By Norma Adams-Wade
Texas Metro News Correspondent
Photos: Yeharerwerk Gashaw
As Black History Month ended, one North Texas activist said we failed to see that we all share a common history.
For most of her life, Yeharerwerk Gashaw has advocated for peace and independence for her homeland of Ethiopia. Her name should be familiar to those who have followed her 40-year career as a model, actress, international human rights activist, political organizer and ambassador for social causes. Generally, her name is pronounced Ye-HA-rer-work Gas-HAW and usually shortened to Ye-HA-rer.
During this time of Black heritage reflection, Gashaw asked us to take a look at how we share a common past and help shape the future of what scientists call humankind’s “Land of Origins.” Her premise comes from scientists who say that human life began in Ethiopia, the “Horn of Africa” because of its shape.
Ethiopia is where scientists in 1974 discovered Lucy, who lived 3.2 million years ago. Lucy is one the world’s most complete and best-preserved hominids – a prehistoric ancestor to humans.
Bible researcher and author David T. Adamo notes that Africa and Africans are mentioned 1,417 times in the Bible.
All of this fuels Gashaw’s pride in her Ethiopian homeland. And during Black History Month, she says more people of the world should care and take action to stop Ethiopia’s civil wars. The violence is largely between the main Ethiopian military and the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that is seeking more power and independence for their region and ethnic group.
The Ethiopian government says the country has more than 80 ethnic groups among its 100 million population. These groups are separated into more than a dozen separate “protected areas” with their own governing councils. There are boundary disputes, and some residents say they resent that some regions are forbidden to leave their designated areas to prevent clashes with other regions.
“I want this genocide to end,” Gashaw said in an interview. She said invaders and leaders from other countries manipulated Ethiopia’s many opposing ethnic groups that clashed with each other. She said colonizers and foreign diplomats set up more than a dozen regions and governing bodies in Ethiopia.
Critics of that plan say organizers either knowingly or ignorantly still attract violence by offering political and economic gains for joining their “peace-keeping forces” that in reality only create more carnage, she said.
Gashaw has a more than 30-year record of joining and founding organizations to try to create unity and peace. She founded the Ethiopian National Government in Exile in Dallas in 2005.
Gashaw became a celebrity after losing both parents by age 9. She was born in Harar in southeast Ethiopia and grew up in Addis Ababa, the capital city, during the reign of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie. Her father was an army officer, and her mother a homemaker. Gashaw left Ethiopia at 16 to get an education, and that opened the door for a modeling career that took her to Paris. There she began a parade of “firsts,” including the first African model to feature Christian Dior fashions and Guerlain cosmetics.
She held beauty queen roles at public events while fueling her budding activism.
She followed her then husband to Dallas in the early 1980s as her name and her activism became known and respected. She was the first Black woman to appear in the television series Dallas. She also was in the stage production Backstreet. She became the first African-born civil rights activist in the area and was the first African featured in The Dallas Morning News’ High Profile section. The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center’s executive board appointed her as the first chair for its new Friends of MLK Jr. Community Center advisory group.
Her scrapbook brims with articles about her missions and photos with prominent global leaders and African and Ethiopian heads of state, including former South African president Nelson Mandela and former Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Mariam. She has held advisory appointments under leaders including the late Democratic congressman Mickey Leland of Houston, Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss. There also are grotesque photos of war scenes she says she keeps to show recruits the seriousness of the longstanding effort to bring peace.
She said she realized at age 5 that something was wrong in her homeland, and she wanted to help the adults who huddled to talk about whatever it was. Eventually she was allowed to sit at a desk and hand out printed information. She never looked back and kept advancing in the movement. She still works with her current cause during Black History Month and will do so in the future.
“The American and international public can do like it did to support [Nelson] Mandela to end apartheid in South Africa,” Gashaw said. “Humanitarians and human rights activists and Pan-Africanists can appeal to their organizations and push the American government to help end the genocide. That’s my message now and going forward.”
To contact Gashaw, visit her Facebook page or email email@example.com.