Chief Condra Ridley; Chief Denise Porter-Ross, High Chief Ogunsusi, Chief Condra Ridley; Chief Denise Porter-Ross [PHOTOS: NGOZI ROGERS/QUESTNCREATE MARKETING]
Written by Ngozi Rogers
Exactly 10 years ago this month, five local residents were granted the title of Chief in a ceremony conducted by His Royal Majesty Oba [King] Adetunji Ayodele David Ajayi Aweloye, officially known as Oba Arinjale of Ise-Ekiti, Nigeria. Sound like a big deal? It is. "It is a big honor" explains High Chief Anthony Ogunsusi, "it is bigger than receiving a PhD."
In 2008, High Chief Anthony Ogunsusi and the Asa Yoruba Cultural Center, that developed links between Nigeria and the local community, asked the King of Ekiti, Nigeria to visit Fort Wayne during his trip to the U.S. to "promote national recognition and relations with his state," according to a 2008 Frost Illustrated article.
Ogunsusi said, "I recommended Condra Ridley for her involvement with children, Johanna Ice-Gold for her help and support of Africans who came to the U.S., Denise Porter-Ross for her role in supporting cultural activities through then Mayor Graham Richard's office, Dr. Al Stovall (who founded the Harambee Festival) for his activities in the neighborhoods, and Bob Ihrie with Public Access TV who helped produce my television program From Africa to America: Building Community. They all deserved to be Chiefs."
Since the 2008 ceremony, Chief (Dr.) Al Stovall, Chief Johanna Ice-Gold, and Chief Bob Ihrie have passed away, leaving only Chief Condra Ridley and Chief Denise Porter-Ross, but the pride and honor of that day remains.
"It gave me hope for better relations between Africans born here and Africans born on the continent" said Chief Ridley, "I had a strong connection and interest in Africa but this cemented it."
In 2008 while working for the mayor's office, Chief Porter-Ross saw the title as more of an accolade for Fort Wayne than for herself as the city was vying for and later won the All American City award in 2009.
Ten years later, both reflect on how being named Chief has changed their lives. "I've become more responsible, more conscious of the things I say and do in the community" said Chief Ridley. "Our responsibility is to be ambassadors to the community, to share cultural information, and look out for the welfare of children."
In Nigeria, a Chief also serves to help resolve differences in families and social issues. Chief Ridley has had instances where she has tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution during conflict and hopes to do more. Chief Porter-Ross said over the last ten years being in non-profit/quasi-government organizations has allowed her to be Pan African with an international focus but also help low income families of color and other nationalities find the American dream that works for them.
"In my retirement phase, I am taking these programs and putting them into effect with Access Fort Wayne" she said, "[so] look for my half-hour show Getting and Giving Help and Hope in Our Community that discusses housing, employment, healthcare, and wellness to help people of all ages find self-sufficiency."
In the next ten years, Chiefs Porter-Ross and Ridley are looking for the next generation of Chiefs to continue the tradition of passing down knowledge. They would also like to create a community calendar of African and other cultural events around the city and the region, plan trips to the African continent, reenact parts of African history that many in the U.S. know nothing about, and increase the knowledge and opportunity for everyone to learn more about Africa.
"You can start where you are," said Chief Porter-Ross, "read to your kids, learn new activities, go to the library and trace your roots, find your purpose in life, and the Chiefs will help you along the way."
"The purpose of African Chiefs in America," explained High Chief Ogunsusi, "is to bring African culture to the U.S., especially for African-Americans, to bring families together through further community development, and to introduce African traditions like naming ceremonies and traditional African weddings performed the way they are done at home."
To learn more contact Chief Condra Ridley at 260.580.0749 or Chief Denise Porter-Ross at 260.444.5787.