The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund, Inc., emerged as the brainchild of Evelyn L. Parker and Rosetta E. Ross. It began from a seed planted during spring 2008 when Parker, then the steering committee co-chair for the American Academy of Religion’s Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group, posed a question to the Group: “What programs or emphasis might we consider for the future?” In reply to Parker’s request for future emphases of womanist programs, Ross suggested that the Womanist Group engage African women scholars. Parker was excited by the idea and spoke about it with Mercy Amba Oduyoye, who was visiting in the United States at that time. Oduyoye responded, enthusiastically: “At last, it is going to happen.”
Although the envisioned engagement did not occur until 2012, as the first Consultation of African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology, the meeting drew on depth referenced in Oduyoye’s “At last.” Parker and Ross were intentional in framing the consultation as continuous with work by the generation of late-mid-20th century continental and diasporan African women who made space in religion and theology for such an event to be conceived. In addition to Oduyoye, they included Brigilia Bam, Musimbi Kanyoro, Katie Geneva Cannon, Jacquelyn Grant and other continental and diasporan African women who first encountered each other in the 1970s and 1980s at international Christian denominational and interdenominational meetings. They helped shape women’s work at the World Council of Churches and helped develop structure of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), including defining what now is called a liberation agenda in religion and theology. These women also collaborated in founding initiatives on the continent and in the diaspora, and produced the earliest scholarship in religion and theology by women of African descent, consciously making room for generations of women after them to serve in a variety of religious contexts, construct theologies, and help shape what it means to study African, African-diasporan, and African-derived traditions within the history of religions. Oduyoye hosted the 2012 meeting in Ghana, and, although they could not be present, Bam, Kanyoro, Cannon, and Grant, affirmed continuity of their nascent collaboration through greetings they sent to consultation participants.
During break times and at the end of the 2012 consultation, questions arose about how to sustain the conversations that were beginning. This desire to sustain and further develop the conversations was evident in spite of (or perhaps because of) recognition among continental and diasporan African women that the wish to work together for the flourishing of African descended women and girls is a shared commitment, even when it is difficult and fraught with residuals from being colonized and enslaved.
As they worked to publish the meeting’s proceedings, Ross and Parker determined to develop a structure to respond to the desire for ongoing conversation, to collaborate with Oduyoye’s work, and to advance continental and diasporan African women’s engagement. They invited a group of six additional persons to a meeting to consider service as the founding board of directors for a new organization. Recognizing the significance of developing a broad reach of the organization, Parker and Ross invited colleagues and intentionally included two persons outside the familiar circle of the religious academy: Andris Salter, an executive for the United Methodist Church unit United Methodist Women, and Shirley Geiger, a retired political scientist. On May 7, 2013, Salter, Geiger, Ross and Parker were joined by Katie Geneva Cannon, Meredith Coleman-Tobias, Angela Sims, and Sharon Watson Fluker to organize The Africa’s Daughters Fund. Rosetta Ross was elected to chair the board. (Upon learning of another organization named The Africa’s Daughters Foundation, the board unanimously agreed to change the organization’s name to The Daughters of the African Atlantic Fund on December 13, 2013.) During its organizational year, directors collaborated to think through The Daughters’ identity, develop bylaws, mission and vision statements, and draft guidelines for organizational processes. Ross secured The Daughters’ legal status in 2013 by incorporating the organization in Georgia and acquiring United States tax identification. She successfully obtained the The Daughters’ tax exemption as a US501(c)(3) charity by September 2014. As the organization developed – incorporating the biennial consultation among its regular programming, determining to collaborate with continental and diasporan women through partnerships of support for their work, expanding its board, seeking to identify resources, etc. – directors organized a public launch of The Daughters during a fund-raising and friend-raising breakfast celebration at the November 2014 San Diego, California, American Academy of Religion Meeting. Since that time The Daughters has lived and is living out its mission through focused bylaws, affirmation of younger African descended women as key leaders on the board (a practice that consciously follows the example of late-mid-20th century predecessors), developing consultation themes that provide opportunities to address realities continental and diasporan African women and girls currently face, efforts to publish proceedings of the consultations, and fundraising.