By Kaimara Herron
Our first meeting of the day was with Daniel Gyamerah of Each One Teach One (EOTO). EOTO is a community organization that seeks to create a safe space in which Afro-Germans can read Black literature from around the world, create their own art and writing projects, or hang out with people who may share their experiences of being Black and German.
We started touring the building ourselves when we first arrived. We took notice of the Toni Morrison poster, a book about hair braiding techniques, and a geographically accurate map on the wall. The common area connects to the library, which is filled to the ceiling with books by Black authors who wrote about Black people. I was filled with a sense of rightness standing among these books. Some were translated into German, because these are the same books that fill my shelf at home. It was reassuring to have my existence and identity validated and to know that the Afro-Germans who use this library are probably experiencing a similar feeling.
When we were all settled into our circle of chairs and finished introducing ourselves, Daniel began telling us the history and present state of EOTO. What struck me early on was his bluntness in saying that his education did not truly come from within the university. He said that his professors always stressed the need to be objective but never cited any scholars or historical figures of color, communicating to him that only a certain kind of knowledge and experience is noteworthy. He began to wholeheartedly question the notion of knowledge being valuable only when it is defined by social institutions. More often than not, these perspectives will be white, heterosexual, and male. Anything outside of those identifiers is usually an additive or footnote but never the norm. Daniel referred to this as “epistemic injustice,” and my experiences studying History definitely confirms that certain people, stories, experiences are simply not valued in mainstream discussions.
We then talked about the logistics of a project like EOTO and how it works for people in the community. Daniel said that asking for funding is a difficult process once the organization openly identifies as a Black organization that focuses on the needs of Black people in the community. The people that have the ability to give money are skeptical and misunderstand Black identity as being radical or would prefer for these organizations to focus on integration. But as Daniel, and others whom we’ve met, explained, in Germany, integration often means assimilation. Germans equates German-ness with whiteness, something that is proven to be very dangerous. EOTO has created a safe space in which Afro-Germans do not need to defend their nationality or choose one identity or another.
The mission of EOTO is to make Black literature available in one space, to make it relatable so that children know it exists for them, and to share it in an active way. Daniel then discussed how the group works to achieve its mission. The first is to improve education and promote the importance of more complex narratives, because explicitly racist language still exists in children’s books in Germany. The second method is fostering a sense of community among youth and cultivating music, art, writing, and self-image. The last is leadership for the purpose of creating role models in this community so that maybe one day they appear in school textbooks alongside commonly praised historical German figures.
EOTO is always looking for more books to add to their collection, and I’m excited to go home and search through my library to see which I could send to them.