Professor Abiy Ford was born here in Addis Ababa. He pursued his primary and secondary education at Bete-Urael and Lycée Guebre-Mariam respectively. After that, he left for America for further studies.
Prof. Abiy Ford was dean of the School of Journalism. He came on a Fulbright scholarship from Howard University but continued as dean of the school after the Fulbright scholarship ended. Moreover, he shared his enormous experience and actively participated in the process of shaping the nature of the new college. He as well was head of the Academic delegation which was sent to Europe and USA to benchmark the formation of the college.
Similarly, Prof. Abiy traveled tirelessly across several miles in the United States to visit different colleges, sometimes driving by himself during the night. Above and beyond, bringing into play his long time connection with universities like Columbia and Howard, he provided the Addis Ababa University with valuable strategies of structural adjustment that the university was implementing at some stage in those years. He as well had served as a special task force for the establishment of the Film School at AAU in 2011, 2012, giving his time and knowledge for free. He extensively served the committee to establish the first public film school.
Prof. Abiy assisted in developing the curriculum specially in organizing and identifying faculty. He also served as a core faculty, teaching most of the theoretical courses and delegating bench marking visit to Canada. As a member of a task force committee for creating a film school, he was assigned to visit the facilities and overall system of the Canadian Film Institute in Quebec who later became AAU’s partner in establishing the film school, management council of the College of Performing and Visual Arts AAU.
After the creation of the college, he served as a member of its management committee. His immense contribution at the time helped to consolidate the fundamental principles on which the three schools shall function under the same college umbrella. As guest Professor, Prof. Abiy gave several lectures and workshops after the creation of the film school. The success story of forming a college and film school was followed by searching for potential professors and instructors. Even though it took some time to do so Professor Abiy was always there to fill the gap for more than three years, giving lectures and workshops for free.
In general, whenever Prof Abiy is in Addis Ababa, there was no chance that he missed to call and drop by the art school to check for activities and friends, always positive and ready to be part of any solution. He was also a guest professor at the Center for African Studies at AAU where he taught African Performance. He also served in founding the center in 2011 and had taught at the center until 2014 when he went on medical leave to the US. On the non-university side, Professor Abiy who is an accomplished pianist and percussionist played percussion at Jupiter Hotel almost every Thursday and sometimes in his home where we always gathered to listen to his sound.
Ethiopia and Prof. Abiy’s mother attachment
Mignon Lorraine Inniss was born on 19th November 1905 in Barbados. In the early twenties, she then immigrated to New York City where she studied Business Administration at the Braithwaite School of Business. There, she came across a group of Ethiopian dignitaries who were conscripting experienced African-Americans to help in Ethiopia’s growth. In fact, she was immigrated to Ethiopia with the first group led by Arnold J. Ford, an internationally known scholar and political advocate for the liberation of oppressed peoples throughout the world. Almost immediately, she married to Ford and got blessed with two children. They had two children. Sadly, A. J. Ford departed this life in 1935 and laid to rest in Ethiopia. She remained in Ethiopia to maintain the work which was already started by her husband.
Mignon Lorraine Inniss Ford, who as well was born Barbados promised that she would never abandon Ethiopia. Undeniably, as soon as Ethiopia was fully gained its independence in 1941, she founded a school with her godmother Albertha Thomas. The first co-educational boarding school in the country, it was called “Beit Aurieal School”, and a couple of years later relocated in the Aware neighborhood of Addis Ababa and renamed “Princess Zenebe Worq School” after the later daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Every morning faithfully the universal Ethiopian Anthem was sung by the schoolchildren and staff in English. The Amharic version was written later.
She designed and successfully implemented a well-rounded curriculum with a strong emphasis on the development of the student’s African identities and Ethiopia’s proper place in African and world history. What is more, Miginon Inniss-Ford co-founded and served on the Board of Directors of several Ethiopian organizations. She was the recipient of numerous awards counting the Edward Wilmot Blyden award for Education Excellence in African Development from the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA). She was later elected as an Elder to the AHSA Board of Directors. She as well received an award from the Society of Ethiopian Established in Diaspora (SEED) for Excellence in African Education.
Mrs. Ford was addressed as “Teacher Tillegqwa” (the Great Teacher) and her groundbreaking educational work was acknowledged by many international awards. However, in 1974, in the wake of the Ethiopian revolution, the school was nationalized including all its belongings and all personal papers of Mrs. Ford. She passed away in 1995.Like her husband, she was buried in Ethiopia. Miginon was a mother, teacher, sister and friend. She is addressed as Teacher Tilliqua (Great Teacher) within the Ethiopian community. In due course, she passed away on 15th January 1995 at the Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C and buried in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with her husband. The inscription on her tomb reads:
To thee she was called by duty
With thee she toiled for liberty
With thine she cast her destiny
In thee she rests with dignity
The Fords had two sons, Yosef, a cultural anthropologist, a graduate from Colombia University and Abiy, a well-known scholar of media and communication who worked at Howard University and Addis Ababa University. Despite the untimely death of his brother in 2001, Abiy had founded the Mignon Lorraine Innese Ford Foundation to pursue the work of his mother.
