Spending 10 days with our US born friend Rachel, who is now pursuing residency in Tanzania, led to many discussions of what it means to be at home. Rachel was drawn to TZ by “A Panther in Africa,” a documentary about Black Panther member Pete O’Neal who fled the US after being charged with carrying firearms across state lines.
Pete and his wife Charlotte established the United African Alliance Community Center outside of Arusha, TZ in 1991, and through that Center achieved many of the goals they were striving for as Black Panthers: a diverse community working together to achieve positive change in their personal and communal lives. The film shows two young men from the US who at first feel out of sorts in the village, until they share their culture (rap and basketball) and open themselves up to accepting the local culture’s music, games, and food.
But the film primarily spends time with Pete and Charlotte. Pete has never been able to return to the US, and sometimes feels located somewhere between being American and African. As the documentary’s narrative unfolds, Pete becomes more fully integrated in the community, he becomes more comfortable letting go of us identity as American. As more and more of his family from the US visits, he is more certain he does not need to return to Kansas City; he has found his home via the UAACC. And while he does not say it in 2004, I am fairly certain he would say in 2017 that the US has not come together as a diverse community to bring about positive change in people’s personal and communal lives.
The documentary is probably as relevant today as it was in 2004; Pete and Charlotte, Rachel tells us, are busier than ever supporting the success of UAACC.