It was July 21 at The Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was sitting at the table the restaurant had set up for us that afternoon. To my left was singer, producer and DJ DYNAMQ and dancer Anthony. On one end of the table was singer and producer Yaba Angelosi. Across from me was rapper Bafo Joseph and Wad Haj Yousif, the creator of SZ-Equatoria Group. On the other end of the table was rapper and singer Khat Diew and her crew of supporting ladies sit across from her. I was alternating between text conversations with The Rainmakers Enterprises’ Thuch Madhier and DJ Biggie Deng about whether I will be able to make it to the fashion show later that evening. Luol Deng sat to my right and we ask each other how we were holding up.
Aside from the fact that we had all put on an outstanding show at Bethel University the previous night and were looking forward to another outstanding show that evening, the one thing that caused me to pause for a moment is that we had an amazing thing in common...we were all South Sudanese.
When I was 11 years, I was a part of a Sudanese choir in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was also part of a Sudanese dance troupe with my mother and my sister. This was long before the country separated and became Sudan and South Sudan.
I was a child in love with music amongst other bright children that were also in love with music, and I felt like I flourished in the choir and dance troupe, bringing in Canadian influences to Sudanese culture. I was proud of the work that both groups had done. We performed throughout the city at community events, festivals such as Mosaic, at Conexus Arts Centre and even for Former Mayor Pat Fiacco. If I could re-live some of those rehearsals and shows, I would in a heartbeat.
During that time in my life, there were so many conflicts going on at home and at school and I was struggling to figure out what my true identity was. The question of whether I was supposed to be Sudanese or Canadian loomed over my head and affected me greatly. The same conflict was bubbling through the community and soon, the glowing support that was once there quickly turned to daunting pressure to be better than others in the Sudanese and Canadian community and the rifts could be felt at all gatherings. Eventually, the once expanding community began to fracture into tribe-based groups, and those groups divided into even more micro groups.
In retrospect, this may have been due to the escalation of conflicts back in Sudan.
Fast forward back to Minneapolis: sitting at the table with such influential figures, knowing that we were all from different tribes, different cities and different walks of life; we were all different ages with different ways of expression and different personal stories. Yet, that weekend, Minneapolis became our Mecca and we all flocked together to present our talents, our research, our projects, our solutions, our styles and especially, our support for each other.
For the first time in decades, I felt an incredulous sense of community – one that was border-less and united. This is what South Sudan Unite was meant to create.
Some blessings in life arrive late, I thought. I smiled, set my phone down and continued the conversation with everyone at the table.