I met Kamal Bell for our second interview on a special day. Durham, North Carolina, that Friday was seeing groups of counter protesters swarming the city, stealing the stage to the scheduled protest for the toppling of a confederate statue, happened in town in the aftermath of Charlottesville. But Kamal didn’t have strong feelings about the event: “Statues are not the problem, for me,” he said.
He had just finished his second “summer school” project, the Sankofa Farms Agricultural Academy. For the second year the Academy had offered a bunch of young black kids the opportunity—for free—to learn farming and food basics. So the problem for him was not the symbolism of a statue, but rather to find a way to channel all these energies into something directly beneficial to African-American people. Like the Sankofa Farms Agricultural Academy.
Kamal’s intent, with the Academy, is to redeem his young students from a future of missed opportunities, waste of talent and potential trouble. He sees Agriculture as an art African-American people have ingrained in their ancestral history. “Go back and get it” is the meaning of “Sankofa” (in Ghanaian language). Go back to your roots, provide food for yourself and your family, own your food, are all imperatives Kamal sees as achievable goals for his people. He was visibly proud about what the kids had accomplished in the summer school, and also full of ideas about how to expand the program into a possible year-round, after school academy.
Although he doesn’t see himself as a black leader, Kamal’s leadership is for sure one of the few things his kids have to pursue a better future. For them, Kamal is not only a professional teacher but also a fatherly figure, something too often missing from their young lives.
At 26, Kamal has already developed the moral strength to become an example. He doesn’t get anything back from this activity (he is a middle school teacher, but still during the summer he had to pick up some little jobs to help his family’s finances). Helping black kids comes natural to him, it is as simple as a moral duty: “This is what I am supposed to do, for my people.”
I shot this video to honor Kamal and the kids who completed the second summer of Sankofa Academy.