When Bettye Latimer approached Godwin Amegashie in the winter of 1994 and asked him to perform the libations at her naming ceremony, she was asking him to do more than a ritual pouring ̶ she was asking him to help her to freedom.
She said, “What I want to be and for what I want to do for my community, I need to be the authentic me,” Amegashie told UMOJA. “The authentic me isn’t Bettye.”
The naming ceremony was held on the evening of Jan. 31, 1995. On that date, Bettye Latimer nee Ingram shed her slave name and became Milele Chikasa Anana. Most people called her simply, Ms. Milele.
The ceremony, which was held at Big Mama and Uncle Fat’s Restaurant on Odana Road, opened with a prayer and a call of the drum. After Amegashie performed a libation call in honor of the ancestors and a libation call to gather the community, the purpose and the meaning of Ms. Milele’s name was announced. Then the name was formally bestowed, along with a ring, and several of Ms. Milele’s close friends spoke.
Put together, the three words of Ms. Milele’s name mean a “A rare and sparkling jewel bringing joy and laughter forever.” Amegashie said that meaning set a standard that Ms. Milele, who died this past May, more than lived up to.
“She was actually looking for names that would meet her expectations in life,” Amegashie said. “And this was almost like a rebirth.”
Ms. Milele chose Amegashie to perform the libations at her naming ceremony because he descends from Ghanian royalty. Amegashie’s great-grandfather became a chief in 1815, and a member of his family still sits on the stool (the word used in Ghana instead of throne) today.
Ms. Milele paid attention to the origin of the African names she chose as well as their meaning, Amegashie said.
“She had more or less decided to use an East African name and a West African name—she was really trying to become an African in the global sense. There’s always a tendency when you hear an African name to tell if a guy is from West or East Africa.”
The cross-continent reach of her names was a testament to Ms. Milele’s global perspective. But it was the action she took locally that set her apart.
Amegashie said Ms. Milele’s unceasing efforts on behalf of Black Madison—and her stature in the community ̶ reminded him of Ghanian market women.
“One of the things you find out when you go to Africa is how powerful the women are, especially the market women. They sell everything, they run the market.”
Amegashie cited Milele’s work in helping birth the African American Chamber of Commerce ̶ a project that took years ̶ as a particularly memorable manifestation of her indomitable spirit.
“I tell myself this a woman who never quits,” Amegashie said.
Ms. Milele’s most visible efforts came as the publisher and editor of UMOJA, a post she held for 26 years. UMOJA is a Swahili word that means “Oneness and Unite.” Ms. Milele lived up to that name too, Amegashie said.
“Oh my God, almost every time she had a program to call everybody together. Oneness was really what kept Milele going. That’s what she was trying to get us.”