“Roots” Stimulates Students

They Talk during and after the Broadcast about Culture, Unity and the Economics of Slavery.

Days before the mini-series “Roots” was shown Sunday night on TV One, Bernard Bell, senior vice-president of the network said that his hope was for the re-broadcast to enlighten a new generation of viewers. That’s exactly what happened for a group of students who watched the broadcast at Howard University.

“I liked how it showed the history of us from the beginning,” said Jennifer Bryant, a senior majoring in English. “We did live in developed communities before slavery,” she said.

This first episode of the series showed the birth of Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) in Gambia, West Africa. Then Kunta goes through his rite of passage, next he is captured by Africans and is turned over to white slave catchers. For the remainder of the episode, Kinte and 180 other captured men and women endure the Middle Passage-the sea voyage to the Western Hemisphere– in the hold of a ship.

The opening episode showed white slave catchers drinking rum constantly. “It’s like they drank all of that rum to numb the effects of what they were doing,” said Megan Lymon, a senior majoring in marketing.

Another scene showed a crew member of the ship telling the captain (Edward Asner) that the captured men and women should be cleaned, so that they look their best for their slave auction. “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the crewman said. “It pays of in pounds and shillings.”

“Yes that was their God,” said Atiba Wiltshire, a senior majoring in audio production.

Allison Matthews, a senior majoring in sociology agreed. “Definitely, the biggest factor that led to them enslaving us was economical,” she said “it was also because they saw us as uncivilized.”

While Kunta is lying in the bottom of a ship on a wooden plank with shackles around his feet and wrists, he prays: “Allah, the merciful. Allah, the all-powerful. Allah, the compassionate. Please hear my prayers.”

“Wow, most Africans were probably Muslim when they came over here,” Matthews said. “I didn’t even think of that…That’s what the problem is,” Matthews continued, “We are not taught what our original culture was. Instead we are told that we worshipped different gods.”

In a scene near the end of the episode, while Kunta is still in the bottom of the ship, he is told by (Ji Tu Cumbuka) a man that wrestled him prior to his capture, that “Men chained together are brothers. We are one village.”

“That is so right, said Lymon. “We are connected through pain.”

“But then we allow western ideologies to separate us,” said Bryant.

After this comment, the group of students named institutions like religion and the educational system as oppressive institutions.

“Education is supposed to spark critical thinking,” said Bryant. “Not solely train us for the purpose of securing a job.”

“We want change, yet we still depend on the same institutions that have oppressed us,” she said.