Ampim opens debate on 'ocean highway'
History professor Manu Ampim speaks to community members about the distinct characteristics of the “Olmec Heads” during his lecture at the Richmond Public Library on Feb. 13. Cody Casares / The Advocate
Residents of Richmond had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by history professor Manu Ampim titled "Ancient Africans in the Americas Before Columbus."
Hosted by the Richmond Public Library Foundation in their community center on Feb. 13, Ampim offered insight on this obscure and overlooked idea.
"With the general public, the focus tends to be on slavery," Ampim said to the small room packed with nearly 40 community residents.
When asked about the turnout, he said, "People seemed generally pleased. I'm just happy any time we can fill all the seats."
Before the lecture, RPLF board member and former Contra Costa College president McKinley Williams discussed his enthusiasm for the lecture and debate series and provided context and background to it.
"We're interested in celebrating all ethnic studies and this topic was appropriate for Black History Month," Williams said. "We want to show Africans have made a contribution."
Ampim addressed Williams' point by briefing the audience on an ancient king of Mali whose influence reached even the Spanish conquistadors.
As Ampim progressed through the lecture he cited the work of his former mentor, the late Dr. Ivan van Sertima. Dr. Sertima researched the giant statue heads of the Olmec kings and their physical characteristics similar to those of ancient Africans.
Ampim also discussed the strong possibility of ancient Africans' abilities to travel across the globe. He referenced the RA II, a primitive reed boat constructed by Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl. In his presentation, Ampim detailed how the reed boat was able to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 57 days.
"Oceans are a highway," Ampim said. "If your boat can stay afloat you're coming to America."
Richmond resident Ronald Wilson found the ability for ancient Africans to travel across the world particularly interesting and said, "I never considered that aspect. It was very informative."
Board member of the RPLF, Michelle Milan, said, "We want to get people reading and engaged. (Through this lecture series) we're trying to raise public awareness of the library and create community dialogue."
According to RPLF Board President Sandi Gesner-Maack, the RPLF is looking forward to more community events. These events will be designed to raise awareness and help provide funds for the Book Van Campaign and possibly a new library. The Book Van Campaign is a project the RPLF launched to meet the demands the current bookmobile service cannot. Gesner-Maack believes it will be able to help spread awareness and better serve the local community.
For those interested in getting more engaged with the library, the RPLF will host Ron Shoop of Random House, Inc., as a guest speaker on May 1.
For more information on the Book Van Campaign visit the RPLF website at www.rplf.org/bookvan.htm.
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