By Alexandra Jane THE ROOTS
After a visit to his home of Benin on the coast of West Africa, actor Dijmon Hounsou reflected on the part it played in the transatlantic slave trade. Twenty five years ago, Hounsou starred in Steven Spielberg box office hit, Amistad, the story of the Spanish slave ship of the same name whose captors managed to take control of the boat. The now 58 year old tells The Washington Post that his participation in the film helped to educate him further on the history of African people, and how the slave trade resulted in the loss of their ancestry of its descendants.
“We are talking about a severe identity issue,” Hounsou said. “If you don’t know where you come from, you sure don’t know who you are.”
In 2019, this realization prompted the former model to launch the Dijmon Hounsou Foundation on December 2nd, the day that the United Nations marks as the International Day of the Abolition of Slavery. One of the chief goals of the foundation is to help those of African ancestry trace back their roots to the continent. The foundation is also heavily focused on putting a stop to modern day slavery and human trafficking.
This past Saturday marked an important milestone for the Dijmon Hounsou foundation as the inaugural Run Richmond 16:19 took place over three continents including Richmond, Virginia, Liverpool, England, and Ouidah, West Africa. The running and concert event aimed to celebrate diversity while connecting the past to the present and future. Running participants chose from either a 6.19 mile, or 16.19 kilometer distance, with each route including interactive historical landmarks along the way.
“In Richmond, we are fortunate to have a number of African American landmarks or landmarks related to African American history and culture,” said Monroe Harris, board president and acting executive director of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. “But the people that are coming together probably would not be doing so if it weren’t for an event such as this. You are educating people who may not be aware of some of the accomplishments of Black people in culture and history — it increases our awareness and understanding of each other, which if we have that, it makes the world a better place.”
Hounsou, who ran the 6.19 mile himself, spoke to The Washington Post about the impact he anticipated the event having.
“I’m hoping it will bring a certain journey of experiencing 400 years of Black history, where you can touch and feel,” he said.
“We are trying to champion the idea of unity in diversity,” Hounsou says. “The purpose is all about healing. We’re at a historical moment in time to acknowledge that Black history is American history. It’s about the Afro-descendents of this world to feel the power of their history and to have a bit of knowledge about who they are, what they mean in this world and what they accomplished over time.”