African American Landowners Must Share Their Stories on Capitol Hill
By Fahamisha Amkajinaki
My experience with the American Forest Foundation in Washington D.C. earlier this year changed my relationship and understanding of the role I can play in changing the laws that have affected the history of African Americans and land/heir property. Visiting “The Hill” (Capitol Hill), where laws were made that institutionalized heir property, and addressing my concern with the representatives who can speak for and support my issues, was an empowering experience.
Many of the individuals we met during AFF’s “Fly In and Hill Day” were the young staff of the members of Congress we were scheduled to meet. I could tell that the stories we shared about our personal family histories and our land issues were fairly new to them. More contact and sharing of the issues are needed. They genuinely were concerned.
The weekend at The Hill, speaking with the representatives, gave me the essential tools to make the difference in how I can participate in the wealth-building and legacy of the generations to follow me in my family.
My great-grandfather purchased 500 acres of land in 1895, as far as my research has taken me. We have 70 acres remaining where I reside in Gaston, N.C. The data shared by AFF states that from, 1910 to 1987, African Americans lost 14 million acres of land. That’s in one generation, 77 years. Anywhere else and to any other people, besides the Native Americans, that would be considered a travesty of justice. The AFF weekend on The Hill showed me the way to advocate for my needs, issues and my ancestors. I learned how I can make a more involved effort and take my needs and issues to the source where policies and laws are made.
The power of lobbying puts a face and voice to the issues. The resources provided to me equipped me with all the how-to information I need to continue to make my issues and voice heard regarding the issues of heir property, loss of land, and financial support issues for African American landowners. I left with a clear understanding of the level of participation I need to continue to develop to ensure that I am able to create a legacy and build wealth for my family and to inform and support other minority landowners. Getting up close and personal has afforded me another view of how to support our financial needs and to make sure our voices are heard so that we receive fair treatment and support.
“The weekend on Capitol Hill showed me the way to advocate for my needs, issues and my ancestors.”
I appreciate the efforts of AFF and the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project to ensure that I had the opportunity to experience firsthand where the “buck stops” and how simple the process is to have your voice heard and to have input at the seat of power. My experience with my representatives from North Carolina and their staff made me realize people do want to know about your concerns and how they can assist you with them. I understand the importance of needing to see a face and hear a story to make it real for them so they can carry your passion to the members of the government who can make a difference. I realize they push so much paper every day with no personal connection to the issues
We were given an intense but brief workshop to prepare us for our day on The Hill. The presenter of that session gave us the bare facts and tools to be effective. The AFF staff person assigned to me and my partner treated us with the utmost respect. Their information and knowledge about how to maneuver around The Hill made me feel I was in excellent hands. It was my first time ever being on Capitol Hill. I intend to sharpen my lobbying skills to promote the needs of minority landowners in my state, particularly women.
The information that was provided us to fill out and submit to our representatives was simple and informative. Our packets provided all the data we needed to share our particular landowner concerns. A plus was having the opportunity to meet other minority landowners from around the country. This provided an opportunity to hear about our different issues and our similar struggles. I learned how many of us have been challenging the right to be heard and supported. Land heirship was a major topic of discussion and the financial concerns of creating a legacy and building wealth. Most of us were not farmers; many were professionals retiring to the family farm after being gone since our college days or having moved away seeking incomes to sustain our families.
We discussed amongst ourselves in detail that the training and information shared about lobbying The Hill was the way to make headway with issues that continue to result in the loss of our land. As a result of this experience, I am hosting two state representatives who will visit my tree farm this summer.
Oh, the food was great! The visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial were just icing on the cake. I am appreciative for all that the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project and its partners do to assist us in supporting the efforts of our ancestors. Nam myoho renge kyo