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The Heaviness of History: Kelley Kenney’s First Visit to Ghana

by Janelle Hill M’23 Aug 9, 2023

A numb, spine-tingling feeling. That’s how Kelley Kenney describes her first visit to Africa, standing at the site where the slave trade was born. 

Kenney, Ed.D., director of the graduate program in higher education, visited Ghana in June with a group that included her youngest daughter and longtime friend and colleague Tina Richardson, Ph.D., chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley, who has been to the country more than a dozen times. 

The group spent several days diving into Ghana’s culture—visiting markets, museums, art galleries, and a botanical garden; learning African dance and drumming; and touring the W.E.B. DuBois Centre in Accra, where the scholar and civil rights activist spent his final years. 

The most moving part of the trip for Kenney—Elmina Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the African slave trade first began. The group bore witness to the dungeons where human beings were held in chains and retraced the footsteps of those who were sent abroad through the Door of No Return. 

The Door of No Return in Ghana

The Door of No Return at Elmina Castle 

The heaviness of history weighed on Kenney, who says the emotional, transformative experience brought a reclaiming of self to mind. 

“To be in the presence of a place where so much was suffered, sacrificed, and taken away was humbling in a way that I have never known,” she says. “Phrases like ‘I am because they were’ or ‘I stand on the shoulders of giants’ are at times so cliché, but seem so fitting now as I acknowledge those who came before me. What I am left with is a feeling of incredible responsibility, inspiration, and empowerment because I've been privileged to become what those before me dreamed of.”

The trip also had a professional component for Kenney and Richardson. They visited Ashesi University and spent time at the University of Ghana, where faculty members provided perspectives on the country’s history and independence. 

Kenney also met with Daniel Frimpong Ofori, provost of the College of Humanities at the University of Ghana, to discuss the school’s graduate programs and the DeSales M.Ed. program.  

“We’re looking at how we might potentially work together,” Kenney says. “The opportunity for me to go back next summer is there. Potentially, I would love to take students and alumni.”