VOICES: Trip to Cape Town, South Africa, honored late Dayton Mayor McGee

I recently had the privilege of attending the Sister Cities International (SCI) Africa Summit 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa as a representative of the Dayton Sister City Committee (DSCC). It was a weeklong summit filled with education, networking and crafted experiences that was two years in the making by the advanced-team and the convener, Lorna K. Johnson of Sister Cities International.

Sister Cities International was founded by President Eisenhower in 1956 as a nonpartisan nonprofit which serves as the national membership organization for individual sister cities across the United States. The DSCC was created by the Dayton City Commission in 1964 and committee members are appointed by the Dayton City Commission and City of Dayton Government. All activities undertaken on behalf of the DSCC are done so on a volunteer basis.

Since its creation, DSCC has fostered several sister city relationships, starting with Augsburg, Germany in 1964 to the most recent, Salfit, Palestine, in 2022. Over that time, many Daytonians have served on the local and national committees, including the late mayor James H. McGee. It was part of my responsibilities for this trip to serve as a representative of Dayton during the final evening’s gala to honor Elders and Ancestors as is the African tradition. Mayor McGee, who served during the 1970s, had his name submitted for nomination by long-time Dayton Municipal Court Judge Bill Littlejohn. In 1975, Mayor McGee was on the SCI Board along with Mr. Louis Wozar, Dayton civic leader and industrialist, who was its third president. His picture, along with Mr. Wozar, is there, “The 500th US Community”, in SCI records. Mayor McGee’s daughter, retired Judge Frances McGee-Cromartie, was in attendance in Cape Town to accept the honor on his behalf.

The education, networking and rich example set by the planning committee was in hopes of furthering and completing the SCI goal of “500 in 5.” The goal is to create 500 new African sister city relationships in five years. Over five days, the summit brought us together for orientation, lectures, plenary sessions and workshops during the day that included internationally known speakers such as Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela. Our evening events included a gathering at the Castle of Good Hope, a trip to Groot Constantia Wine Estate, where I had great conversations, including one with a journalist from Johannesburg. We discussed Trump, Russia and racism in our respective countries as we shared our different perspective on these things. The summit ended with the Celebrate Africa! Gala at GOLD Restaurant, which included traditional performances as part of the evening’s program to honor our Elders and Ancestors.

The trip was filled with amazing experiences provided by the summit organizers and tours I scheduled through local tour operators. Table Mountain and Robben Island were especially impactful visits. However, meeting the native-born residents and immigrants brought the most perspective to the colonial history of South Africa and its lasting effects on the country. Some Uber drivers were eager to exchange perceptions about our respective countries. Journalists, hotel staff and others were happy to meet African-Americans and hear from us. I learned there is still much division in country from the Apartheid Era that ended in 1994, which can easily be seen when traveling the different areas of Cape Town. But I also received the impression that most South Africans in Cape Town want everyone to work together and were looking forward to a better tomorrow.

Owner of the Edward A. Dixon Gallery and member of the Dayton Sister Cities Executive Committee.

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