MOSES LAKE — Everyone has a story, says Lamin Jatta.
Stories are very important in his home country of The Gambia, Jatta told a group of fifth-graders at North and Larson Heights elementary schools on Monday.
So important, they are often set to music as a way to honor the person the story is about and their family.
“I have a story. You have a story,” he said.
Jatta, president and CEO of the Tacoma-based Kunta Kinteh Family Foundation, was in Moses Lake on Monday as part of the two schools’ commemoration of Black History Month.
The foundation, which promotes healing and reconciliation between blacks and whites, and Africans and Americans, is named for Kunta Kinte, a young Mandinka from what is today The Gambia who was captured and sold into slavery in Virginia.
He was the subject of Alex Haley’s lengthy historical novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which was made into a lengthy television movie in 1977 and again in 2016.
While Jatta emphasized the violence and injustice inherent in enslaving people, he was also keen to let the fifth-graders know that healing and forgiveness are essential if people are to overcome what has been done to them and their ancestors.
“In this world, bad things happen,” he said. “I will not keep myself hostage to it.”
“Slavery happened, but I’m not a victim of slavery,” said Jatta, who describes himself as a ninth-generation descendant of Kinte.
As future leaders, Jatta said it’s important to focus on love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
“I want all of you to join me, to break that chain (of hate) in the mind, because if you put it in your mind, never choose anything good,” he said.
“Someday, you are the leaders who will change the system, change the country, change the world,” Jatta added.
Jatta said despite all that happened to Kinte, he kept his culture and his history and the knowledge of where he came from.
“He kept his story, and it’s part of the American story,” he said. “We are all one people.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.