Global citizenship for Gurira

Danai Gurira (pictured) is an enthusiastic citizen of an increasingly connected world.
She loves to travel. She celebrates social media — the way it collapses the distance between people, the way it democratises.

And yet despite the advancements of this moment, the actress and playwright realises that too many of us still look at people who are different from us and see “otherness.” Born in the United States and raised in southern Africa, Gurira has made it her mission to “minimise the space” between the continents.

“It’s always my intention to present stories from Africa and from the African woman’s perspective, especially,” she says, reaching me from this weekend’s Global Citizen Festival in New York.

As Gurira tells it, it was that motivation that inspired her to team up with Johnson & Johnson and Global Citizen to co-write and narrate a short movie. I Was There showcases the impact that HIV and Aids have had on the residents of Nyumbani Village, a small town in Kenya that treats children with the disease.

“When I was growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s, the issue of HIV/Aids deeply impacted my community and society — my people, family, friends,” the Walking Dead star and Eclipsed writer says. But when she moved back to the States, Gurira found that western takes on the crisis either minimised or presented a very “statistic-driven” take on the epidemic. “I like to focus on individuals,” she says, a move that serves her creative aim. “The point of the work is to nurture a global citizenship and to eradicate the concept of ‘the other.’

“I don’t feel like the people I know on the continent, who are complex and full of potential, are any different than the people I know here. With everything I do, that’s what I want to illustrate.”

Luckily, Gurira doesn’t have to do the work on her own. She name-checks women like Lupita Nyong’o, who starred in Eclipsed, and the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose Americanah is “the best example” she’s seen of “how we are all one.”

“I’ve always felt I’m living in a time of hope and a time of struggle,” Gurira says. “Those two facts can exist side-by-side.” To create in the tension, Gurira strives both to address the many inequities that she sees all around her and to “recognise the progress that has been made.”

“When I was a child, the Aids situation looked very dire. And it was. It is. Medications weren’t readily available. They weren’t even fully developed yet, at that point. To see how far we’ve come on this issue — it can’t be minimised.” For Gurira, places like Nyumbani encapsulate the burdens and opportunities of this particular moment in time. It proves that children, “our future” can “explore their full potential, despite a struggle against this illness.” And yet it implores us to do more, to “keep this work going.”

As the election closes in, Gurira asserts that the lesson is as applicable in the United States as it is in Africa. “Even here, there was a time where as a woman and a person of colour, I couldn’t even vote.

“And it really isn’t that long ago at all. So, you recognise that the world has changed. And you vote because you know there’s still so much that we need to fix.”— Elle

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