How a black American became the tourism boss of Elmina, Ghana

Rashad McCrorey was in Ghana for the first time in January 2015. A visit to the West African country was not planned. His school in the US, Drew University, where he earned his Masters in Theology, had a course called Cross-Cultural Experience that prepared him to go to Cameroon. But the Ebola outbreak at the time had interrupted the travel route.

McCrorey then suggested Ghana to the group leader. There were no reports of the virus there. In addition, there was Ghana’s historical appeal as a haven for black Americans, linking civil rights struggles and anti-colonial efforts in Africa. The political movement of Pan-Africanism opened Ghana to the black diaspora. At a young age, McCrorey’s father told him stories about Africa that dealt with rulers, spirituality and culture.

When he first arrived at 35, Ghana exceeded his expectations. Little did he know that years later he would be installed as chief in Elmina, a town south of Ghana that reverberate with a dark history. Elmina Castle was a passage that unloaded enslaved Africans onto ships during the slave trade. What kept McCrorey rooted in this town was the community he found.

McCrorey founded his tourism company africa cross culture, a nod to his degree, in 2016. As a tour operator, he organizes trips to African countries such as Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana. With the government initiative of Ghana’s Year of Return in 2019, the country is using tourism as a tool for cultural diplomacy and national branding. Last month he was appointed head of tourism. He is the first to bear such a title.

OkayAfrica recently spoke to McCrorey about what the title stands for, his identity as a black American reintegrating into Africa, and the state of the black diaspora.

Credit: Rashad McCrorey

Any black person could have been appointed tourism chief. Why do you think you were chosen for this title?

The royal family and the village of Iture explained that their desire to make me one of their chiefs was based on my constant presence in the family and in the community. When I moved to Iture in May 2020, I joined the royal family. I did my traditional naming ceremony that many black Americans attend when they return to Ghana. But I’ve also gone a step further than many other black Americans. Not only was I already living in the church, but I immediately began attending the monthly family gatherings.

I paid monthly contributions to my whole family. I have paid all of my funeral fees in addition to any contributions required for upkeep. I visit our king and his family members weekly. I help out in the community, attend events, and even have disagreements in the suburbs as nothing is always perfect. If you live somewhere and constantly interact with people for almost two full years, conflict will arise, but our conflicts have brought us closer, created boundaries, and helped us develop a sense of trust and mutual respect. They also explained that they didn’t want to give me a ceremonial, non-transferrable chair like Development Chiefs with the titles Nkosuohene or Impuntuhen.

These titles can be revoked and removed at any time. In a meeting with Elmina’s Oman, Nana Kojo Condua Edina VI, he also spoke about my reputation as one of the first black Americans in the city of Elmina who seemed to have decided to fully integrate into the community. In return, he made me a member of the Ednia Traditional Council.

What are your responsibilities in this role?

Referring to my title of Nserahwehen or “Tourism Manager”, I have a successful tourism business where I take clients to different countries in Africa. Iture is the first sub-city of Elmina. You cannot access Elmina Town or Elmina Slave Dungeon from Accra-Takoradi Road. without going through the village of Iture. The location is ideal for tourists and visitors. Hospitality centers like One Africa and Mable’s Tables are an integral part of the African American community in the United States.

I said that tourism is more than just bringing guests from one place to another. Tourism is planning, budgeting, marketing, branding, security, research, human resource management and more. With over 10 years of event planning experience, this is a stool I was primed for.

u200bRashad McCrorey camel

Credit: Rashad McCrorey

Why did you come to Ghana during a pandemic?

I was already in Ghana when the pandemic hit. I arrived in Ghana on February 27, 2020 for a tour group where I was hosting Americans for the Ghana Independence Day celebrations. As news of the pandemic broke in the United States and travel bans and border closures hit the world, I decided to stay and not return home.

Did you start your tourism business before or after you arrived in Ghana?

I started my tourism business after my second trip to Ghana in March 2015. Previously, I was a relatively successful events planner for New York City. When I was deciding what business to invest in Ghana, I said to myself, if I can get 30-50 people a week partying in New York City, I can get 30-50 people a year to visit Mother Africa. I had the idea in 2015, started working on the business in 2016 and hosted my first trips to Ghana and Egypt in 2017.

Elmina Castle is historically known as a transit station for enslaved Africans who were shipped to America. How does it feel to be near this important place?

I have mixed feelings about being placed in a city with such a dark history. Elmina is historically known as the first place in West Africa to be colonized by Europeans. The Elmina slave dungeon is also known as the oldest and largest slave dungeon in West Africa. To play such an important role in a place where many of my ancestors had their worst nightmares, I am honored and blessed to know that I am someone who firmly honors them and has at heart the best interests of this former dark to turn the hole into a beacon for their descendants to return home to.

There is concern among some Black Americans that some of the proceeds from the Ghanaian government’s 2019 Year of Return sponsorship were not used to support Black American communities. Their complaint is that it was only used to improve Ghana’s economy. Do you think this is a legitimate complaint?

Yes, it’s a legitimate complaint. As Black Americans, we are constantly viewed as cash cows by other races and groups of people. There is a secret financial war over the “black dollar” in which Ghana also participates through its astounding outreach to black investors. It is up to the Black American community at home and abroad to not only advocate for more ways to use our money in other countries, but to create more business and opportunity in the states where we practice group economies and more businesses in Black ownership can develop resources.

Do you have a strategy for building positive, community-building relationships between Africans and Black Americans?

I believe that communication and patience are the most important practices we can have with one another in these early stages of our integration. I look to 2019 as the first official year that tourism and migration to the African continent is booming in this massive number. This marks the first time in history that an African country has been a mainstream option for black Americans to visit and move to. We are a multitude of different cultures merging together. If we choose not to show patience and communication with one another, many disagreements could spiral out of control and create irreconcilable differences. I believe the government, chiefs and community leaders need to meet with diaspora community leaders, investors and key influential people to ensure that everyone involved is meeting their needs.

Do you miss America and ever think about going back to your family?

As we speak, I am currently at home in New York City. I’ve been home for two weeks and will be returning to Ghana within the next month. Part of my position as Chief of Tourism is to bring Black Americans and Diasporas to Africa and in this case Ghana. As such, returning to the United States to campaign, network, and build relationships is an important part of my responsibilities. Yes, I miss my family very much. I miss my mom, my two girls, my friends and I plan to visit my dad’s grave while I’m in the States.

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