By Damion Smalls
Akua Page and Chris Cato have taken the Lowcountry by storm with their creation, The Geechee Experience. A cultural movement that fuses education with entertainment, The Geechee Experience “is a cultural platform that was created by Geechee millennials on a mission to preserve their culture and language,” the group maintains.
The Geechee Experience works to dispel longstanding notions that Geechee is not a language or is a “broken” language. Those misinformed opinions have led to Geechee’s endangered importance in Black culture and an outright pursuit of erasure by the descendants of the same colonizing European Americans that enslaved Africans for centuries and now consist of the majority of the U.S. population.
“We were thinking of ways to preserve the culture and language,” Page recalls. After months of brainstorming, Page and Cato combined their efforts by launching The Geechee Experience in late 2018. Using the knowledge of Black excellence that was purposely left out of U.S. school history books and an determination to steer the undertold African-American narrative towards empowerment, Page and Cato are already well on their way to becoming catalysts of the next generation of the Lowcountry’s Black youth with their innovative venture.
“Geechee is a variation of the Gullah language. Gullah is an English based creole language that developed by enslaved Africans living in coastal regions of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,” the group explains.
In modern times, whites have attempted to culturally appropriate Geechee through various means, like adding the historical Geechee plant sweetgrass to the names of businesses that do nothing for or have nothing to do with the Black community, opening restaurants clearly influenced by Geechee cuisine without attributing credit or respect, redefining what Geechee actually means, or selling products that incorporate the culture while remaining ignorant of the history behind it. The Geechee Experience is trying to help more Black people embrace the culture and combat the dehumanization efforts that have derailed Geechee’s mainstream acceptance in the past.
The boomtown-like presence of Geechee Experience’s social media pages has led to its inspiring popularity in a relatively short period of time. With over 20,000 Facebook+Instagram followers and over a half-million video views reached within six months of its initial launch, it’s safe to say that an audience has been waiting in the wings for a movement such The Geechee Experience. The brand can also be found on YouTube (@Geechee X) and Twitter (@GeecheeExperie1). Exclusive brand merchandise may be purchased on geecheeexperience.com.
“Some of our people are ashamed of their culture, but the United States is Geechee,” declares Cato. In their videos and social posts, the movement discusses topics such as the difference between Gullah and Geechee, the Geechee language, Black health, literature, community building, and Black farming. They often use humor and anecdotal revelations to relate to a growing audience that has accepted their down-to-earth personalities and candor. The use of Geechee words and phrases are a common aspect of their engaging posts. Locals are seeing how their vocabularies and vernacular are closely related to Geechee culture without previously realizing it. And the people who do realize the connections are getting on board with this spirited salute to Geechee.
“Gullah is mainly spoken on the islands by elders and is on the verge of extinction. Geechee is more commonly spoken by Geechee/Gullah people across generations,” the duo defines. By spreading awareness and information for the powerful history of Geechee, the millennial pair aspire to champion their cause to instill pride and optimism within the people.
Page and Cato are sharing their culture with the world with the hope that they can prevent the Geechee language from dying. In their attempts to do so, The Geechee Experience is requesting the assistance of the local Black community. As young Blacks that respect for the contributions of Charleston’s Black leaders of the past, The Geechee Experience is looking for ways to evolve, learn everyday from history, and bridge the gap between millennials and Baby Boomers. “We are open to suggestions from the elders,” the group notes.
You can catch the Geechee Experience live in person in North Charleston Saturday, April 27 at the second annual Charleston Sol-Food Veg Fest. Taking place at the Jenkins Institute (3923 Azalea Drive) from 11am to 5pm, the event aims to connect with Black businesses, create a platform for vegans, promote healthy habits, and bring more Black people towards a plant-based lifestyle. The Geechee Experience will take part of the Sol-Food Veg Fest as a featured vendor. Visit csfvegfest.com to purchase tickets.