By Charlotte Hill O’Neal
A few years ago during a visit to the town of my birth, Kansas City, I was fascinated by the sight of a street corner on one of that community’s busiest streets, decorated with many crosses which had been firmly and ritually planted into the ground. I would stare at those crosses for several seconds, feeling the energy of the artistic display of what must be tremendous grief and regret. I had the same sad feeling each time I would pass that cross-covered corner in Kansas City.
Those starkly white wooden crosses, symbolized the many youth in that community who had died during the frequent gang wars going on at the time. It was a sad testament to the determent of life and family being experienced in neighborhoods across America. Those crosses were symbolic of the many lives lost needlessly to drugs, guns and gangs.
I participated recently at the Arusha Green Park (across from the Kijenge Roundabout) in another symbolic planting…this time trees not crosses were used. Representatives of several community activists organizations participated in the planting of several trees at the park as both a ceremony of remembrance of those families who have been affected by the far reaching affects of AIDS and as a declaration of our continuing commitment to the War on AIDS through education and positive example. In addition, we recognized the importance of coupling environmental issues (the greening of Arusha) with the pressing social realities of today and the fact that they impact upon each other to the point of becoming one inseparable matter of concern.
The United African Alliance Community Center, including the Managing Director and founder, Mzee Pete O’Neal; Mr. John Salehe and Mr. Ndwata Ndwata of the BAME (Beautification of Arusha committee) and the Arusha Green Park management; along with representatives from the Kuji Foundation; the Kush Kemet Actors Group; Aang Serian Peace Village; African Traditional Dance Group; Maasai Arts Group; African Youth Health Promotion; the Bongo Street Boys; White Orange Youth Organization and Rafiki Arts Group (Moshi) and Life Concern Organization, joined together to mix our handfuls of water and toss pieces of moist soil on each site symbolically combining our efforts once again. We had all participated in the April 19th Staying Healthy… Staying Alive HIV//AIDS education festival at Technical College Arusha and were already planning for the next festival to be held sometime in June.
The planting of trees and the ritual use of green leaves and branches in general, are considered to be life symbols in communities all over Africa and other parts of the world. The planting of trees is a tremendously effective way to honor our love for the Creator and our Ancestors; the birth of a new family member or the passing of an elder.
On that day, Mzee Sterling Hill, my father visiting from Kansas City, planted the first tree, and as he said words honoring the day, I could envisage the spreading tiered leaves which would in a few years spread to a height and width sufficient to offer peaceful shelter to those sitting and playing under its branches.
As the remaining trees were planted the youth leaders participating expressed their wishes that the war on AIDS spread as quickly as the branches of those trees would grow.
"This tree planting ceremony was a way to honor the Creator, our ancestors, our positive community efforts and to mark our growing collaboration in the war against HIV/AIDS in our community!" the youths declared as one.
I marveled at the fact that I experienced such a strong feeling of hope and power in our ritual.
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modified: May 15, 2003.