Bio + Initiative
Memhert Ts’gie Mariam was born Rachel Titilayo Leslie in the 11th Arrodisement of Paris in France to a Jamaican father, Professor Joshua Allensworth Leslie and Nigerian mother Professor Omolara Ogundipe Leslie (i.e. In true Pan-African style, she always underscores that her grandfather’s mother was a Sahelian migrated from East Africa and that she is just three types of Ethiopian – African) . At the young age of seven years old her parents separated and she was raised solely by her Jamaican father into adulthood in the United States with frequent visits to Jamaica. Her father re-married in her childhood to an African-American woman from Mississippi. At the time of her birth her father was completing his PhD in Mathematics and would become the first man of African descent to do so. Her mother has become one of Africa’s premier womanists and poets. Although both of her parents were raised in the Anglican Church, by the time that she was born in the late Sixties in Paris, both of her parents had become Marxist-socialists atheists. They were pan-Africans who were enthusiastic about the opportunities that the combined force of the struggle of the world’s workers and the independence movements of formerly colonized African and Caribbean countries posed for Africa and its Diaspora. The dynamic deconstructionist and revolutionary spirit of Paris of the late Sixties and Seventies was the environment into which she was born. Christianity was associated with the colonization and enslavement of Africa. She was never baptized. She was never allowed to enter a Church.
When her father was tenured at Northwestern University in the Department of Mathematics, she then spent her adolescence again exposed to the dynamism of the intellectual debates and conversations that arose out of the United States Civil Rights Movement via the “Black House” (i.e. the old Victorian building that housed the Department of African American Affairs and many rousing evening meetings) on Northwestern University campus. At this time, she began avidly reading and discussing the works of Civil Rights thinkers and African negritude activists. As a high school student she discovered and read the works of civil rights’ writers and activists like Malcolm X and Angela Davis – who she would, in fact, later meet and converse with at Northwestern University when she was leading the African – American student council. As a leader of the student council, she also arranged for the Nation of Islam to speak at the campus and orchestrated dialogue with leading rabbis in the community. Inkata from South Africa visited the campus during her term as well. Angela Davis’s biography had a profound effect on her, even inspiring her to eventually study Philosophy in Germany, as Angela Davis had with Professor Marcuse in Frankfurt.
When she was nine or ten years old she had discovered the Platonic Dialogues. As a young person she was inspired and amazed by the life of Socrates wandering the agora in ancient Greece in search of the Truth through dialogue with people. This seemed to be a fitting purpose for life – The search for the Truth. This became her paramount mission and she became an avid reader of philosophical texts. That same year she would have a spiritual experience that she discusses at length in her upcoming biography that many have been pressuring her to write. However, she claims that the work on Kushitic Ethiopian theology and the practice of the faith should take precedence. In any case, the Platonic Dialogues and the works of Plato and Aristotle began her journey into the study of Philosophy. Throughout high school she also read the biographies of civil rights leaders as she read the likes of W.E.B. Dubois and Franz Fanon gaining a pride and intellectual confidence in her Pan-African heritage.
She made the decision to return to Africa when she was about seventeen years old. While reading of Marcus Garvey, a family crisis made her decide that it was of the utmost importance that she get to know her mother and her African family and heritage. Up until that time, had not been given the opportunity to get to know her Yoruba (and she would learn, also Sahelian) family and heritage at all. She devised a plan to go to Nigeria to find her mother which would lead to her studying at University of Ile-Ife under the kind guidance and care of Nobel Prize Laureate Wole Soyinka and Professor Dipo Fashino in the Philosophy Department at Ile-Ife University. She also studied African Philosophy and Religion at that time and was afforded the opportunity to learn about Ifa, a West Africa religion which has its sacred city as Ile-Ife. During that time she also joined the Hunting and Fishing Club and learned the life cycles of the rural West African village. A coup d’ e stat led to a closing of the university. When University of Ile – Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) was closed down, she returned to the United States and applied to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where she continued her studies of Philosophy and Theology. As she studied philosophy and became a very active student in the Department, she became particularly enthusiastic about the German philosophers that she read. Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche were her favorites to read, debate and discuss and she became determined to be able to read them in the original to be sure that she was not losing any of the intended meaning through the process of translation. She decided to minor in German Language and Culture which led her with the encouragement of her German professors who were impressed with her aptitude in German, to compete for and win a scholarship to study at University of Munich in Germany.
