Swept up in the romantic aura of its tattered façade, I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I wore my best suit that day. In fact, I knew what I would wear days before while packing in my Washington D.C. apartment. I handed my ID to the EPS agent and was directed to the top floor of the building. Even now, I can faintly recall the light tapping of my brand-new shoes on the green marble tile as I heard the unforgettable voice of Edward B. McClain, Jr., Chief of Staff to the President of the Republic of Liberia at the time, signaling to me with his hand to come with him. I had yet to figure out where I would be seated. As I strode the corridor with as much confidence as could be called upon, I turbulently rocked between excitement and absolute fucking terror. I entered the President’s Office; the cavernous space teased my spatial sense as I began to feel smaller and smaller…and before she could speak, a voice called out,
“So la you lay pekin dey send for to do dey Ministry work? Doc, where you takin pepo cheyren from? Da baby you seeing so o!”
They laughed. I did not. For the next six months, I would learn to tune out comments about my age and what horrific act I had participated in or in which I was currently participating in order to be hired and maintain my position, and, just work.
First of all, I was a grown ass man. I was every bit of 24. Truthfully, I’d been working hard in the right place, at the right time to be noticed by the right person. Even more true for you. I initially didn’t even want to move away from D.C., but when my boss at the time heard what I’d been offered, he fired me. Over my 5 years at the Ministry of State, I was routinely reminded that I was “small,” “lil boy,” “pekin.” It gave me the sense that somehow, because I hadn’t survived the 1980 Rice Riot, I was not adequate to serve my country, even if my credentials said otherwise.
We, young professionals in Liberia, find ourselves in an interesting place; our education and innovation are outpacing, in terms of growth, what our society is able to deliver. Most of us operate outside of “the matrix” that generations before us considered being the norm. In the upper levels of government and the private sector, there is no question that space is dominated by the “OPC”…THE OLD PEPO CLUB. Just between us, I have this notion that the “old pepo” recognize our prowess in the working environment, but are unwilling to relinquish their position.
But this is not to say that a delicate balance must not be met; on the contrary, I feel the balance needs to be embraced. We, as the youth, must be groomed for the tasks at hand while keeping in sight all that our predecessors dreamt of for us. It is then the full responsibility of us, the young professionals, to take this notion and mold it into the future we see for ourselves. This is where things get tricky.
We differ greatly from generations past. We are Musicians that are Ministers, Poets that are Engineers, and Generals that are Yoga Instructors. If all of these occupations are being monetized, which supersedes the other? *Enter a shrug here!*
The type of individuality that is being bred has never before been seen and must not be stymied. Conversely, we should take time to recognize that Liberia is pregnant with fresh thought and an even more fresh sense of hope, and the behleh she is carrying is one of a renaissance. How do we harness this energy? I’m glad you asked! We do this by continuing to run against the current and nourishing the young minds via support. I cringe every time I hear teachers encouraging children to regurgitate information as opposed to critically thinking about it and analytically applying the learned information.
It is no longer enough to say “Jesus Wept,” we must NEED to know why.
We can no longer turn a blind eye to the arts as it is an effective outlet that not only encourages discipline, focus, drive, innovation, creativity –all of which we are lacking– but also allows the synapses of the youthful brain to fire. To love painting is not to hate politics, to love accounting is not to hate reading leisurely. If that were the case, then explain to me why the Armed Forces of Liberia has a band. *Enter sarcastic shrug here*.
Young Liberians are currently being indoctrinated into a system that preys on youth in an effort to alleviate the general lack of preparation by generations of our compatriots that precede us. Understand that most, NOT ALL, of the previous generations are blinded by perceived privilege afforded, whether it be by birthright (last name) or by position and therefore will and should be upended by such a statement.
The great shame and irony in this notion is that the youth that is marginalized by a system that first requires our qualification and then our patience, will be the same youth that you, the old pepo, will one day become dependent on.
I get it ooooo….there is no pension that realistically can sustain you until your last breath, but those that can see their ends drawing near must consider their preparation for the eventuality. Allow us to be at your footsteps, plaiting the old mat with new rattan, rife with an idea and innovation…da ey yor born us for.
We cannot move forward if we are devoid of the generation that preceded us; their successes, as well as their failures. But we also cannot disconnect from ourselves.
My greatest urge for our generation is to know and take inventory of ourselves in order to be better humans. When we are grooming better humans, we are grooming a better Liberia. We need to hold the line as a unified front, take pride in who we are, and take even more pride in who we, as Liberians, could be. My urge for the generation before us is most difficult of all: so long as there are positive outcomes, support the youth, even when you don’t necessarily understand. Hold us accountable NOW for our shortcomings so that you won’t have to when we are in positions of power.
It’s cliché to say your best investment is in youth, but when you can show me one better, I will allow you to juke peppeh finger in my eyeball. Youth, with all things positive that can be said, must begin to master our understanding of where we see our futures selves and the role we play in a larger picture and then begin executing that vision. This is not to say don’t enjoy…enjoyment is us, but let’s not let 4 for 5 and bluffin consume us.
Authored by Eugene Herring
Featured Picture by Kathryn Bullington