Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ghana in Pictures

The God Who Embraced Me

This essay orignially appeared as with National Public Radio's "This I Believe" series.

By John W. Fountain
I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.”

But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life—at age 4, the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.

The God who warmed me when exhaust poured from our mouths inside our freezing apartment where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope, and no hot water.

The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements—by death and by hopelessness—; Who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man in my life to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be okay,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.

I believe in God, the God who in all these times allowed me to feel His presence— whether by the sensation of warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or whether it was that now familiar voice that rippled as do waves over a calm sea whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me over and over and over again—even when I have been told I was “nothing,”—that I was something; That I was His; And that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA, and little else, I might find in Him sustenance and the substance of what children find in men who choose to be fathers.

I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father; As Abba—Daddy.

I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers; I longed to stare eye to eye again into the face of the man whose name I bore; I thirsted for the intimate conversations fathers & sons have—about the birds & the bees, about things, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.

I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979 as I stood finally—face to face—with my father lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled. Killed in a car accident, he died drunk, leaving me at 18 inebriated by the sorrow of years of fatherless-ness.

It wasn’t until many years later, standing over his grave for a long overdue conversation—that as I told him about the man I had become, about how much I wished he had been in my life—that my tears flowed, as I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God the Father—had found me.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ghana Celebrates

Here in Ghana, the people of this West African nation, like this little lad, are marking the 50th anniversary of this nation's independence from British colonialism with a joyous celebration marked by activities throughout the year and peaking this week with a laser and fireworks show. This young man participated in a torch-carrying parade this afternoon, where thousands sang and danced as the jublilant procession in which Rev. Jesse Jackson carried the torch, a symbol of Ghana's democracy and independence, snaked through the streets of Accra.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Illinois Poverty

Fountain was asked by Illinois Issues to write the second annual Paul Simon Essay. Fountain chose to write about poverty and the collective responsibility of the state’s citizens to the poor. His essay was the magazine’s cover story in May 2007. An accompanying multimedia presentation available on this page is a snapshot of the voices of Illinoisans Fountain interviewed in his chronicle of poverty from the state’s southern tip to Chicago. To view the multimedia presentation, please click on the Picture to the right below the heading, "Multimedia Presentation." To read Fountain's essay on Illinois Issues' Web site, please click here: POVERTY

More pictures and excerpts from the essay appear below:

Life now crawls to an almost standstill along a decimated strip of what was once a thriving downtown in the riverfront town of Cairo, Ill.

One of a few businesses on "Main Street" in troubled Ford Heights, Ill., a south Chicago suburb, advertises liquor, lottery and groceries.

A house stands abandoned in impoverished Pembroke Township, Ill., where people still live in crumbling houses with caked-dirt floors, no running water and no natural gas pipline, about an hour's drive south of Chicago.

Boxes of food and clothes stand in the Church of the Cross in Pembroke Township, Ill., donated by middle class families in New York in a program called Family To Family, a grassroots non-profit group that aims to heal poverty.

There is poverty of the pocket.
And poverty of the soul.
Poverty of the spirit.
And poverty easy to behold.
Poverty that runs and festers
Like Langston’s Raisin in the Sun.
And poverty that lingers—
A brand of which the sum is
Only more poverty.

-John Wesley Fountain-

...I stand with one foot in each of two worlds. One in poverty, the other planted firmly in the American Dream. One man with one soul and one dream borne in two Americas. I stand forever—at least in the scenes that play over and over in my mind, like a grainy, black-and-white silent movie—on the impoverished block of 16th Street and Komensky Avenue, in a community called North Lawndale, still among the nation’s poorest, on Chicago’s West Side, in a place affectionately called K-Town...

The corner of 16th Street and Komensky Avenue on Chicago's West Side where Fountain grew up.

A police camera atop a light pole flashes on a street corner on in North Lawndale on the West Side of Chicago where crime, drugs and violence are perennial problems.