The exchange program between Northwestern University and University of Munich had been established after WWII by Chancellor Adenauer and President Roosevelt towards promoting cross-cultural fertilization. As a student at University of Munich she continued her studies of Philosophy and Theology and began to read German literature enthusiastically. From Munich she traveled to Greece and Italy and experienced the spiritual and intellectual freedom that living outside the categories of American society and racism afforded her. She met and married a German graduate student and remained in Germany for eleven years. During that time she began graduate studies at the University of Munich. The dichotomy of mind and body and the nature of reality itself, as well as theories of consciousness seemed the most important to her for understanding the Truth about reality and our ability to know it. She began to outline a Phd thesis about the nature of reality and consciousness while reading Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophy of Science. During that time she also took some courses in Egyptology in Munich which together with the Berlin collection hosts one of the world’s most important collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts and Egyptological texts.
As she read and contemplated the nature of reality and consciousness, it seemed to her that the words themselves that we use to discuss concepts like: matter, mind, body, reality were already laden with our experience of the material world as expressed through the prism of first and foremost our senses and then, also through European language, scientific materialism and historical experience. The words and concepts themselves which were the medium for communicating our understanding of reality proved already intrinsically comprised of set ideas. Words themselves appeared to present a contemplative barrier of sorts. In that moment, she decided in all innocence, openness and humility of mind to meditate and pray. She asked, “If there were a God, that He/She/It reveal Itself/Herself/Himself to her”. During that moment of meditation and prayer she began to have a spiritual awakening that led her to sustained fasting, meditation and prayer. The experiences or calling that she had eventually led her to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Munich led by Qesis Mesfin Feleke. After it was made so dramatically apparent to her that there could be reality beyond the conditions of human senses and perception she suspended her Phd thesis which was based on scientific – materialist and atheist convictions and began down the path of study, meditation and above all revelation. She embarked on the path of a mystic. So began one of the most pivotal and definitive times in her life. In 1996 through a long series of what we believe, can only be called miracles, she was led to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Munich and began her study and practice of the orthodox faith. She decided that she wanted to know and understand what was happening to her and to understand her faith deeply and live close to the God in whom she now believed. Also, the knowledge of a Christian Church in Africa that has its roots in a country that also once had Judaism as its national religion, inspired her deeply. She was finally baptized by Abuna Yohannes in London, England. After prayer and meditation on the matter, the archbishop told her that he could not give her to a person because St. Mary wanted her for Herself, so she was baptized Ts’gie Mariam which means “the Rose of St. Mary” and St. Mary is her godmother. Mimerte Ts’gie Mariam sold all that she had of value and with her young son Tristan (i.e. also baptized to the Archangel St. Michael, “Haile Michael” which means the power of St. Michael) went to live and study with the priesthood in the Ethiopian monasteries. After spending almost two years learning and studying her faith, Amharic and the Gi’iz alphabet in Ethiopia, she taught Philosophy for a year at Addis Ababa University and worked as a consultant for the African Union, UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ethiopia for a little over a year. Political unrest and instability in the country and at the university in particular led to her leaving Ethiopia.
During her time as a consultant at the African Union and with the UN, she worked in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation and began working on an appreciative approach to developing and organically modernizing endogenous African conflict resolution institutions. She contended that institutions like the Church and the priesthood as well as the endogenous court systems were conflict resolution institutions that could be evolved to solve modern problems. Moreover, she conceived them as institutions for psychological and spiritual healing. She developed a project for the African Union and the UN to study endogenous justice systems in order to explore how they could be used to solve and/or manage modern African disputes and challenges and solve problems that challenged western diplomatic systems and institutions. Working on these projects afforded her another opportunity to experience rural Ethiopian life cycles and institutions.
Since her return to the United States seven years ago, Memhert Ts’gie Mariam, because of the constant encouragement and advice of spiritual friends and mentors who are close to her, has decided to share the knowledge that she has been privileged to gain access to over the years about our Kushitic – Ethiopian – African institutions and knowledge systems.
She continues to find that all of the leading educational institutions that she has examined so far, remain seeped in the historical models, approaches and principles that were developed during the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism. As such, she finds that these institutions have not yet fully critiqued, adjusted or abandoned models, principles and approaches that were often based on racism and White supremacy (i.e. the a priori belief that Western civilization and often all things western are superior, advanced and desirable than all others and that European or “White” races are the origins of civilization). Although she has found scholars scattered at various institutions that she would like to work with, she has yet to find a department that she believes would be a conducive environment to her doing her best work on the subject matter. She has found that within the academy within the United States, scholars who propose paradigm shifting original theses in the humanities spend much of there efforts reacting to the status quo. With the reference system as it is and the lack of access to first ____ data, one can spend years simply reacting to suspect claims and positions of academicians with spurious intentions that have become entrenched “authorities” in the Academy, rather than boldly charting a new scientific path forward and making a real and valuable contribution to the body of knowledge and our collective pursuit of the Truth.