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April 10, 2003
Africa, its descendents and Islam the focus of weekend events
By George Mauzy

Islam, the continent of Africa and its descendents was the focus when Ohio University hosted "Global Africa and Its Encounters in Southeast Asia and the Americas" April 10-12.

An academic conference examining the lives of Muslim children and a symposium highlighting people of African descent were two of the three events comprising the weekend's events. Concerts and workshops by In Process..., one of the nation's premier African-American female a cappella groups, and a performance and workshop by the renowned West Virginia University Steel Band completed the action-packed schedule.

Another conference, "Children of Islam: Faith and Social Change in Africa and Southeast Asia," began April 10. It took a closer look at childhood issues in and around Southeast Asian and African Islamic societies.

Stephen Howard, director of Ohio University's Institute for the African Child, kicked off the conference with an opening address. His speech, titled "Children and the Five Pillars: Learning about Islam," discussed how children from Africa and Southeast Asia learn the principles of Islam.

With the United States at war with Iraq - an Islamic nation - people may question why the University would host a conference that sheds light on the faith.

"There is only one side of Islam being shown on television," says conference coordinator Acacia Nikoi, "so this conference is an important educational tool. Islam is practiced all over the world, but it manifests itself in different ways. Many people have false stereotypes about Islam, so I hope this conference will demystify some of those."

Participants plan to address such issues as education, family life, children's rights and youth movements. Presenters, meanwhile, will discuss how Islam has provided socialization for children regarding family and community life, education, the arts, politics, work, economy and inter-group relations.

Ohio University is one of only 12 universities in the United States recognized as a National Resource Center for African Studies and is one of nine schools chosen as a National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

"It is clear that we as a nation are confused about the Muslim world," Howard says. "We will focus on the children of Islam and I hope that their innocence and freshness will entice people to learn more about the religion. Since we are part of a university, it is our duty to educate and we need to increase understanding of the religion."

Ohio University - in keeping with the theme of youth - has included local children in the conference. Students from Amesville Elementary School in Athens County and Somali students from the International Academy in Columbus will make a presentation addressing Islamic stereotypes.

Other area students will take part in an interactive workshop teaching them how to critically analyze images, tests and films typically encountered in popular culture and the media. All sessions are free and open to the public, but only registered attendees will receive meals.

Ohio University's Department of African American studies is hosting another weekend symposium, "The African Diaspora in the Americas: Current Research." The conference will take place at Baker Center beginning tomorrow and will conclude Saturday.

Rinaldo Walcott, chair in Social Justice and Cultural Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, will deliver the keynote address, titled "Beyond the 'nation thing': Black Studies, Cultural Studies, and Diaspora Discourse" at 9 a.m. in the Baker Center Ballroom.

Throughout the two-day event, presenters will exhibit papers on the African Diaspora in the Americas, highlighting the collaborative and interdisciplinary research of faculty and students.

The symposium includes three plenary sessions, ten panels, three workshops, an art exhibition and performances by the West Virginia University Steel Band and Ohio University Assistant Professor of Dance Travis Gatling. All of the events are free and open to the public. There will be a fee charged for meals.

"This symposium will provide Ohio University and a wider community with an opportunity to appreciate the state of research on the African Diaspora in the Americas," says African American Studies Interim Chair Vibert Cambridge. "Part of the department's mission is to become an important national site for the study of the contemporary history and culture of the African Diaspora in the Americas."

In Process..., an African-American female a cappella quartet from Washington D.C., is making their first-ever Ohio performance. The group is hosting workshops tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Ohio University School of Music Recital Hall. The group wraps up its visit to Athens by performing a concert at 8 p.m. Saturday at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. Both the workshops and concert are free and open to the public.

For the past 22 years, In Process... has changed lives and empowered people with its music. The music is designed to transform and heal people as well as address many of the world's important issues, such as AIDS, women, substance abuse, family, self-respect, love, equality, freedom, the environment, justice and peace.

"Ohio University was one of the first to create an African American Studies program," says Cambridge. "This entire weekend will display Ohio University's longtime commitment to advance African and African-American issues."

For more information about "Global Africa and Its Encounters in Southeast Asia and the Americas" weekend, contact Assistant Director for Institutional Equity Diane Bouvier at 740-593-2620 or visit

George Mauzy is a media specialist for University Communications and Marketing


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