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In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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(Screenshot from "Every Woman" video)

Check out Cameroonian Crooner Vagabon’s New Ode to Female Power

The singer dropped a video for new single "Every Woman" today, shot by fellow Cameroonian director Lino Asana.

Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter Laetitia Tamko, better known as her stage name Vagabon, has been spoiling us with delights as of late. First, the crooner teased us with two singles, "Flood" and "Water Me Down" from her forthcoming sophomore album, Vagabon, a work she wrote and produced herself. And today, she surprised us with a new single and video for "Every Woman"—a track Tamko claims is the "thesis of the album," as per a press statement reported by The Fader magazine

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Sudanese women chant slogans during a demonstration demanding a civilian body to lead the transition to democracy, outside the army headquarters in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on April 12, 2019. - Sudanese protestors vowed on April 12 to chase out the country's new military rulers, as the army offered talks on forming a civilian government after it ousted president Omar al-Bashir. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Sudan’s Revolution Isn't a Fluke—It's Tradition

How Sudanese protesters tapped into their country's rich history of revolt to overthrow a dictator.

"The dawn has come, Atbara has arrived"

This was the chant bellowed by hundreds of people in Khartoum on Tuesday, April 23, as they tearfully welcomed in the train from Atbara, a city 300 kilometers away from the capital. The train was not only filled to capacity, it was overflowing with citizens both inside and on top of the train waving victory signs, posters, banners and Sudanese flags. The videos and stills from that day recorded a historic moment—and a full circle one, harkening back to the first major protest five months earlier on December 19, 2018.

On the other side of the world, I sat in front of my computer screen watching the train roll in and cried, for what felt like the millionth time that week.

Since April 6, the international community has been trying to understand what's happening in Sudan—its scope and significance.

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Former President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir is Currently in Prison

The former head of state is reportedly being kept in solitary confinement and under heavy guard.

After several months of protests by the Sudanese people and a military coup put an end to President Omar al-Bashir's thirty-year rule, the former head of state was reportedly moved to Khartoum's Kobar prison on Tuesday where he is being kept in solitary confinement according to the Guardian.

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