Sean Ghazala, the making of a Ranger “The African Burial Ground”

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Sean Ghazala, was about four years old when the 1991 news story broke on the recovery of the final resting place of nearly 400 enslaved and free African men, women and children. The colonial era African cemetery, now known as the” African Burial Ground” which had been in existence since the 1690s to 1790s and was discovered during a series of constructions and utility repairs, in lower Manhattan.

Sean, his sister and parents along with a stunned culturally aware community, listen as the story unfolds. It reveals a striking reminder of the presence of slavery in colonial era New York city. Sean and his sister follow the guidance of their parents as they discuss the importance of protecting of ones’ cultural heritage. Amy and Al Ghazala, had little idea that the nurturing environment fed by love and fueled by cultural activism had sealed their son’s fate.

We fast forward to the present, where we find tucked away amongst the canyons of glass and metal structures that have grown up around a small park, bordered by Broadway, Duane, Elk and Reade Streets, made up of a series of gentle grass covered mounds holding the interred remains, anchored by an elegant stone structure–“the African Burial Ground”.

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A businessman taking a short cut across Duane and Elk street, rushing from one meeting to another, for some reason stops as if caught by an energy he cannot explain. He quizzically asks, “What is this place?” Why it’s the “African Burial Ground” replies the handsome young ranger, who strides up to answer his questions. It’s Sean Ghazala, who is now, a member of the staff of the African Burial Ground, one of the unsung heroes who are pledged as guardians of one of the oldest burial sites from the 1700s.

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Sean thinks back to the date, June 5, 2011, which marked his first day on the job, a young man armed with an undergraduate degree in psychology and a graduate degree in Public Administration. How he paused in front of the glass displays, to reflect on arrived at this moment.

How he found a short-term position in parks and recreation while surfing the Internet that led to the rangers position. How he slowly examined exhibits filled with photos of crowds of people waving Pan-African flags, where lo and behold who should he see but his sister. He immediately took a photo and texted his sister. “Hey, You’re not gonna believe this”. The circle is complete and the impact of the Ghazala family will be forever tied to the history of “The African Burial Ground.

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