How a Black American Became the Tourism Chief of Elmina, Ghana
The first time Rashad McCrorey was in Ghana, it was in January 2015. Visiting the West African country wasn’t planned. His school in the U.S., Drew University, where he was getting his Masters in Theology, had a course titled “Cross-Cultural Experience” that prepared him to go to Cameroon. But the Ebola outbreak at the time had disrupted the itinerary.
McCrorey then proposed Ghana to the group leader. There was no report of the virus there. Further, there was the appeal of Ghana as a haven for Black Americans historically, 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, featuring rulers, spirituality, and culture.
When he arrived for the first time, at 35, Ghana exceeded his expectations. Little did he know that years later, he would be enstooled as a chief in Elmina, a town located south of Ghana that reverberates with a dark history. The castle of Elmina was a passage that offloaded enslaved Africans into the ships during the slave trade. What kept McCrorey rooted in this town was the community he found.
McCrorey launched his tourism company Africa Cross-Culture, a nod to his course title, in 2016. As a tour operator, he organizes trips to African countries like Egypt, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana. With the government initiative of Ghana’s Year of Return in 2019, the country has been using tourism as a tool for cultural diplomacy and national branding. Last month, he was bestowed as chief of tourism. He’s the first person to hold such a title.
OkayAfrica recently spoke with McCrorey about what the title represents, his identity as a Black American integrating back into Africanness, and the state of the Black diaspora.
Any Black person could have been enstooled as Chief of Tourism. 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 consistent presence in the family and in the community. When I moved to Iture in May of 2020, I joined the royal family. I did my traditional naming ceremony, which many Black Americans take part in when they return to Ghana. But, I also took it a step further than many other Black Americans. In addition to already living in the community, I immediately began attending the monthly family meetings.
I have paid all my family monthly dues. I paid all my funeral dues in addition to any contributions needed to support. I visit our king and family members weekly. I help in the community, attend events and even have disagreements in the subtowns as nothing is ever always perfect. When you live somewhere and interact with people consistently for close to two full years conflicts will arise, but our conflicts have brought us closer, created boundaries, and helped us develop a sense of trust and mutual respect. They continued to explain to me they didn’t want to give me a ceremonial, non transferable stool such as developmental chiefs with the titles of Nkosuohene or Impuntuhen.
These titles at any given time one can be destooled and moved on from. When meeting with the Omanhen of Elmina Nana Kojo Condua Edina VI, he also spoke of my reputation as one of the first Black Americans in the Town of Elmina to have seemed to have chosen to fully integrate himself with the community. In return he has made me a part of the Ednia Traditional Council.
What are your duties in this role?
In terms of my title of Nserahwehen, or “Tourism Chief,” I have a successful tourism company where I take clients to different countries in Africa. Iture is the first subtown of Elmina. You can’t get to Elmina Town, or Elmina Slave Dungeon from the Accra-Takoradi Rd. without going through the village of Iture. The location is ideal for tourists and visitors. Hospitality centers such as One Africa and Mable’s Tables are staples in the African American community in the United States.
I have been sharing that tourism is more than just taking guests from one place to another. Tourism is planning, budgeting, marketing, branding, security, research, people management and more. With over 10 years of event planning experience this is a stool that I have been groomed for.
What made you come to Ghana during a pandemic?
I was already in Ghana when the pandemic arose. I arrived in Ghana February 27th 2020, for a tour group where I was hosting Americans for Ghana independence day festivities. Once news of the pandemic broke out in the United States and travel bans and border closings started to take place around the world, I decided to stay and not return home.
Did you start your tourism company before or after you came to Ghana?
I started my tourism company after my second trip to Ghana in March of 2015. I was previously a relatively successful New York City event planner. When deciding what business I wanted to invest in while in Ghana I said to myself, if I can get 30 to 50 people a week to party in New York City, I can get 30 to 50 people a year to visit Mother Africa. I came up with the idea in 2015, started working on the business in 2016, and hosted my first trips to Ghana and Egypt in 2017.
The Elmina Castle is historically known as a holding passage for enslaved Africans who were shipped to the Americas. How does it feel to be in close proximity to this significant place?
I have mixed feelings about being enstooled in a town with such a dark history. Elmina is historically known as the first place in West Africa that the Europeans colonized. Elmina slave dungeon is also known as the oldest and largest slave dungeon in West Africa. To have such an important role in a place where many of my ancestors had their worst nightmares take place, I feel honored and blessed to know that I am someone who firmly honors them and have all the best interest at heart to turn this former dark hole into a beacon of light for their descendants to return home to.
There’s a sentiment amongst some Black Americans that part of the revenue from hosting the Year of Return in 2019 by the Ghanaian government wasn’t directed to helping Black American communities. Their grievance is that it was used only to better the Ghanaian economy. In your opinion, is this a reasonable complaint?
Yes, it is a reasonable complaint. As Black Americans we are constantly looked at by other races and groups of people as cash cows. There is a secret financial war over the “Black dollar’’ that Ghana is also taking part in by their amazing outreach to Black Investors. It is up to the Black American community both home and abroad to not only advocate for more opportunities to leverage our money in other countries but also to create more business and opportunities in the states where we can practice group economics and develop more black owned businesses and resources.
Do you have a strategy for building positive, community-building relationships between Africans and Black Americans?
I believe communication and patience are the most important practices we can have during these early stages in our integration with each other. I consider 2019 the first official year where there is a boom in tourism and migration to the continent of Africa in these massive numbers. This is the first time in history an African country is a mainstream option for Black Americans to visit and move to. We are a multiplicity of different cultures fusing together. If we choose not to express patience and communication with each other many disagreements could spiral out of control and irreconcilable differences could occur. I believe the government, chiefs, community leaders need to meet with diasporan community leaders, investors and key people of influence in order to assure all parties involved get their needs met.
Do you miss America and do you ever think of going back to your family?
As we speak I’m currently home in New York City. I have been home for two weeks and will be returning to Ghana within the next month. Part of my position of Chief of Tourism is to bring Black Americans and diasporas home to Africa and in this case Ghana. So returning home to the United states to campaign, network and build relationships is a key part of my duties. Yes I miss my family very much. I miss my mom, my two girls, my family friends and I plan on visiting my father’s grave while I’m in the states.