Multilingual, Philippe Abraham is an assured world traveler who thrives on visits to foreign countries. This holiday season, he is not traveling for business or simple pleasure, but is using his own time and money to journey with an association of diversity officers to Ghana for humanitarian and cultural integration as well as educational purposes.
As the first vice president for New York State United Teachers — and its first-ever officer from a higher-ed affiliate — Abraham oversees social justice initiatives for the statewide organization. On this trip, he will be learning more about social justice from what he calls his “mother country.”
He will spend Christmas Day on a long layover in Dubai, together with his college professor wife and members of her family, and then travel with her to Accra, Ghana.
The trip will be his third with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, following visits to Cuba and Brazil. His colleagues include professors, teachers and administrators who will bring back practices and knowledge in global awareness. On this trip, Abraham is also serving as the official photographer.
The travelers have packed over-the-counter medicines and other medical supplies to bring to an AIDS clinic in Ghana.
The Haitian-born Abraham speaks French, Haitian Creole, Spanish and English. He talks fast, and speaks with eagerness about going to “the motherland of black culture” and gaining “a better understanding of African connection.”
“This trip will be helpful to me to refresh myself and bathe myself in culture that my ancestors come from and renew my commitment to ensure representation for different cultures,” said Abraham, who has been inside the borders of at least two dozen countries.
His trip to this west African country includes visits to the W. E. B Du Bois Center, honoring the first African American to graduate from Harvard, a noted American sociologist, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and historian. His group will also visit the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, the last resting place of the first president of Ghana, honored for his campaign to liberate Ghana from British colonial rule in 1957.
Even though colonialism no longer rules, Abraham said “colonialism of the mind remains in those communities. Subjugation of the mind lingers. … When you adopt a culture, you adopt behavior, a way of thinking and how you define yourself.”
The trip includes nature — a visit to a monkey sanctuary — and creativity — a traditional Krobo bead production site of African glass beads. There will be many somber moments of learning as well. A drive to the Cape Coast will include a visit to one of 40 slave castles and dungeons built for trans-Atlantic slave trade. A guest historian will speak with the diversity group.
On another day, student panels will feature local youth sharing their experiences with the educational system and the challenges they face.
Abraham is looking forward to tasting the food and feeling the rhythm of this motherland in its people and music although, when asked, he admits he cannot sing.
“I cannot carry a tune. If it had a handle, I couldn’t carry it,” said Abraham, who served six years as the statewide vice president for United University Professions, the higher education union for SUNY faculty and professional staff.