- by Araya Debessay
- on 24 December 2011
- in Alewuna (ኣለውና)
An Event to Honor a Truly Deserving Eritrean – Mr. Kassahun Checole, Publisher – Red Sea Press/Africa World Press
by Araya Debessay
A reception to honor Kassahun Checole was held on November 18, 2011, during the annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington, D.C. This surprise event held at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel was organized by friends of Kassahun to honor him for his contributions to African studies, art and literature; for his role in the Pan African Movement, and for his contributions to the liberation of his native land, Eritrea. A panel of distinguished scholars who spoke at the event included:
1. Dr. Bereket Habte Selassie, Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law and African Studies, and author of The Crown and The Pen and Wounded Nation as the keynote speaker;
2. Mr. Dan Connell, professor of journalism and African politics at Simmons College, Boston. Among several of Dan Connell’s books, his most popular book among Eritreans is, Against All Odds: A Chronicle Of The Eritrean Revolution, which is a first-hand account of Eritrea’s 30-year war for independence;
3. Ms. Wangui wa Goro an academic social critic, researcher, translator and writer and a campaigner for human rights in Africa and Europe who came from London for the event;
4. Mr. Paul Coates, founder and CEO of Black Classic Press, which specializes in republishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent;
5. Dr. Haile Gerima, a Filmmaker (Sankofa and Teza among many others) and Professor at Howard University;
6. Dr. Matt Meyer, an educator-activist, author of Time is Tight: Transformative Education in Eritrea, South Africa, and the U.S.A. among other important publications;
7. Ms. Mehret Ghebreyesus, business consultant and political activist;
8. His daughter, Ms. Mulubirhan (Kidan) Kassahun, who came from France for this occasion; and
9. Artist Yegizaw Michael.
Among those who sent written statements were:
1. Dr. Ayele Bekerie, Professor at Mekele University, formerly from Cornell;
2. Professor Dr. Mirjam van Reisen, the Marga Klompé Chair of International Social Responsibility in the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands who sent a video of her remarks and;
3. Dr. Kwame Karikari, Professor of Journalism, from Accra, Ghana.
4. Mr. Edgar Ridley, Author and President of Edgar Ridley & Associates International Business Consultants.
Each of the speakers spoke highly about Kassahun and his contributions and about his exemplary qualities as a person. Approximately 80 guests were in attendance, and witnessed the presentation of an artistic rendering of Kassahun painted by the famous Eritrean artist, Yegizaw Michael (now of Seattle), who designed the portrait to encapsulate Kassahun’s contributions to African studies, art and literature and his commitment to Pan Africanism. Kassahun was also presented with a special gift sent to him by Mr. Dawit Woldemichael, who resides in London. Mr. Dawit sent a commemorative hand-wound watch, of which only 1,000 have been made. Guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres an cultural dishes while celebrating Kassahun, who concluded the event by thanking all involved in planning and organising this event, which was kept a secret from him.
Kassahun, with his usual humility, dedicated the event to the memory of several of his close friends who recently passed away, namely, Mrs. Joyce Perkins a family friend, educator and community and children’s advocate, Professor Tekie Fesshazion, Professor Jordan Gebremedhin and his friends from the Pan African Movement, namely Wanjiku Matanjiwa, activist and member of African Youth Movement and Nesar Ahmed, activists for rights of Palestinians.
Paul Coates, while paying tribute to his colleague, mentioned that Kassahun’s continued contributions as a publisher and democracy advocate take place in spite of serious health challenges. Kassahun spends three days each week in dialysis. Family members subsequently took the opportunity to mention Kassahun’s need for a live kidney donor, and invited all present to learn more about this life saving opportunity, and to spread the word.
Araya Debessay, who served as the MC of the event, thanked Ms. Nunu Kidane who originated the idea of holding the event, and Kassahun’s daughter, Ms. Senait Kassahun, who was the driving force in coordinating the event, and all those who honored Kassahun by their presence. In addition, he expressed his thanks and appreciation to all those who generously contributed to the costs of commissioning the portrait, the refreshments and other costs of hosting the event.
