africa, to build meaningful bridges. This generation must mandate that we, and our children, become Global citizens. Our children should have passports and should speak more than one language. 

We, along with our children, should travel at least once a year internationally, to be part of the world stage and broaden our thinking. As business expands throughout the world, we must be a part of that expansion, no longer sitting on the sideline awaiting an opportunity. Be proactive and be in the spaces, places and network with people to make big moves for ourselves and our families. 

Our local school in Atlanta, the Mohammed Schools of Atlanta, is one place where we must introduce our children to exchange programs, going abroad programs on the continent of Africa. This idea of global citizenship is what Imam Mohammed encouraged with some of the programs he put in place for some of our young people to go to Malaysia and Syria to study. 

We cannot afford to keep the learning inside the four walls of the school; travel to experience the richness of all cultures. This should be explored with the businesses of our community, and this should become a norm within our community to level the playing field. 

The Appointment:

“This appointment is bigger than a title, it’s an opportunity to remove the barriers that have limited possibilities. This appointment is a representation of limitless and global possibilities for an entire community,” states Dr. Quiana M. Shamsid-Deen.

When we examine Black American men and their place in American society, we already know that they are at a disadvantage. We also know that most Black American men don’t travel outside of their city, much less travel internationally. How can Black American men be respected on the world stage when the level of representation in the political climate is so low? 

The voice of the Black American man is missing on the global stage. The global scene can be seen as business, politics, religion, culture, and sports. As we examine this appointment again, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen mentions that when he travels outside of America and is seated in a room of world leaders, the question is often asked: Where have you been? 

Within the term of his appointment, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen will be versed on how to perform on a global level. Learning the proper etiquette for world leaders is something that needs to be learned and implemented. This teaches a level of discipline, respect and protocol. 

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen will host a delegation from the U.S. to Sierra Leone, as well as create conferences to take 100 businessmen and women from the U.S. to Sierra Leone to discuss investment and public-private partnerships on the continent. 

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen’s delegation meets the President of Sierra Leone

He is also pursuing the establishment of a “Sister City” connection between Atlanta and Freetown. Through building bridges between Sierra Leone and the U.S, Ambassador Shamsid-Deen can assist with creating opportunities, such as import/export with businesses from within the community to Sierra Leone. 

Our community must aspire to pursue wealth, become global citizens, serve on boards and connect with our native land. Think about our children having homes in the U.S. and in Africa. Viewing the world as a global citizen gives us the authority to pursue possibilities that extend beyond borders.

We are people of roots and foundations to a continent that is rich in culture, resources and knowledge. We are not just Black Americans. We are global citizens. 

Delegate member Mrs. BaSeemah Calhoun-Hasan is showered with love from the children

Supreme Foods Worldwide:

Ambassador Shamsid-Deen shares, “The role of Special Envoy for Trade and Investment gives us the opportunity to expand Supreme Food Worldwide. Currently, we are creating jobs, opportunities, and relationships in Sierra Leone. 

“This expansion is about a communal need. It’s our job to fill the need and support community life. We are thinking bigger than just our business, we are building bridges and future communities through global trade and commerce. We are serving humanity.” 

As Ambassador Shamsid-Deen continues to serve and create opportunities, he invites all those interested in this level of service to come on board. This requires a level of humility, understanding, and an ability to learn and implement. But it also requires an understanding of who you are and where you came from. After all, “It takes a village to raise a child.” 

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  1. Congratulations! The ambassador’s comments were as if he was expressing my vision 40 years ago (cultivated by the Nation). To have someone in his position to articulate and by Allah’s permission bring it about, “bring peace to my soul”. I acccepted Islam while an agricultural student at FAMU and lived 2.5 years in Eastern Province of Sierra Leone working as Agricultural Extension Agent. It changed my life and connecting farmers on both sides of the Atlantic still is my life’s mission.
    May Allah reward and purify your efforts.

  2. As Salaam Walaikum Brother and Sister Shamsid Deen. I’m soo proud of your family, business and community life. I share your sentiments. May Allah continue to guide our most noble intentions and give our families the generational wealth of all cultural treasures. Ameen

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