Editorial: Give just 7 minutes for Africa
Seven minutes to feel hopeful about a continent instead of harboring the perception that it is a land of danger, disease, violence and unchecked terrorism?
Seven minutes to remember the promise of an event 19 years ago in which a group of famous singers and musicians throughout the USA came together to create a medley of hope, understanding and a willingness to give. The event, or national movement, was called USA for Africa and the song they sung was titled “We are the World.” The cause was fighting hunger in African nations.
Singer Harry Belafonte was one of the primary activists that promoted the idea. Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson co-wrote the song that became a hit single topping the charts that year and beyond. A crew of 45 star-powered musicians provided the spark that spread a flame of compassion around the world.
The irrepressible Stevie Wonder was on the set singing with Bruce Springsteen. Michael Jackson was paired with Diana Ross. Cyndi Lauper and Kim Carnes chimed in, as did Tina Turner and Willie Nelson, Lionel Richie and Paul Simon, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick, Steve Perry, Huey Lewis, Daryl Hall and many others. Quincy Jones brought it all together as director.
The year was 1985, and on that Good Friday, April 5, 8,000 radio stations around the world played the song in one of the largest coordinated musical efforts for charity ever staged.
The song’s lyrical anthem create an indelible memory for most who witnessed the event:
“We are the world,
we are the children,
we are the ones who make
a brighter day
so let’s start giving.”
It’s a sentiment the world might want to embrace today. It is particularly true in light of the Ebola outbreak in parts of Africa. Recent news of the first airplane passenger with the disease landing in Dallas, Texas—originating in Africa—only makes matters worse. Fear will spread anger, prejudice and subtle calls for disengagement.
Media coverage is likely to play on public fears. Recent magazine covers at Newsweek and Bloomberg Businessweek (the former ran a cover with a photo of a chimpanzee and a connection to spreading Ebola to the U.S. from bush meat with obvious colonial overtones, and the latter splatted the giant headline “Ebola is Coming” in blood-dripping type) were among the worst, but it is a topic that plays to the worst instincts of sensationalist journalism. A better informed public about how Ebola spreads and the unlikelihood of it taking root in the U.S. is needed, but it will be too late to counter the basest instincts of mankind — to fear what you don’t know and to strike out against those who may seemingly pose a threat.
President Obama is uniquely qualified to lead us out of the temptation to shrink back, to turn our heads and look elsewhere.
But he may not. His political fortunes have dealt him the shackles of two war, the unrest in northern African and more recently the growing terrorism and barbarism of Isis and the Islamic State. He is confronted by the arrogance of power in China and the resurgence of authoritarianism in Russia, and hamstrung by the burden of George W. Bush’s ruinous tax cuts, unfunded wars and financial policies that led to the near collapse of the nation’s financial sector and auto manufacturers, the ensuing bailout, and four years of the greatest recession the nation has seen in 75 years. That’s a handful in six years, and while he did draw international attention to the Ebola crisis at the United Nations meeting in New York City last week, it’s little wonder he hasn’t used his meager political capital to lobby for a greater international effort to help those suffering in Africa. It is easy for this administration and Congress to believe that the problems facing that continent may be beyond our ability to make a difference.
But it is not.
Hope is a proven antidote to illness and suffering. In the medical world it is a given that if your attitude is positive, your recovery time is greatly enhanced. Hope is not a panacea. It won’t cure the cancer of terrorism, for example. But the knowledge that others in the world community care and are paying attention provides the optimism that promotes progress.
Hope counters the injustice of prejudice. It aids the drive for higher education and advancement; it encourages Doctors Without Borders and many other international organizations to reach out and do the good works of thousands upon thousands of international volunteers. While the U.S. may not be able to shower Africa with billions of dollars in immediate aid, it is within our power to acknowledge their struggle and offer the nation’s friendship.
President Obama could do that in various ways, but primarily it is about embracing all African nations as one with the world; as equals who deserve the world’s concern and help in times of peril.
Not feeling such generosity? I didn’t either at first. Intellectually, I know we shouldn’t turn our backs on such need. I know that extending friendship in times of crisis is the kind of soft power, politically speaking, that reinforces our moral authority in the world and makes us the envy of all peoples. I know that economically such gestures can make a difference in which countries become trade partners and which wind up empty-handed.
But, morally, it took replaying that 7-minute musical masterpiece to stir the emotional resolve to help and not turn away.
Click on this link and see for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi0RpNSELas, or go online and type in the search bar: “USA for Africa, We are the World.” Watch the longer video (with Jane Fonda) if you have the time, but at least listen to this song as it speaks to our common humanity and brings joy just from the prospect of giving.
It will mean more than you think it could.
— Angelo S. Lynn
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