For a video of the event, that was done by Yohannes Tesfaye, please click on the link below. The first link is a condensed version for easy viewing, but the quality of the resolution is a bit lacking. For a much clearer resolution you may want to first download the video which will take about half an hour or so and view it.
For easy viewing: http://vimeo.com/33108039
Link for download the video: https://pandora.nss.udel.edu//pickup.php?claimID=PfYkQuu27Z2SShgY&claimPasscode=0ts1fYGFMP1XPfav&emailAddr=yohannes%40udel.edu
Kassahun’s Brief Bio
Kassahun came to the US in 1971 and earned a bachelor’s degree (Political Science and African American Studies) and M.A. (Sociology), and completed all the requirements for a PhD degree except for the dissertation at State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton. He left academia to launch a publishing enterprise.
While he was a student at SUNY Binghamton, Kassahun became a very active member of the Association of Eritrean Students in North America (AESNA). He was responsible for AESNA’s newsletters, magazines, books and other publications.
It was also during his days at SUNY Binghamton that he developed his interest in Pan African movements working in collaboration with African and African-American student groups.
Kassahun joined the faculty of Rutgers University and spent several academic years at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, through Rutgers’ International Programs. Kassahun Checole was one of the founders of the first graduate program in African Studies in Latin America.
In 1983, Kassahun founded the Africa World Press in Trenton, N.J. with a mission to publish books on the history, culture and politics of Africa and the African Diaspora, including Eritrea. Two years later, he added the Red Sea Press, whose primary focus was on the Horn of Africa.
Dan Connell observed, “By publicizing and distributing his titles with those of other specialized publishers on African and African-American issues, he brought numerous books on Eritrea to new audiences in North America, Europe and East Africa, publishing 25 titles per year by the end of the 1980s and 70-100 per year by 2000. Among his best-selling authors on Eritrea are names familiar to everyone here: Abeba Tesfagiorgis, Alemseged Tesfai, Bereket Habte Selassie, Basil Davidson, myself (I think) and Dawit Woldegiorgis.”
So far, the sister presses have published over 1800 titles.
Among the many awards and fellowships Kassahun received over the years are:
1. The induction into the “International Literary Hall of Fame.”
2. The “2005 Flora Nwapa Society Award.”
3. The 1st Association of Concerned African Scholars’ “Bud Day Award for Activism,” 2005.
4. The African Quintessence Award in April 2006.
5. The American Dream Award from the International Institute of New Jersey in May 2011.
Kassahun Checole the Pan Africanist
Kassahun’s involvement in Pan African movement started during his student days while he was in SUNY – Binghamton. His close friendships with many Africans have resulted in one Liberian Professor naming his son Kassahun.
Kassahun was also an activist in the South African anti-apartheid movement, long before the issue caught fire on college campuses in the mid-1980s
One of his friends in the Pan African movement, Kwame Karikari, states, “At the time Kassahun was a student at the SUNY, Binghamton, and I was at City College in New York. With a number of other African students, we formed the African Youth Movement for Liberation and Unity to support the liberation struggles that were going on in the former Portuguese colonies, Zimbabwe, the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa, and to promote Pan Africanism. And we worked closely with the Eritrean Students in North America, Ethiopian Students organization, and other African national student groups.”
In the written statement Dr. Ayele sent for the event, he wrote, “Kassahun is a true Pan Africanist and, through his publishing industry, he has irreversibly and significantly advanced the interest of Africa. By establishing the sister publishing companies, Kassahun has allowed many authors’ imagination and expressive power to see the light of the day. ...Kassahun allowed many African voices and visions to take their appropriate place in the world of intellectual discourses.”
Kassahun’s role in the Pan African movement is best highlighted by the remarks his daughter, Mulubirhan (Kidan) made at the event. I quote,
"My sister, Senait, and I consider it a blessing to have been raised in the pan-Africanist spirit, with our mother and father defining the world in a way that embraced our identity as children of Africa coming up in the US."
