Afro

Morgan State University Sends Delegation to Cuba

DeWayne Wickham, dean of the School of Global Journalism & Communication (center) arranges trips to Cuba for students, faculty and others twice a year. His next one is June 4. (Photo Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Kendra Hawkins, a journalism student at Morgan State University, is eager to see what awaits her in Cuba. She is set to travel to the country, once forbidden to most Americans, on June 4.

Hawkins, 21, will join a delegation of three fellow students, three faculty members and 16 others on a weeklong trip to the communist island. She and the other students will film a documentary with University of Havana journalism students about their lives in Cuba and how they practice journalism —Cuban students will do the same thing at Morgan this summer. Nonstudents are allowed to participate at their own expense, where they will go on various cultural exchanges throughout the island to learn about the historic bonds between Black Americans and Afro Cubans.

“I am so excited, especially about the culture,” said Hawkins, a senior majoring in broadcast television production and integrated media. “I can’t wait to see their dancing, their music, I can’t wait to taste the food and just to see how the students that are my age interact and the things that they do in their country.”

Their trip comes nearly three months after President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 80 years. The president’s trip followed a new Cuba policy he announced at the end of 2014 that restored diplomatic ties with Cuba and eased the decades-old U.S. embargo by allowing some travel and trade.

DeWayne Wickham, founding dean of Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism & Communication, has organized trips to Cuba for the school since his arrival in 2012. But he’s been taking Black journalists and students down there since 2000 through his Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, he said. The institute offers professional development opportunities for mid-career, Black journalists and gives Black journalism students hands-on experience in reporting the news.

Wickham says he has an obsession with news and the untold Black experience. In his view, the American media hasn’t done enough to cover Afro Cubans and their issues. So he took it upon himself to introduce journalists to Afro Cubans. On this trip for example, non-students will meet Nancy Morejon, Cuba’s Maya Angelou, Esteban Morales, a prominent Afro Cuban intellectual on the island, as well as jazz musicians, artists and others.

Wickham first went to Cuba in 1999 to cover the Congressional Black Caucus’ visit as a syndicated columnist for {USA Today}. He started taking groups down there a year later and has made several discoveries along the way. He realized Cuba has its own center named after Martin Luther King Jr. next to an Ebenezer Baptist Church. There’s also a monument that honors Malcolm X on one side and King on another.

“What I discovered as I started to take groups of Black journalists and students to Cuba what it was simply an awakening,” Wickham said. “Virtually all of the Black journalists I took had never been abroad for the papers they worked at. I was creating opportunities for them that their own news organizations were not giving them.”

But, getting to Cuba isn’t easy, or cheap.

Wickham’s group is flying to Cuba on a charter flight that leaves June 4 from Tampa. As it is now, people interested in flying to Cuba must either book flights through a charter service or buy a plane ticket to a third country. The U.S. and Cuba signed a civil aviation arrangement last year that will establish regularly scheduled flights to Cuba this year, but that service won’t start until the fall.

Non-students paid $3,800 for the trip, which covers the plane ticket between Tampa and Havana, the hotel and transportation, medical insurance, a travel visa and some meals. Transportation and hotel costs in Tampa were not included. Wickham takes groups to Cuba twice a year — in June and December.

Wickham has partnered with various organizations  — including General Motors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Arca Foundation — to raise money for the students to go on the trips in the past. It would have cost $3,400 for the students to go to Cuba otherwise, if it wasn’t for the school’s assistance.

“This trip is such a blessing, especially for a college student to go,” Hawkins said.