By Monica Chapman
An Ohio University kente was among the many the congratulatory gifts bestowed upon Barack Obama leading up to today's inauguration ceremonies.
Delivered Monday on behalf of Ohio University's Center for African Studies, the kente is a Ghanaian ceremonial cloth historically reserved for royalty. The kente's use is widespread today as a potent symbol of pan-African culture and heritage.
The Ohio University kente originated four years ago when Ashanti chief Kwaku Owusu-Kwarteng of Ghana, commissioned his weaver to create the traditional Ashanti cloth in green and white as a tribute to Ohio University, his alma mater. Since then, African Studies has used the university's kente to honor distinguished guests and department staff.
"I started using it to present to new African Studies faculty and staff each fall -- something to 'tie us all together' as it were," said Director of African Studies Steve Howard.
Howard came up with the idea of an inauguration gift for now-President Obama while finalizing arrangements with Cornel West, a keynote speaker at this past weekend's conference on progressive Islam. West made a late request to bump up his Sunday lecture at Ohio University so he could attend lunch with the Obamas in Washington, D.C., on Monday.
"I thought, why not see if West would take a small token of OU's Africa connections to the new president, whom everyone in my community is so proud of due to his very recent African roots, among other things," Howard said. Obama, the nation's first African-American president, is the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother.
After being presented with his own Ohio University kente on Sunday morning, West graciously agreed to deliver the gift to Obama during the luncheon.
Embroidered by the university's Interior Services staff, Obama's kente includes the Ohio University mark above the words "Center for African Studies." Below are the words "Congratulations President Obama."
Manager of Interior Services Jill Sayre said this was the first kente to be embroidered by her department.
"The entire Interior Services team was involved in creating this piece either by discussion of ideas, the enhancing process or the sewing process," Sayre said, calling the opportunity an "absolute honor."