The Shocking Truth of America’s Influence on Liberia and a Proposal to Heal

Shocking is an understatement.  Here are the things people in the world agree on in regards to Liberia:
  • It was colonized in 1821-1822 by freed American Slaves.
  • These slaves formed an elite group in society, and in 1847 formed an elite group named the Republic of Liberia.
  • In 1989 the first Civil War in Liberia broke out, and in 1999 the second Civil War in Liberia broke out.  These have been named the bloodiest, most gruesome wars in history.
  • In 2003, The Economist named Liberia “The World’s Worst Place to Live”.

You may say, so what?  But let us take a moment to remember what we have put out of our memory due to the horrific nature of our ancestor’s behavior.  How we, Americans, treated those slaves according to the editors of the CD oral history project called Remembering Slavery: African-Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation:  

“Some slave women were used for breeding more slaves. Plantation owners would rape female slaves in order to produce more slaves. Some slaves were even forced to have sex with others to increase population and increase the amount of slave product on the market.”     

In Generations of Captivity, A History of African American Slaves, it says:  ‘Slaves that worked and lived on plantations were commonly punished. This punishment could come from the plantation owner or master, his wife, children (white males), and most often by the overseer. Slaves were punished with a variety of objects and instruments. Some of these included: whips, placed in chains and shackles, various contraptions such as metal collars, being hanged, and even forced to walk a treadmill.  Those who inflicted pain upon the slaves also used weapons such as knives, guns, field tools, and objects found nearby. The whip was the most common form of punishment performed on a slave. One slave said that, “The only punishment that I ever heard or knew of being administered slaves was whipping,” although he knew several that had been beaten to death for offenses such as sassing a white person, hitting another negro, fussing, or fighting in their quarters.”‘  

Yet when the civil war broke out in Liberia we failed to interject in Liberia our learnings throughout history that slavery was ignorant, horrific, and wrong, and instead focused our military efforts in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq for purposes still being debated today.  We know by our research on mirror neurons in the brain, that children learn by the age of 12 months through the actions of others; they copy, or ‘mirror’, those actions.  So what do we think the American slaves taught Liberian children?   Domination through control, force, and abuse of power. 

Portrait of Leymah Gbowee, with photo credit to Michael Angelo for Wonderland

Thankfully, a woman by the name of Leymah Gbowee was so fed up with seeing the children armed and murdering each other, living in fear, and watching the blood shed that she took one of the bravest stances in human history and did the following:  

  • Broke from her constant living in fear, and chose courage, hope, and tenacity to promote peace over war. 
  • Brought together, for the first time, women of Muslim and Christian beliefs to promote peace.
  • Told her story in the movie, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. 

Why does this matter to depression?  Depression is caused by three things:   Genetics, Abuse in Childhood, and Traumatic Life Events, and we know without question the United States contributed to #2 and #3 in Liberia by sending people severely abused over to most likely continue the abuse pattern they were taught.  The ’living in constant fear’ Leymah Gbowee  talked about in her movie leads to depressive symptoms, reduces immunity function to battle disease, and inhibits cognitive functions along with a number of other negative consequences.  

 Overall, the world  statistics on depression are staggering:  

Treatment for Brain Disease in Africa

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, jumping to #2 in Global Disease Burden according to the World Health Organization by 2030 (World Health Organization, 2010).
  • Depression is not recognized as a brain disease in Liberia – instead people with mental conditions are thought to have been possessed by demons, are chained to trees and made to fast, thus encouraging the release of the supposed ‘devil’ inhabiting their mind.
  • Again, the U.S. taught this philosophy all over the world, only just now recognizing the brain as connected to the body and disease of the brain as important to any other organ by passing the Mental Health Parity Act requiring insurance and medical institutions to treat it as such.
  • Depression is treatable – less than 25% are receiving treatment due to stigma (negative brand / perception) and lack of resources.  In African countries less than 2% are treated through researched methods.

