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UT Alum Donovan Handy reflects on his Sweatt Center for Black Males trip to Ghana, Africa
Donovan Handy
Donovan Handy at the naming ceremony accepting his new Ashanti name: Kofi Takyi

Last December, Donovan Handy joined a group of Sweatt Center for Black Males student leaders on a trip of a lifetime to Ghana, Africa. Throughout the 12-day excursion, they visited various historic sites and landmarks in Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast. We caught up with the College of Liberal Arts alum (B.A. Psychology, ’22) to learn more about the perspectives he gained during his travels—and what it was like for him to connect with his ancestral homeland.

Could you describe a powerful moment from your trip?

One of the most memorable moments that happened in Ghana was visiting the “Slave River,” also known as the “Last Bath.” Located about an hour off the coast, captured Africans from the interior were brought here to bathe before being taken to the slave castles on the coast and sold into slavery.  When stepping foot on these grounds, I could almost feel their pain and suffering. During the bus ride back, we were all very quiet and reflective as we tried to grapple with the various emotions we were feeling, all the way from anger to sorrow.

What are some other moments you’ll never forget?

The last location we visited was Cape Coast, where we did a beach workout by the Cape Coast Castle with Mr. Ghana, who’s like the fitness version of Miss America. It was super exhausting, but we were doing it together and cheering each other on. The brotherhood in that moment was beautiful. We later went back to the resort to reflect on the day. It was a beautiful place where we went horseback riding on the beach and had delicious buffets. Everybody who worked there was so welcoming. They kept saying, “Welcome home!”

Could you share how you received your Ghanaian name?

We learned a lot about the Ashanti culture and attended a naming ceremony in Kumasi where we were provided with a first name based on our birthday and a surname from someone in the community. I’ll never forget this moment when a little girl tugged on my shirt and asked me my name. When I told her Kofi Takyi, she smiled and said she was my sister, as we shared the same surname. It was such a sweet, beautiful human moment.

How did connecting with your ancestral heritage give you a better sense of self?

Connecting with my ancestral homeland showed me why people say you need to get connected with your roots. I really felt centered and connected to my ancestors and to the roots of our tree. This connection provided me comfort and confidence to take my branch of the tree whatever direction I would like. It reminded me that no matter what, I am never alone and always will be one with my people. The support that comes from this gives me refreshing freedom to explore myself and the world around me.

How did this journey help you see yourself as an American with fresh eyes?

We did a lot of the same things we would do in America, like going to restaurants, but instead of being the only few Black people in the room, we were surrounded by people who look like us. Even though there’s that layer of otherness because we’re American, we didn’t feel out of place. At home, I don’t feel out of place everywhere I go, but I think a part of that is because I’ve gotten used to what I see, and I’ve internalized myself and my environment. You don’t exactly understand your situation until you see differently.

I also came back realizing that I’m not maximizing my own experience here in America. I asked myself, “Why don’t I have this sense of adventure and wonder when I’m living my daily life?” A lot of people don’t realize they have their own inner wonderland waiting for them at their fingertips, unfortunately this leads to them closing their hands on their own opportunities.

What advice would you give to a student who’s interested in studying abroad?

First off, just get out of the country; I think everyone should. And when you do, don’t stay in your hotel or go to the clubs. If you’re only doing things that you can do back home, you’re not making the most of it. Live locally in some way. Go to a coffee shop and spark up a conversation with someone. Learn about their language, culture and history. Learn about how other people see the world, how they see you as an American. Don’t just think of this new country you’re in as an exhibit with pretty scenery. Immerse yourself in the culture. By doing so, you’ll change your mindset and revolutionize your perspective.

Sweatt Center group photo in Africa
The Ghana, Africa trip was made possible by Martin Taylor’s generous gift to the Sweatt Center for Black Males. Visit our Flickr page for more photos from the trip.