Breaking the Silence with Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio

Breaking the Silence with Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio
By Talubezie Kasongo

On Sunday, August 30, 2009, the office of Governor Ted Strickland, decided to throw a Garden Party recognizing the African and South Asian Diaspora in Columbus. When I first arrived at the mansion with my friend Michael, who was representing Burundi, we both were in awe at the size and beauty of the mansion. First, we weren’t sure if we had arrived at the right place; the Town of Bexley, Ohio has several lovely mansions. Our fears were put to rest when we turned the corner and saw a group of men and women in traditional African and Asian dress. We parked our car, and walked towards a group of people that was waiting at the front gate. We introduced ourselves and asked if we were at the right place, they assured us that we were. We talked for a little bit and asked the two gentlemen we were talking with if they knew what the party was really about; they told us they didn’t know. My friend Michael and I went back to his car to get the dish we had prepared for the party. One of the things that the party thrower wanted us to bring was a traditional dish. Since I am not that great of a cook, I decided to make betumbula. Betumbula can be considered a finger food; it can be eaten at breakfast with tea or coffee, or as a snack between meals. Michael made madisi; I believe they are fried plantains.

When Michael and I first walked into those gates leading to the mansion’s backyard, we just looked at each other in amazement. The walk into the yard had colorful stones, which I assumed children painted, lining the way. Then, we went through one more gate that led to this spacious well maintained and immaculately landscaped piece of land that was filled with people. On our left was a stage with performers from Nigeria rehearsing, and on our right there was a large tent with four large tables, which were filled with food then at least ten small round tables for people to sit. After almost 30 minutes of picture taking and conversing with others, the Nigerian performers took stage. I loved their performance. They interacted with the party-goers the entire time. After the Nigerian performance, Governor Strickland’s assistant Matt Colopy officially started the party. He informed us that over 15 countries from both Africa and South Asia were represented, and that the Governor will come out shortly to take pictures with all the members from each country.

The entire time I was there, I kept telling myself that I had to talk to the Governor. One way or another I had to find a way to talk to him, just for one minute; if that’s not possible, at least network with people from different countries. I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish this task since I had to change my game plan. Before I arrived at the party, I was under the impression that we were having a sit down party, where we would all sit at one table and introduce ourselves and our country of origin. I was thinking I would use that as an opportunity to talk about Congo and Congo Week. So, when that wasn’t the case I feared that I would not even get to have my concerns heard. Towards the end of the party I got sick and tired of planning and plotting on how I would get the Governor alone. He was always surrounded by two or sometimes five people who were trying to feed or give him something. So, I told myself, “If you can’t talk to him, then tell your concerns to his assistant. Just give him the little flyer you made, and hope he passes it along to the Governor.” I was amazed when Mr. Colopy agreed to introduce me to him. He told me to wait and he will let Mr. Strickland know that I wanted to talk to him about Congo.

Once everybody had left the party, I finally got the chance to talk to Mr. Strickland. I was thrown off by his responses. I didn’t except him to give me that much time to speak. I didn’t expect him to be so attentive. The whole time I was speaking he was looking, listening and asking questions. I assumed I had a good minute or two minutes to tell him my concerns and leave. I mentioned to him about OM Group and Eagle Wings International, the two Ohio based companies that are involved in Congo. He told me that he read an article from the Washington Post about Hillary’s trip to Congo. He asked if anything positive had came out from her trip. I told him we are waiting to see. We talked about the effects of the conflict on the rest of the country. After what it seemed like at least 15 minute of talking, he told me to give Mr. Colopy my information. We joked afterwards about his dancing skills and the party, he shook my hand and told me he hears my concerns and walked towards his wife. After my meeting with Mr. Strickland, I spoke to Mr. Colopy, he told me I should keep him updated. He also told me that I should understand that as a governor his power is limited, but he will still address our concerns. Mr. Colopy also told that there are other individuals in the Governor’s office that he will try to connect me with that might be of better assistance.

I looked back at my friend Michael and sister, who arrived later at the party, in shock. I couldn’t believe I just spoke to the Governor and he actually listened. I came to this party with nothing but now I am leaving with a phone number that would open doors to so much more. I felt like in my effort to raise awareness, I just leaped over hundred steps. It started off as a last minute invite to a party that I knew nothing about, and ended with great networking connection. I told myself that I would use this experience as motivation to go after the Senator and Congressman of Ohio. Who knows, I might even be able to get the state of Ohio to start an investigation on the two companies, but then of course I am only dreaming, for now.