William Benjamin, cultural ambassador

May 17, 1991|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Evening Sun Staff

ROOM 202 of Holmes Hall at Morgan State University, the home of WEAA-FM (88.9), bustles with activity. William Benjamin, host of "Profiles on Africa," and his volunteer staff of six move in an organized frenzy to complete last-minute tasks for the Afro-centric show's 6 p.m. airing.

Benjamin, 36, with a medium-build, glasses, short, neat afro, creased gray slacks, white crisp shirt and red tie, has the look of a college professor as he instructs the evening's guests on directions for the program.

His keen preparation shows his penchant for details. "Only way I got where I am -- I'm organized," he chuckles in the last few seconds before the start of his weekly program.

His charisma, and a Fulbright Scholarship, also helped him attain success. Benjamin spent the majority of his life in the Murphy Homes Projects. After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School, he received a bachelor's degree in French from Morgan State. He then used the prestigious Fulbright to earn a degree from the Universite' de Yaounde' in Cameroon, West Africa.

"From my beginnings in the Murphy Homes -- where I didn't have any goals -- who would ever think my path would lead me to here," says Benjamin.

Fluent in French and knowledgeable on the African diaspora, Benjamin has accepted the mission of being a cultural ambassador.

His "Profiles on Africa" radio show is just one of his many endeavors. He has been traveling in Maryland and out of state since 1977 "educating the American public [not solely African Americans] on the true and diversified cultures of Africa."

He presents slide presentations, lectures, art exhibitions, original poetry and short story readings of his experiences as a member and traveler of the African diaspora.

Benjamin often surprises schools, churches, prisons, universities, and special-interest groups with his catering of African foods and commentaries for African fashions.

"Africans and African Americans alike consider me an authority on the African diaspora. I appreciate the gesture," he says


Alfie Williams, program director at WEAA for two of the five years Benjamin has been with the station, deems him an integral member of the staff and community.

"Benjamin is a unique individual," he says. "Whenever we are around him, we are totally conscious and proud of our rich African heritage. He focuses attention on the importance of Africa through his emphasis of its music, food, clothing and lifestyle."

Williams says "Profiles on Africa" is one of WEAA's top shows because it helps fill the void of African education in the community.

Every Monday evening, "Profiles on Africa" features segments on such topics as countries, cultures, lectures, entertainment, literature, special-interest groups or media happenings that involve any portion of the African diaspora and its people.

Benjamin feels the show is needed. "I say that the solution for [African Americans] is to go back and regain knowledge of our culture and reclaim our cultural identity. Culture makes the environment, which shapes our nature and gives us purpose. The lack of purpose is the reason African Americans have such low standards."

Benjamin targets every age group for his audience of "Profiles on Africa," but particularly youthful listeners.

When Zizwe Allette, a junior at Woodlawn High School, visited WEAA to pick up a prize for answering a trivia question asked during one of the show's segments three years ago, he also accepted Benjamin's invitation to join his volunteer staff. Allette, then 13, was promoted from a news reader to an engineer, and now, at age 16, he's a producer of "Profiles on Africa."

"Mr. Benjamin is definitely a mentor for me," Allette says. "I admire his organization, generosity and knowledge. The only time he gets angry is when things are not done on time or done well. Even then, he talks things through calmly," Allette adds.

Benjamin has the largest volunteer staff associated with WEAA. His charisma also attracts numerous invitations almost daily from organizations asking him to speak to them about his cultural experiences and knowledge.

"I've paid a tremendous price" through personal finances and energy, says Benjamin, "but it doesn't matter because I love what I'm doing. [Former Congressman] Parren Mitchell once told me to 'teach the people and be the best example.' That is my priority right now."

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