Sharing grievances does no one any benefit without proposed solutions.  So the following is what we propose the U.S. does to help recognize our personal responsibility in the conflict:

  1. Create a Beacon of Hope Memorial in the U.S., honoring those we lost in the Liberian Civil War and giving the Liberians a place to mourn those they lost as well.
  2. Have a dinner at the White House including leaders from each ethnic tribe in Liberia and the Americo-Liberians, unveiling the memorial, recognizing those we lost, remembering the devastating effects of slavery, celebrating the work of Leymah Gbowee, honoring those that do the brave mental health work in Liberia, and teaching the leaders of Liberia of our own learnings of the devastating effects of stress on the health of their nation.
  3. Create five centers throughout Liberia, giving the less than 1% that have access to Liberia new opportunities of learning about the world through the internet. Give tools to them to promote health, safety, freedom from fear, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder / Depression management tools.  Allow them to communicate with families brought to the U.S. for relief from the atrocities of war.
  4. Establish five sister centers in the U.S., allowing Liberians that came here for safety during the Civil War access to a safe haven and connection to their Liberian relatives overseas.
  5. Encourage ALL African leaders to adopt the legislation proposed by Ghana for Human Rights Abuses of those with Mental Conditions to stop so that we proactively help those who cannot help themselves.
  6. Light the White House yellow on October 7 in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Week and Free Depression Screening Day in the United States, declaring it the Global Night of Hope, with the intention of honoring Depression Survivors Worldwide to show we support an individual’s courage in getting help.
  7. Plant sunflowers in the White House Gardens every year as a reminder that when we treat things with dignity, respect, love, and nourishment, they grow to be beautiful, magnificent beings

We know that people learn through leadership, and the type of lessons they learned through our slaves is not one we should ever have taught.  It is time we stopped pointing fingers and solving problems, and instead take responsibility and teach through actions.  Demonstrate today how to lead through hope, faith, communication, democracy, and by teaching what we know of actions in the past.

Thank you so much for reading.  Please sign our petition, propose solutions, give feedback, and pass it on.  May we all have the peace, prosperityeach and every one of us deserve.

iFred Shining a Positive Light on Depression in Accra, Ghana sponsored by McCormick & Company

Our Field of Hope after being nurtured, watered, fed, loved, and given committment and hope.

Comments

  1. I think what you are trying to do is commendable. If only there were more people like you in the world, the world would certainly be a much better place.

    The prolonged Liberian war caused many to suffer post traumatic stress disorders and other behavioral illnesses. So many of them are untreated and even those who are being treated are not receiving full and adequate services. The services you provide are so needed in Liberia.

  2. CJ Treadwell says:

    I have had several….one very bad, and lead to me almost death.., a a single Mom from Washington DC…2 beautiful children….now living in the peaceful beaches of DE…..With the econmy I fought a “breakdown” as hard as I could..but I came after last year…Thank my faith and good friends I finally let in over the year and wasn’t “embarrased”..felt “stigma”…didn’t care , I just didn’t want to go where I was alone, without children, family, friends..in bed, in the Spring and Summer of 06..I was closer than you know from ending it…God saved me in his grace and my blessings….medication…a Doctor that wouldn’t give up..no matter what..called every single day…and I had to pay him cash…money doesn’t matter if your blessed to have it to save your life…
    What IFred NEEDS IS A SPOKESPERSON IN THE “LIMELIGHT” IF YOU WILL…someone like Michel J Fox for Parkinsons…and all the others with the “acceptable” and “acknowledged” PHYSICAL ILLNESS’S….A walk at the to raise money for a cure and awareness like cancer, MS and Parkinsons….LET’S DO IT NOW…before a another stars (Marie Osmonds son) jumps from a high apartment window,… because of the “shame” and silence he choice not to tell anyone…and died a horrible, absolutely could have been helped…death!
    Let’s do it ! Write Marie Osmond..keep writing..she suffered from Depression as well, and now lost a son…lets get a Spokesperson NOW !
    aLL MY LOVE AND HOPE TO ALL WHO SUFFER MENTAL ILLNESS.

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