My name is Claudius Zorokong and I am what some would consider a young professional: I work tirelessly during the week and party even harder on the weekends, not too dissimilar from college. When first asked to contribute to Tamaji I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or to write. I certainly do not hold myself qualified to impart knowledge unto anyone regarding the trials of life. Daily, I struggle with said trials. I simply hope that by learning a bit about me and gaining insight to some of my thoughts, someone might empathize with me, or perhaps contemplate an issue otherwise forgotten/overlooked.
Born and raised is Sierra Leone, I moved to the states at the age of nine. I lived briefly in upstate New York – Ithaca – before moving to Massachusetts. There I concluded high school and shortly after found myself back in upstate New York, enrolled at Hamilton College. I graduated from Hamilton in May, 2008.
What I recall of Sierra Leone are all fond memories - even memories of lashings received after a transgression of some sort. Perhaps my recollections are blurred by the unadulterated innocence of a child, barely nine years old, but we should all be so lucky. My childhood, like that of so many other children, was filled with laughter, mischief, adventure, and the infinite possibilities of what life had in store. There was the occasional punishment for a poor mark in school, or perhaps for throwing rocks at a neighbor’s chicken and killing it…accidentally. But what’s childhood without some tough love. And whenever the full wrath of my mother came crashing down on me, there was, inevitably, always someone, some good Samaritan, to the rescue – whether it was a relative, a neighbor, or some passerby, someone would always plead on my behalf, and that is what I loved most about Sierra Leone. There was a sense of community and in particular, the development of children was viewed as a common obligation. It is that mentality that even now, years removed and an ocean apart, implores me to give back to a country that raised me. As I mature professionally, I aim to one day impart all that I have learned unto Sierra Leone. Giving back is a shared responsibility and in doing so, if even one life is positively affected, some good has occurred.
Life in the States has provided me with numerous opportunities. At an early age I was able to compete in sports, something I continued throughout my matriculation at Hamilton. Through sports, I have gained valuable traits – responsibility, camaraderie, professionalism, work ethic, etc. - that make me the person I am today. Sports, in combination with academics, have opened many doors that I otherwise could not have accessed. A goal of mine is to one day share my passion for sports with my people in Sierra Leone, and in so doing provide them with opportunities unbeknownst to them. I envision sports as the key to an education overseas, and those granted said keys, as ambassadors of Sierra Leone.
Success is a fluid notion, one that is personal and one that constantly changes with time and with circumstance. My concept of success at age ten is very different from what I view success as today. Moreover, society’s view of success is not necessarily adhered to by all. I believe that to truly be successful one has to attain a level of content, in addition to positively impacting society. For me success is the combination of abundant love, a sound character, and financial stability, in addition to being a model citizen. Those who achieve success are those who continue to challenge themselves even after they’ve accomplished their initial goals. I view complacency as the antithesis of success.
I am inspired by my family, my friends, and the love for my country, to succeed. I came from very little. However, I have been blessed with many opportunities in my life. Living in the States is a constant reminder of just how fortunate I am. There are those in Sierra Leone who are not granted the opportunities that I have and it is incumbent on me to make the best of what I’m afforded. My success will in turn will be used to cultivate those that I hold dear.
Inner beauty is to genuinely have the best interest of all at hand. It is to love and appreciate things you may not understand and to have the capacity to sympathize with others, no matter how different they or their situation proves. Inner beauty is having the strength and confidence in oneself, to do that which is right even in the face of popular opposition.
Physical beauty, in a man or woman, is having control over one’s body; it is cultivating and treating with dignity that which we’ve been granted. Physical beauty is characterized by cleanliness, a love for one’s body and the desire to be the best you can.
Though both forms of beauty are very important, I however, regard inner beauty in higher esteem than physical beauty. I find inner beauty to be more indicative of who a person is – the true man or woman behind the mask. Physical beauty, aesthetics, can be augmented and in essence can easily deceive. Inner beauty, however, encapsulates the true character of an individual.
In the presence of the 10 most influential people in the world, I would ask that more aggressive measures be implemented to invest in education and infrastructure in developing countries. Investments in these areas have been proven time and again to be the most affective in bringing about progress. If the gap between wealthy and impoverished nations continues to expand, the result will prove troublesome for both parties. As the world shrinks, it will soon be impossible to ignore troubles elsewhere. Our neighbor’s strife will inescapably become ours. Moreover, programs should be put in place to combat clean water scarcity, an issue that will inevitably prove catastrophic if left unattended. It is the moral obligation of those in positions of influence to act in the best interest of the popular good.
My one message to the African diaspora is for us to put aside our past differences and unite as one people. We find ourselves at a great disadvantage on the international plain and measures need to be put in place to mitigate our shortcomings; we must rely on ourselves, primarily, to resolve our ailments. Many of the issues plaguing us stem from a history of bondage and exploitation, however, that history is now perpetuated by our very own. Greed and power has seen the rise of warlords disguised as benevolent leaders, who continue to decimate our people and plunder our continent. Political institutions entrenched in transparency, accountability, and meritocracy, need to be instituted to ensure that the interests of the populous, and not the few in positions of power, are met. The issues we face as a continent are grand and will not be resolved overnight, or even in the near future. However, we can take steps to point us in the right direction, to ensure that the next generation is better off than the last. Education, a strong political infrastructure, and clean water - to name a few – should be among our most pressing concerns.
Were my time on this earth cut short, I want others to remember me as a compassionate and fun loving person; a man of conviction and character. I hope my encounters with others have been overwhelmingly positive. Though there are those with whom I have had contentious relationships, I hope that even in disagreement a feeling of mutual respect was spawned.
One book I would recommend to all readers is “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. This book is a heartwarming read about the coming-of-age of a young man in pre apartheid South Africa. An underdog, the protagonist seeks to find himself in a tumultuous world, while simultaneously living to the expectations of his loved ones. The Power of One portrays a world of conflicting ideals as seen only through the eyes of an adolescent, and in his trials, we learn that even the greatest of obstacles can be overcome.
50 Shades of Black is proud to partner with Tamaji Magazine. "50 Shades of Black | Africa" is a weekly column curated by Tamaji's founder Aminata Diop. The column features personal interviews with African-born men and women living throughout the Diaspora whose voices reflect a unique African perspective. This week's feature is Claudius Zorokong of Sierra Leone. Be sure to tune in next week!