LIFE: Spiritually, intellectually and creatively, Abraham(Abiyi) Ford, was a man of many worlds. Born in Addis Ababa to a Barbadian family ofa leading Pan—African activists, Abiyi seamlessly embodied his varied Ethiopian and Caribbean cultural identities, honoring and celebrating both with his personal and professional contributions. As one of a few young boys enrolled in Princess Zenebe Wort] School for girls founded by his mother, Mingon Innis Ford, Abiyi learned the values of service and community that became the guiding tenets of his life. He was trained as a pilot in the US Air Force.
He later graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism and became a founding chair then faculty member of the Department of Radio, Television and Film in the School of Communications at Howard University. As an academic and educator, Abiyi attained the rank of tenured professor, and in his four decades of service developed graduate and undergraduate courses and programs on Film and Journalism, made documentary ﬁlms, published in peer—reviewed journals, and tirelessly mentored students. As a two—time Fulbright Scholar, he conducted research in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia until his retirement from Howard University in 2006.
Professor Emeritus Abiyi Ford then launched into a new chapter of his life, returning to Ethiopia to contribute to national initiatives to expand and
strengthen higher education. He was instrumental in founding a new School of Journalism and Communications, which he served as Dean, overseeing its merging with the Ethiopian Mass Media Training Institute and establishing related undergraduate and graduate programs at Addis Ababa University.
Professor Ford led an academic delegation to expand ties and establish international sister institutions for then-Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts.
From 2007 to 2008, he played a leading role in spearheading the special council and administrative management of the newly created Skunder Boghossian College of Performing and Visual Arts, so named after his Howard University colleague and friend. Professor Ford reactivated talks with the Canadian Film Institute in Quebec, building lasting institutional partnerships to provide support for the creation of a ﬁlm program.
In 2011, he shaped the saw ventilators ﬁrst—ever graduate level ‘ program in Film Production at the Addis Ababa University’s Alle School of Fine Arts and Design where he continued to serve as guest professor and mentor generations of upcoming ﬁlmmakers. Beyond his professional accomplishments and contributions, Abiyi was a passionate musician and familiar presence at performance venues in Addis Ababa, often sitting in with notable Ethiopian musicians Abegasu Kebrework Shiota and Henok Temesgen.
He would pack his heavy drums and head to Washington DC’s Malcom X Park jam sessions, reveling in the Cuban, Caribbean and West African mix of sounds and communities. For decades, he hosted a steady gathering of musicians, poets and artists in the basement of his home in Fort Washington, and later in his studio in Addis. His joy of playing melodies on the piano, or working our complex rhythms on his conga and djemb drums was palatable,and complemented his easy going nature and ability to ﬁnd excitement in the moment.
LEGACY: Abiyi’s storied legacy begins with his parents. In the 19203, his father Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford was a noted activist in Marcus Mossiah Garvey’s Pan-African movement and a prominent member of the black Jewish community in Harlem. He served as musical director of the Universal Negro Improvement Association founded by Garvey, and heeded the movement’s ‘Back to Africa’ call to arrive in Ethiopia and perform for Emperor Haile Sellassie’s coronation in 1930. Mignon Ford arrived one year later to work as secretary on Rabbi Ford’s ongoing projects and they married soon after. Rabbi Ford fell ill and died on the eve of the second Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but not before he made his wife promise to stay and share the fate of their adopted homeland.
Mrs. Ford participated in resistance efforts. Following Ethiopia’s victory, in 1941 she founded Bere Ouriel School along with Caribbean friends Amelia “Nani” Jane Foster and Alberta “Nani” Thomas, in a single room with a few desks and chairs and no teaching materials. In 1943, with support from Empress Menen, the school was expanded and renamed Princess Zenebe Worq School after the royal couple’s deceased second daughter, and dedicated to girls’ education. Mrs. Ford mentored a generation of young Ethiopian women professionals, instilling the values of education, ethics, hard work, and public service. The Ford family’s two sons, Yosef and Abiyi carried these values forward in their lives and works.
” COMMUNITY: The Ford family ethos was an inclusive one that embraced and celebrated all aspects of African cultures and identities. From their ﬁrst sojourn across the oceans to their remarkable contributions across generations, Mignon, Arnold, Yosef and Abiyi have built community wherever they have set down roots. Rabbi Ford nurtured communities of faith and activism, dedicating his life to the betterment of his beloved Promised Land, Ethiopia. Beyond her role as educator, Mrs. Ford was mother to many young Ethiopians whom she raised as family members. As social justice advocate, Yosef worked to alleviate the hardships of relocation for Ethiopian refugees and immigrants in the United States. As scholar and educator, Abiyi generously contributed decades of his knowledge and expertise to building academic institutions and programs for Africans at home and in the diaspora, mentoring students, and sharing creative space with ﬁlmmakers, musicians, poets and painters. Abiyi has continued to forward the legacy of Pan-Africanism through the Mignon Ford Foundation established to memorialize the life and work of his morher in Ethiopia.
His daughter Miniabiy and grandson Fasil share Abiyi with this extended community which will continue to celebrate the family’s legacy and honor the values for which they dedicated their lives.
Source: Andrew Lawrence Facebook page