Ethiopia and Prof. Abiy’s dad attachment
The professor’s father Arnold Josiah Ford was rabbi, Black Nationalist, and emigrant. He was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, the son of Edward Ford and Elizabeth Augusta Braithwaite. He gave emphasis to his father’s descent which could be traced to the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria as well as his mother’s to the Mendi tribe of Sierra Leone. His parents were dreaming of making him a musician. This being the case, they were providing him with private tutors,who constantly instructed him in quite a lot of instruments for the most part the harp, the violin and the bass. As a young adult, Ford studied music supposition with Edmestone Barnes and in due course, in 1899 he joined the musical corps of the British Royal Navy, where he served on the HMS Alert.
When Ford arrived in Harlem around 1910, he gravitated to its musical centers rather than to political or religious institutions—although within black culture, all three are often interrelated. He was a member of the Clef Club Orchestra, under the direction of James Reese Europe, which first brought jazz to Carnegie Hall in 1912. Other black Jewish musicians, such as Willie “the Lion” Smith, an innovator of stride piano, also congregated at the Clef Club. Shortly, after the orchestra’s Carnegie Hall engagement, Ford became the director of the New Amsterdam Musical Association.
In 1917 Marcus Garvey founded the New York chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association [UNIA], and within a few years it turned out to be the largest mass movement in African American history. Arnold Ford as well grew to be the musical director of the UNIA choir, Samuel Valentine was the president, and Nancy Paris its lead singer. As chance would have it, they grew to be the core of an energetic group of black Jews within the UNIA who studied Hebrew, religion, and history, and held services at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the UNIA.
Ford and Benjamin E. Burrell composed a song called “Ethiopia,” which speaks of a halcyon past before slavery and stresses pride in African heritage—two themes that were becoming immensely popular. Ford was thus prominently situated among those Muslim and Christian clergy, including George Alexander McGuire, Chaplain-General of the UNIA, who were each trying to influence the religious direction of the organization. Ford’s contributions to the UNIA, however, were not limited to musical and religious matters. He and E.L. Gaines wrote the handbook of rules and regulation for the paramilitary African Legion (which was modeled after the Zionist Jewish Legion) and developed guidelines for the Black Cross Nurses.
During that same year, Ford published the Universal Ethiopian Hymnal. Ford was a proponent of replacing the term “Negro” with the term “Ethiopian,” as a general reference to people of African descent. This allowed the biblical verse “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hand to God,” (Psalm 68:3) to be interpreted as applying to their efforts and it became a popular slogan of the organization.
In 1928, Rabbi Ford fashioned a business adjunct to the congregation called the B’nai Abraham Progressive Corporation. Reminiscent of many of Garvey’s ventures, this corporation issued one hundred shares of stock and purchased two buildings from which it operated a religious and vocational school in one and leased apartments in the other. However, resources dwindled as the Depression became more pronounced, and the corporation went bankrupt in 1930. Once again it seemed that Ford’s dream of building a black community with cultural integrity, economic viability, and political virility was dashed, but out of the ashes of this disappointment he mustered the resolve to make a final attempt in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government had been encouraging black people with skills and education to immigrate to Ethiopia for almost a decade, and Ford knew that there were over 40,000 indigenous black Jews already in Ethiopia (who called themselves Beta Israel, but who were commonly referred to as Falasha). The announced coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930 as the first black ruler of an African nation in modern times raised the hopes of black people all over the world and led Ford to believe that the timing of his Ethiopian colony was providential.
Ford arrived in Ethiopia with a small musical contingent in time to perform during the coronation festivities. They then sustained themselves in Addis Abba by performing at local hotels and relying on assistance from supporters in the United Sates who were members of the Aurienoth Club, a civic group of black Jews and black nationalists, and members of the Commandment Keepers Congregation, led by Rabbi W. A. Matthew, Ford’s most loyal protégé.
Ford had no intention of leaving Ethiopia, so he drew up a certificate of ordination (shmecha) for Rabbi Matthew that was sanctioned by the Ethiopian government in the hope that this document would give Matthew the necessary credentials to continue the work that Ford had begun in the United States. By 1935 the black Jewish experiment with Ethiopian Zionism was on the verge of collapse. Those who did not leave because of the hard agricultural work, joined the stampede of foreign nationals who sensed that war with Italy was imminent and possible defeat for Ethiopia certain.
Ford died in September, it was said, of exhaustion and heartbreak, a few weeks before the Italian invasion. Ford had been the most important catalyst for the spread of Judaism among African Americans. Through his successors, communities of black Jews emerged and survived in several American cities.
COMPILED BY ADDISALEM MULAT