It takes a rare Ram to literally rule
By Robin Happel
One of our most illustrious alumni hails from St. Helena, South Carolina. After graduating from Fordham, Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine became the first elected head of state of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and has since spoken to diplomats around the world to advocate for her peoples’ cultural heritage and rights. As residents of barrier islands across the American South, the Gullah/Geechee are highly vulnerable to hurricanes and other tropical storms, but remain undaunted in their fight to protect their ancestral lands. This is a glimpse of their story.
Q: What is your favorite memory of Fordham?
My favorite memory at Fordham was gathering with the other Black students to create “Molimo.” It was our Black Student Union. The friends that I made there are still my friends now, and we were an active part of creating the “Black Latino Alumni Association (BLAA)” which I understand has now been absorbed into a multicultural alumni organization.
My favorite memory as an alumni was the fact that Fordham held a luncheon at the UNESCO building in Paris, France and right after I had finished recording the Gullah/Geechee human rights story there, I went into a UN NGO session and found out that it was being sponsored by Fordham. The moderator let us know that they had five tickets left for the private luncheon, and when I let them know that I was a Fordham Alumni and I needed two of those five tickets, it seemed that every other person in the room was proud to say that he or she had also graduated from Fordham! What a city for a Fordham reunion – Paris, France! I have told countless people about how proud that day made me to have graduated from Fordham at Lincoln Center!
Q: For our students who don’t know much about the Gullah/Geechee, can you talk a little bit about your cultural heritage?
Our ancestral ties are to Africa. There are numerous countries in West Africa that Gullah/Geechees have ties to, including but not only Sierra Leone. To see a complete map and charts, obtain my book, “The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture” which can be found at www.GullahGeechee.biz and via Amazon. Gullah/Geechee settled Liberia and Freetown, Sierra Leone, but we have a much broader story with numerous countries of the Motherland from which our kidnapped ancestors were brought to the Sea Islands.
Q: Is there anything Fordham students can do to help the Gullah/Geechee people in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, in addition to supporting the Gullah/Geechee Land Legacy Fund?
Yes, they can contribute via app and various other mechanisms. Every year, March is “Gullah/Geechee Volunteer Month.” We have never had any group of Fordham students come down and do community service and transformational learning, but it would be nice to have them do so. They can email GullGeeCo@aol.com and connect with the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (www.GullahGeechee.net) to assist.
Q: As a computer science and math major, can you talk a little about why you felt called to be more politically involved?
I had always been involved in land conservation, preservation, and retention efforts even in grade school. After I graduated from Fordham, I remained in touch with what was taking place and displacing people from my home. So, the elders of my community would call on me to continue to return to South Carolina more and more frequently, and I got more engaged in the policies and laws of the county. I then founded the first organization to ever exist in the world with “Gullah/Geechee” in the name and used my education to launch the first website and list serve to ever exist with Gullah/Geechee in the name as well. I also taught the first online course on my culture via NetNoir. This brought more and more attention and support to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition which I founded to work as an advocacy group for the rights of Gullah/Geechees worldwide.
Q: Since you’ve been such a driving force in the UN recognizing the Gullah/Geechee, do you have further plans for formal recognition?
The Gullah/Geechee Nation has existed since 2000. We are already recognized nationally and internationally. I am the head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation and we have dual citizenship in the US and the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition led the charge with Congressman James Clyburn putting forth the bill to have the United States support and recognize us. The United States Congress voted in the “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act” which was signed by US President George W. Bush in 2006. So, recognition is not what is now needed. Respect of our culture and the leaders that the people elected ourselves is the issue. We are still seeing land and human rights violated and that is unacceptable! So, we will continue to stand up for our rights while also now battling the issues of climate change that we are on the front lines of as well.
Q: Since 2010, you’ve been fighting to stop offshore drilling. Do you see any similarities between the Gullah/Geechee and the Standing Rock Sioux or other original peoples fighting to protect their lands?
I definitely see similarities. There’s the fact that our cultural heritage is being disregarded by those that seek only to make more money by causing further harm to the environment and the health of those that are in areas where oil has been drilled for, processed, and transported through. Sacred lands are at stake, but our lives are even more sacred than that! Our lives are priceless!
Q: Is there anything else you want Fordham students and faculty to know about the Gullah/Geechee?
I want my fellow Rams to know that “De Gullah/Geechee binya and we ain gwine nowhey!” Gullah/Geechee culture has existed from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL on the Sea Islands and what is called the “Lowcountry” for hundreds of years and we will not allow it to go anywhere! When people plan to visit our coast, they should seek us out and support our businesses, events, and economic endeavors and learn the true story of our cultural heritage. The legacy that we are fighting to hold onto is the foundation of American history.