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Why model, activist Ebonee Davis is taking people back to Africa

Many members of the African diaspora share the dream of returning to the continent to reconnect with lost roots and emerge from the process feeling whole for the first time. In 2018, Ebonee Davis made that journey to Ghana, and the America’s Next Top Model contestant and industry veteran emerged completely transformed. “As a Black person living in America, I have often felt disconnected from a sense of identity, or I have felt like I have had to take on an identity that was given to me,” she shared with Vogue Italia a year after that first journey. “Our culture prior to slavery was unknown to me; it was erased. I wanted to go back to the motherland, so I could begin to put the pieces together and discover for myself.”

According to Ebonee, this actualization of self can help Black people around the world overcome the weight of history and colonization. “We all face unique intersections of oppression, whether it’s on the continent or off it,” she explains over the phone. “Our way through that is to unite and realize that we’re not separate from each other.”

Bridging the gap between her world in the States and the reality on the continent was her first step. During her visits to places in Africa, she found a lack of awareness of the effects of slavery on African Americans and the broader diaspora. Conversely, in her experience, she thinks African Americans are not only unaware of the beauty and reality of life on the continent, but cannot imagine it. “We’ve been force-fed images of starving children and poverty,” she laments. “Until you go back and experience Africa for yourself, you can’t rewrite that narrative. You’re just making an assumption based on a narrative you’ve been given.”

To break the cycle of assumption, she started the birthright program Daughter, which provides the diaspora with an opportunity to return to the continent and immerse themselves in its ancient history and modern splendor. She loves watching her clients experience the same journey she had. “It’s incredible to feel so much appreciation and reverence for who you are,” she explains. “You don’t even realize that you’re malnourished until you’re fed.”

“The mission is to heal by uniting the diaspora,” she explains. This operating mantra not only governs her non-profit work, but also how she uses her platform. Her podcast, The Ebb & Flow with Ebonee Davis, sheds light not only on her journey, but on other impressive Black women from around the world. “It’s about finding an authentic identity. Until we know ourselves, we can’t heal and move forward into who we need to be.”

She has a special message for Black women looking for advice on finding themselves. “Just be yourself,” she says matter-of-factly. Ebonee acknowledges that the message might sound cliché, but she insists that it’s important. “From the time we’re born, we’re confidently affirmed that we are inadequate. So, we’re constantly searching outside of ourselves to be validated, and we’re constantly manipulating who we are internally and externally to fit into these boxes that we deem worthy of validation and appreciation.”

Like Africa, Black women are often put into boxes and told what they can be — sex symbols, stay-at-home mothers, and their value is placed firmly in their external selves. “I think it’s time for us to reclaim our narrative and show the world that we’re so much more than that.”

Ebonee Davis is a model, actor, activist, and poet from Seattle, Washington. Her accomplishments include appearing in season 18 of America’s Next Top Model and being featured in various magazines such as Teen Vogue, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar UK. She has also done ads for Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret Pink, and Urban Outfitters.

Follow www.eboneedavis.com

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