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About Slavery, read also
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Society

Young People Want to Find the Keys to Understanding”

Translated Saturday 17 November 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

Olivier and Régis are two of the nine young people who have gone to Senegal with the Paris west delegation, for a conference on the slave trade.

Childhood friends Olivier and Régis are among the nine young people who have gone to Senegal for the conference on the slave trade. The two friends, both aged 26, live in les Larris, a working-class neighborhood in Fontenay-sous-Bois, in the French département of Val-de-Marne (Paris west). Both are active in international solidarity associations and are very active in the “Un passé trop présent” [A too-present past] collective, which works to see respected our collective duty to remember the past, and in particular, to remember the times of slavery.

Neither Olivier nor Régis are novices on the question. “Lots of people around us have only a vague idea of what happened during the slave trade, because they don’t learn this history in school,” said Olivier, who comes from Guadeloupe. “Since they don’t know the history of their native country, many young people fantasize about it. Once you’ve recovered that past, you’re more at peace with yourself and you can better integrate, socially and job-wise,” said Régis, who is from Benin.

Seated at a table in a room in the Val-de-Marne youth service building, the two friends spoke animatedly as one. Each added to the words of the other. Régis said that “in the neighborhoods where we live, young people want the information they need to be able to understand, to improve themselves, to move forward” — which is what he seems to have found for himself. “When I was a child, my Dad explained where I came from. Today, I say loud and clear that I am descended from slaves,” he said proudly. Olivier also learned his family’s history from his father. “He’s always spoken to me about my ancestors. At home, the bookcases are filled with books about slavery,” said Olivier.

Already in-the-know, the two friends obviously didn’t hesitate for very long when the Val-de-Marne youth service suggested they participate in the trip to Gorée island in Senegal. The university-level conference particularly interests them. “Of course, we have solid background knowledge, but we’ll be able to increase our knowledge, working with experts there,” Regis explained. “We’re going to meet specialists on slavery, and all the other participants, and then we’ll form a network,” Olivier added. They were already thinking of the aftermath of the conference. “We’re going to pass on our information at different events, especially at events we will organize for the commemoration of the abolition of slavery.”


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