Kassahun’s Health Condition
Kassahun’s wife, Nevolia (Ayo) Ogletree explained the health situation of Kassahun as follows:
Dear Friends of Kassahun Checole:
On behalf of Kassahunʼs family and friends, we thank you for your longstanding friendship and support and for your presence this evening to honour Kassahun. As many of you know, Kassahun has struggled with diabetes, a debilitating hereditary condition, for over 16 years. Because of the long-term effects of diabetes, Kassahun is now undergoing dialysis due to his kidney failure. At this stage, he is in an urgent need of a kidney transplant. The waiting list for a kidney from a deceased organ donor is up to five years, but for long-term health, the best option is a kidney donation from a living donor. There were 6,000 live kidney donors last year. There are 80,000 people on the kidney waiting lists.
Kassahunʼs commitment to healthy eating and daily exercise makes him a viable candidate for a transplant, and has allowed him to avoid kidney-dialysis until recently. He has been in dialysis for over a year now. The receipt of a healthy kidney will enable him to continue in his passions and important contributions as a publisher and democracy advocate.
While Kassahun would not want to ask others to sacrifice for his well-being, because of the urgent necessity of the transplant, we, his family and friends, would like to reach out to potential kidney donors with the hope that you or someone you know might consider the possibility of donating a kidney to Kassahun.
There are several key things that a prospective donor should know:
1. Generally, there are no long-term negative health effects associated with kidney donation. Donors are usually able to return to work within two weeks and total recovery time is usually six weeks.
2. Kassahun's insurance covers the medical expenses of the donor.
3. A kidney specialist team will evaluate potential donors’ eligibility.
4. We are in contact with a person who successfully donated her kidney to another person and who would be willing to speak with you confidentially about her experience in the process.
Please review the websites listed below for more information about the risks and benefits of kidney donation. Feel free to e-mail Kassahun's family at email@example.com with any questions or concerns you may have. We would be happy to talk with you, so please include your phone number and the best time to call. We can then refer you to Kassahunʼs case worker at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center for additional information.
We thank you for considering the possibility of supporting Kassahun at this critical juncture in his life. Please forward this message as you see fit.
National Kidney Foundation website:
Q&A on Living Donation, from the National Kidney Foundation:
About Transplants and Donations: www.transweb.org
Becoming a Living Kidney Donor: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/edu/living_donor.pdf
We wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!
Facts about Ermias Debessai:
Ermias joined the Eritrean Liberation movement in 1967 in his youth age and served well militarily and in diplomacy until liberation in 1991. He is married and has a daughter and a son. Ermias was both a close friend (and some say confidant) of President Issayas Afeworki of Issayas.
The current president of Eritrea was not formally elected but has remained in a position of power from where he yields power with no structure of accountability. Ermias found himself in a difficult position when facing a chare of embezzlement and corruption. He was duly sentenced to serve time and is currently in jail where he has been since 1996.
Ermias was released from jail for a short period of time but again arrested (with no due process) and continues to serve time. He has had no outside contact nor have any witnesses seen him to verify his state of physical and mental health.
Facts about Senait Debessai:
Senait is the sister of Ermias Debessai. She joined Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) as a teen and served well until liberation in 1991. She served as a regular member of the militarily force and was a much loved and admired member of the cultural troupe where she served as a singer. She later married and had three children.
Her husband, a high-ranking member of the regime of Issayas Afework was abusive and mistreated her. She filed for divorce knowing full well of the threat to her own life.
Her angry husband had to act fast that he charged Senait and the popular Ermias of sub-nationalism to the president. As Ermias was a formidable figure, the president was too happy to find a way of putting Ermias back to bars and that Saturday December 6, 2003, both were suddenly snatched from their beds and incarcerated since. No charge was set, nor were they allowed to visit their families, nor appear in court.
People who value peace and justice ask how long will this silent imprisonment continue? Through this petition, we demand justice and transparency. Ermias and Senait must be released form the silent ‘death’ of jail and either charged openly or set off free.