A church in North Lawndale on West 16th Street that was once Fountain's barbershop as a child.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lasting Impressions...

I won’t forget the music—
The songs that fell upon my ears
Or those I absorbed with my eyes
The sound of the drum
Even the silence
The hums

The smoothing,
clay-covered fingers
of a potter’s hands
The rhythmic march
of a torch-led band
The majestic weaving
of dark brown hands

The Agony—
Of white-stone slave castles
Of muggy dungeon enclaves where the souls of slaves still dwell
Of the libation poured in dim-lit darkness
In this once living hell

Of standing at the edge of the sea
Where slave ships
once set sail
Of the agony
And history
As our hearts swelled

The Beauty—
In their faces
Of a people coal to brown

Of the winds
and sounds
Of freedom
So apparent all around
The infectious pride
Of being black
Of being African
Of dwelling in this land
Indigenous to the first man

The Poise—
As they carry their burden

In the heat of the day—
Head erect
Iron-board back straight

With the elegance
of a runway model
whether in slow prideful stride
Or glorious gait

Under sun
Strong backs don't break

The Pride—
The glide
The joy inside
The ride to that distant land
Indigenous to the first man
A black man
An African

beautiful black folks stand
like golden sands
For as far as the eyes can see

And a clear blue sky
is a canopy for the ocean
Where the wind tickles
mint-green leaves
on coconut trees

Thursday, March 8, 2007

End Tour

On our last full day in Ghana, we toured the W.E. B. Du Bois Center and visted President John Kufuor, who lives in Ghana Castle. The seat of government, and akin to the White House in the United States, the castle is a former slave castle once used as a holding pen for Africans before they were shipped into slavery.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and President John Kufuor
Inside Ghana castle, bars and a modern lock lead to a cell that once held African slaves and a view of the ocean from the castle.

We also visited the Osu Children's Home, an orphanage here where we met the children of Osu, volunteer student Lila Yuen, 20, who is a sophomore at New York University and is in Ghana on a study abroad program.

A young child, one of about 300 who live at the orphanage, according to a worker at Osu.

Lila Yuen and one of her young charges

We also met with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at his home in Ghana.

Ghana is Forever!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


If the Ocean could cry
If Walls did cry
If the Sands could speak
If the Cells here in Cape Coast would try
To tell the tale of blood lost, of tears shed
Of souls dead
If I stood where my fathers cried,
Where my people died
Where slavery tried to steal their souls
And Mother pride
Imagine what I'd feel inside
The huddled masses
Sardined and wearied soul
Sweat, blood and urine flow
Like rivers of tears swollen
And the children of Africa knowin'
That the ship's a comin'
That that old ship's a comin'
And the children of Africa know
It soon will be time to go
Imagine ...
Imagine a musty cell--
Disease infested, hatred ingested--
Salt-air from the sea sifting
through slits for vents
where sunlight barely shows
Like dim-lit rainbows,
though in these holes,
the reflections in the dark
show no reflections of the dark ones here
who huddle in fear
as the end draws near.
Imagine the terror
The shameful error
of those who
knowingly sold their brothers and sisters
into a slavery so cruel
So brutal
So lewd
So without human rules
Imagine the door
The Point of No Return
The wail from hell
Where the Children of Africa fell
Oh, the hell!
I can smell the hell
Sense the hell
Feel the hell:
Seagulls crying
Buzzards flying
Sharks lying await
White men filled up with hate
Black folks beat down by hate
Black folks in shackles of hate
That old slave ship sealed up with hate
That old slave ship setting sail in winds of hate
And this old slave castle the birthplace of my fate.
If I stood where my fathers cried
Where my people died
Where slavery tried to steal our souls
And Mother pride
Imagine what I'd feel inside.
(I visited Cape Coast Castle today where our tour guide said an average of 10,000 Africans a year were transported by slave ships in the transatlantic slave trade from this depot. Ghana's Cape Coast Castle was run by the British, and many slaves perished at this location where they were bound in shackles and dwelled in horrible conditions.)