Black Heritage Tour: Using our Roots to Connect with our Future

On the occasion of the third anniversary of the Rutu Foundation in March 2014, we made a special ‘Know your Roots' Black Heritage Tour through the Amsterdam canals. Alexandra Luke, first-year student at the Amsterdam University College reports.

alex_cvOn a Sunday afternoon in April, our group of twelve met at the National Monument at Dam Square, where our guide Jennifer began the tour. The semicircle behind the monument, she explained, contains urns with soil from each of the Dutch provinces: a mark of respect for the soldiers who lost their lives in World War II. Soldiers of the colonies of Suriname and the Dutch Antilles, who also fought and died for the Netherlands, were not included in this mark of respect.

So began a journey of discovery and rediscovery for all of us: we travelled back in time learning about Amsterdam’s history from the 16th century onwards, from a perspective that is sadly often ignored in our classrooms and textbooks. As we passed by historic buildings and landmarks, Jennifer helped us fill in the blanks: the Dutch Empire was great, but at what human cost did this greatness come? What are the clues, in the carvings on buildings and paintings in galleries, that reveal the role of the African diaspora, whose voice has been suppressed for so long?

Rather than a three-hour monologue from the guide, this tour was an interactive experience for the whole group. Rutu’s founder Ellen-Rose Kambel was able to share her personal connection to the city’s history, as we passed the building where a wealthy Dutch family had once kept her ancestors as slaves.

There is a philosophy behind the tour that the Rutu Foundation shares: there are some things in history that we would rather forget, but no matter how we view the past, it will always play a role in shaping our future. The Black Heritage Tour, like Rutu, encourages us not to let that past hinder us, but to use it to empower us. We cannot undo what has happened, but we can pave a future that learns from mistakes made and embraces our roots.

Amsterdam’s Black Heritage Tour is the brainchild of History enthusiast Jennifer Tosch, whose journey towards discovering her own roots led to her discovery of the roots of the city of Amsterdam. Pictures of the tour, made by Kevin P. Roberson, you will find here.

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