Curry Professors Help Young African Leaders Explore Innovative Civic Leadership

Derrick AlridgeA lecture on Martin Luther King and his legacy of civil rights activism kicked off Friday morning’s agenda, as the 25 members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) – Washington Fellows wrapped up their first week at the University of Virginia.

The topic of the morning was social movements and public advocacy for civil and human rights. In the opening talk, Derrick Alridge, professor of the history of education in U.Va.’s Curry School of Education, highlighted some of the less-celebrated facets of King’s activism, such as his opposition to the Vietnam War—a stand which ultimately diminished King’s public popularity.

“The YALI fellows were very inquisitive about the role the civil rights movement played in social movements in their respective countries,” Alridge said.

Njeri Gateru, head of the legal department of the National Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (Kenya), for example, said that she must consider the possibility that her human rights advocacy could someday have consequences like those King experienced.

“I learned a lot from them regarding how to think more seriously about the civil rights movement as a global social movement,” Alridge said. “The YALI fellows tremendously influenced how I will proceed in my research in civil rights studies and education.”

The 13 women and 12 men hailing from 18 different African countries spent last week on Grounds getting to know each other and considering the components of innovative civic leadership, along with its potential consequences.

“At this moment in time it is really important to have cross-cultural communication and opportunities to share ideas about issues that challenge everyone around the world—inequality, human rights, and advocacy for those in marginalized communities,” said Carol Anne Spreen, who organized the academic agenda for the U.Va. portion of the fellows’ visit to the Presidential Precinct. “This is a wonderful opportunity to share stories from different countries and continents and learn from one another. This kind of learning environment is very valuable to everyone involved, including the U.Va. students and faculty who chose to participate.”

Carol Anne SpreenSpreen, an associate professor of social foundations in the Curry School, has concentrated much of her scholarship on educational policy and international development on the African continent for the past 18 years. She has worked with the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and served on the United Nation’s Human Rights Working Group. She has facilitated numerous international exchanges and is an advocate for education rights and social justice both in the U.S. and abroad.

Spreen collaborated on YALI programming with faculty from across U.Va., including the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the College of Arts & Sciences, the Darden School of Business, and the Sorensen Institute.

Six U.Va. students are participating as interns in the first three weeks of the six-week institute, and Curry doctoral student Sahtiya Hammell is assisting with the program coordination and intern instruction. The students not only join the African fellows in all the YALI activities, but will complete a research project or proposal tied to the interests and research needs of one of the YALI fellows.

“This is a really valuable opportunity for Curry students to understand the connections between education and the broader world we live in. By examining the global links between poverty, gender inequality, racism, and other forms of discrimination both here in the US and in parts of Africa, we can see the important role of human rights and civil rights struggles in changing the status quo,” Spreen said.

While Curry has been an incredible environment to experience American education, the YALI program provides an opportunity to learn about different perspectives and issues concerning education internationally, said Winnie McBride, a rising fourth-year student enrolled in the five-year bachelor of arts/masters in teaching degree program who is minoring in Curry’s new undergraduate Global Studies in Education program.

“This program has been such a valuable experience for me because it has reinforced the notion of global education’s importance. So many things can be learned from the exchange of ideas and resolutions between the United States and Africa,” McBride said.

Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and The Presidential Precinct

The Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders is the exchange program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. This program will bring over 500 young leaders to the United States each year, beginning in 2014, for leadership training, academic coursework and mentoring. It will create unique opportunities in Africa to put those new skills to practical use in propelling economic growth and prosperity and strengthening democratic institutions.

The Presidential Precinct is hosting 25 YALI fellows for six weeks this summer for dialog on building civil society. The Precinct comprises the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, Morven, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland, and James Madison’s Montpelier.