(A rebuttal to Mr. Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh’s March 31, 2012 Article)
I shall begin with what both Mr. Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh and I may likely agree on. (1) Our community needs a Community and Cultural Center. (2) Facts should never be optional. (3) For the media to be respected, it must respect its readers and the community it purports to be serving.
By all accounts, the Vice President’s Atlanta Visit was an enormous success! It was also important to the Liberian Diaspora, “Liberia’s 16th County.” In fact, I was so pleased with the level of success that early morning, April 1, I separately emailed both Mr. Leo Mulbah, LAMA’s President and Mr. Amos Smith, Program and Planning Chair (cc: Ms. Maima Gibson and Ms. Imani Bendu), expressing my profound gratitude for such an exceptional job: “feat done in less than two months of planning without the requisite resources or a paid staff and with the temerity to challenge Liberians to pay $50.00 or more for an event in any economy. And, Liberians SHOWED UP!”
Now, here are the facts:
FACT ONE: Vice President Joseph N. Boakai’s trip did “killed several birds with one stone.” His original trip was a scheduled appointment with Rev. Franklin Graham of the Samaritan’s Purse (Charlotte, NC). Samaritan’s Purse is involved in some needed and important work in Liberia.
FACT TWO: LAMA initially scheduled its inauguration for March 24, 2012 but changed to March 31 to benefit from the Vice President’s North Carolina trip.
FACT THREE: To achieve maximum outcome, the Vice President’s office called Hon. Cynthia Nash, Honorary Consul General after she returned from the inauguration of President Sirleaf and Vice President Boakai in Liberia, and informed Hon. Nash of the VEEP’s pending visit to Atlanta. They asked her to facilitate some meetings while he was in Atlanta. Hon. Nash quickly seized the opportunity and brilliantly orchestrated several appointments; including meetings with Coca Cola, Carter Center, MLK Center, Clark Atlanta University, Former Gov. Sonny Purdue and a highly successful “Liberia and USA Business Summit 2012”, among many. Typically, such events require six months of planning at a minimum.
Thus, Mr. Sungbeh’s assertions that “the political leadership structure in Liberia to agree to travel abroad just to install …” is not supported by facts. His lack of engagement (as a Liberian in Atlanta and former president of LAMA) is demonstrated in his absence from the LAMA Palava Hut Meeting, an excellent platform to have asked questions or expressed concerns, and his “journalistic ineptitude” in not interviewing any of the key players: VP Boakai, Hon. Nash, Pres. Mulbah or Chairman Reeves. Instead, he self-servingly sits in his “golden office with his magical pen (laptop)”— not seeking the view of any Liberian who attended.
He would have been very proud that so many Liberians and friends of Liberia came out on a Thursday night, and were engaged in a frank and uncensored “conversation” with government officials on topics such as, dual citizenship, land reform laws, youth employment, incentives for Liberians wanting to return home, and other issue pertinent to Liberia’s future. Was he afraid he would have been accosted with many compliments as I received, unsolicited throughout the weekend from Mrs. Wulah, Mrs. Nebo, Mr. Bull, Mr. Marshall, et al?
The Liberian Diaspora, rightfully dubbed the “Liberia’s 16th County” should be a place that all government officials take very seriously. Can you imagine the Prime Minister of India going to South Africa without visiting Durban? Or a Haitian President coming to the United States and not visiting New York City or Miami? While Atlanta does not have the largest Liberian population in the US, its juxtaposition to Charlotte, the promising relationship with the Port of Savannah (Georgia), as headquarters for Delta Airlines and Coca Cola Company (major economic contributors to Liberia’s growth), made the Vice President and his entourage’s visit more than an intellectual or political exercise. It was a prudent, rational, and appropriate visit!
Even if the Vice President (or Sirleaf’s Administration) had been trying to pay back political debt as Mr. Sungbeh infers, because some of LAMA’s leaders are also leaders in Unity Party (Georgia), it would not had been an aberration. PAY BACK is “political capital” in emerging and thriving democracies. Look at appointments to commissions, ambassadorships, boards or the infamous: “you are doing a heck of job, Brownie” during the Katrina fiasco, Halliburton as a major beneficiary of the Iraq War, to name a few. The catastrophe would be if the administration only supports its party’s programs in the US. That would be a sad commentary!
The Press (at home or abroad) of which Mr. Sungbeh is supposed to be a part of remains our Fourth Branch of government. Though, unelected or un-appointed, it has implied authority and the need to be responsible and transparent. It must be vigilant in protecting, representing and speaking out for all Liberians, especially those who cannot speak for themselves as the kids in Clarkston.
Is the plight of Liberian refugees in Clarkston (Georgia) not worthy of Mr. Sungbeh’s concerns? Are the unintended consequences, combined with the protracted effects of our civil war, which dominate these young people’s lives important? Through no fault of their own making, young Liberians, age 15 – 27 years old cannot read or write beyond their names; adults can not read their prescriptions without the aid of someone else; older children in lower classes can not perform even at that level yet they are constantly being teased because of their accent; young people who were taken from war zones and placed in a structured environment now are involved with the juvenile judicial system more than they care to; some who are involved with drugs are being deported back to Liberia.
Yet, Mr. Sungbeh, a former LAMA President, does not see the rationale for a Liberian Community and Cultural Center where some of these young people could be tutored, mentored and assisted to transition into their new environment. Additionally, the goal is to use the facilities to house a number of social programs that LAMA will be implementing over the coming years. Our failure to successfully integrate them into this society will only lead to more deportations back to Liberia. They might not deal drugs in the US in the future, after serving their term, but they might deal drugs back in Liberia.
Finally, I again agree with Mr. Sungbeh; “most Liberian communities in the US wish they were as fortunate as LAMA.” Yes, LAMA is fortunate to have corps of young, vibrant and progressive leadership led by Pres. Mulbah, for whom the fact that no LAMA leader, including Mr. Sungbeh, (president 1989) has been able to achieve, has reached a Rubicon that says we need to provide better options for these young people and our greater community.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Bill Gates, Mr. Martin Cooper, Pres. Barrack Obama, and Pres. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, of the Civil Rights Movement, Microsoft, Father of the Cell Phone Technology (Motorola), First Black American Elected US President, and First Female Elected African Head of State, respectively, all accomplished feats because of their conviction, capacity to solve problems, desire to make a difference, etc. instead of being mired into their “elusive history” of “never-been-done-before”.
L. Wellington VanPelt, former Liberian Community leader in Detroit, MI; Houston TX;, Raleigh, NC and National Chair, Ricks Institute Alumni Association, USA