Whatz up babies?
Then to top it all off, we bring to you the fabulous Dr. John Aden, executive director of the African/African American Historical Museum because he’s led a very fascinating life through history. And, on our journey of love as we get to know one another better, you need to know about him, his journeys, his words of inspiration and more. On that note, I’m going to stop writing so you can feel the beauty and enjoy.
“I came to love history as a high school student. While I was there, I read a few history books on African American history and realized I wanted to learn more. Arriving at Wabash College, I majored in history and found it even more fascinating as I was able to study in more detail. In fact, my junior year, I did a summer of research at the University of Chicago in the Oriental Institute Museum. There I had an opportunity to examine Egyptian mummies from the early periods, and began trying to learn ancient Egyptian as a language. Though I wasn’t able to travel abroad as an undergraduate student, I did specialize in world history and won the Jack Charles world history prize there at the college in my senior year.
“I was graduated there with honors and distinction on my senior comprehensive examinations in history and religion. I attended Indiana University–Bloomington and determined to major in history with a focus on Africa and China. I was able to begin traveling to Africa regularly as a result of this, winning multiple fellowships along the way: I was a CIC Minority Graduate Fellow for five of the nine years I spent there. I traveled to the Republic of Mali in 1995 for the first time, went back again in 1997, and eventually earned a Fulbright Fellowship to do field research there in 1998 for a year.
“I interviewed blacksmiths whose ancestors had been assassins in a secret society in the 1800s.
“I have spent most of my time in Mali, specifically in the capital city of Bamako and also in the former colonial administrative town of Segu. But, I have also traveled through Senegal and visited Ivory Coast, Mauritania, and Paris on layovers. Outside of Africa I have traveled to China, New Zealand, and Turkey pretty extensively and feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to see people who live in many different cultures around the world.
“I have learned how to speak an African language—Bamana—that is spoken by 25 million West Africans, and also learned that people of African descent aren’t so different after all. We love and scold our children in similar fashion, respect our elders as a value, and appreciate what ancestors have done who came before us. The African societies of people I have had the pleasure of learning from are some of the hardest working, most intelligent, most compassionate people I have ever met. These societies love and breathe history hundreds and hundreds of years old every day, and these people truly inspired me to appreciate the vastness and the richness of the history that is our people’s too. When you set foot on the African continent, you do not mysteriously travel back in time as some have argued. Instead you have an opportunity to inhabit a space that is as old as the first peoples who inhabited this planet. With that comes all their wisdom, their energy, their sorrows, and their triumphs as they strive to make better lives for themselves and their families. I learned, against even some of my own early assumptions, that African societies are incredibly modern, wealthy, fast-moving, and technologically sophisticated.
“I was born and raised in central and southeast Fort Wayne, growing up on Warsaw Street where my parents founded a small church. I went to Louis C. Ward and Whitney Young elementary schools, Fort Wayne Christian school, Memorial Park Middle School, Village Middle School, and Paul Harding High School. After going to college in 1988, I would return for the summers but spent an awful lot of time learning. I returned to the city after teaching at Wabash College for eight years, when I learned that my wife and I were pregnant.
“This opportunity came along and I welcomed it because it was a chance to actually instruct a bit of what I know, and also because I love interacting with students and teachers of all ages. In fact, I am committed to lifelong learning.
“I hold a doctorate in history (also referred to as a Ph.D.), a master’s degree in history (both from IU Bloomington), and a bachelor of arts degree from Wabash College.
“There were so many people who inspired me along the way that they are too numerous to name. Nathan Spicer, former principal at Haley Elementary, was a teacher of mine at Whitney Young, along with Karen Ketrow and many many others. Ms. Longtine was a high school Honors English teacher who valued and grew my vocabulary. Mostly, however, it was my mother and father who really inspired me. My father is a seminary trained Baptist minister who taught himself Hebrew and Greek, and my mother was a licensed nurse. From them and our large extended family I learned the values of hard work, perseverance, thoughtfulness, compassion, historical awareness, and most importantly forgiveness.
“To inspire people I usually offer a few quotations. The first is: ‘History is a lie agreed-upon.’ Napoleon Bonaparte said this during his conquest of Egypt, and it really sums up how history has a multitude of perspectives built into it. For this reason, I try to teach students that there are far more than two sides to any story. The other quotation I draw on to inspire others and myself goes: ‘Every time an elder dies, it is as if the library has burned to the ground.’ Ahmadou Hampate Ba, famous researcher from Mali, has truly captured the value of elders in our communities when he said this.”
Dr. John Aden is the executive director of the African/African American Historical Society and Museum of Allen County, located at 436. East Douglas Ave. in downtown Fort Wayne. The Museum, currently open by appointment for repairs after cold weather caused a pipe to burst, is expected to fully reopen in mid-March.
So until next week, which is the beginning of Women’s History Month, you’ve been Up Close with Jeanie. Bye, bye babies.
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