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The Leaders Lead On-Demand Program: Zewdi

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

The Leaders Lead On-Demand Program: African Descendant Social Entrepreneurship Exchange in the U.S. 2023


Leaders Lead On-Demand, as the name suggests, is an on-demand leadership development program specifically aimed at entrepreneurs, business leaders, and innovators. It provides in-depth training, effective tools, and resources to drive the growth and success of businesses. In March 2023, I had the privilege of participating in the Leaders Lead On-Demand program, which focused on "African-Descendant Social Entrepreneurship." The program brought together 100 social entrepreneurs from around the world, providing a platform for exchange, sharing best practices, and collaboration to promote the International Decade for People of African Descent.

The Leaders Lead On-Demand Program: African Descendant Social Entrepreneurship Exchange in the U.S. 2023
African Descendant Social Entrepreneurship Exchange in the U.S. 2023

The Leaders Lead On-Demand program began in Baltimore, Maryland, where on the first day, we visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. It was an incredible experience that showcased the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history. The museum made it clear how African Americans were terrorized because of their skin color. From slavery to the present day, they had to endure immense struggles. Despite it all, they created their own universe and enriched the world with their creativity and activism, whether through music genres like jazz, rock, or house. I also learned about the Gullah Geechee language, which originated from West Africa, specifically Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

Gullah Geechee brought rice cultivation to America. Words like Gambo, Juju, Yamjigger, or Gumbo, still found in African American language, were fascinating.

Furthermore, in the museum, one could directly trace the connection to the African continent and see its influence on the identity of African Americans. The history of African Americans who fought against the Nazis during World War II, such as Vernon J. Baker or John R. Fox, who received the Medal of Honor, was particularly interesting. The museum provided a deep insight into the history and contribution of African Americans to American culture and world history. It was a moving experience that helped me better understand the significance of African American culture and its impact on society today. Exploring the museum's exhibits also highlighted the role social entrepreneurship has played in African American history.


Baltimore


In Baltimore, we had the opportunity to participate in a three-day workshop at the Morgan Business Center Graves School of Business and Management, a traditional Black university. Founded in 1867, Morgan State University is a research institution that educates a diverse student body and offers over 140 academic programs leading to bachelor's through doctoral degrees. In these three workshops, participants had the opportunity for a roundtable discussion with the Department of State. Initially, we identified the needs of African-descendant communities and developed an understanding of the social issues they face in various locations. Then, we discussed ideas on how social entrepreneurship can address these identified challenges.

During the discussions, it became clear that there are different notions of identity and community belonging. Some participants, including those from Mexico, described their situation and informed others that the Mexican government denies the existence of Afro-Mexicans, and there is little data available on how many actually exist. They pointed out that most Afro-Mexicans live in precarious conditions. These insights underscored the need to advocate for the recognition and support of marginalized communities and address their needs. The workshop provided a platform for the exchange of experiences and perspectives to develop innovative approaches, utilizing artificial intelligence, data, and technology for the common good and funding social entrepreneurship as a tool for positive change in affected communities. It was impressive to see participants from different countries and backgrounds sharing their experiences and working together to find solutions. This workshop highlighted the importance of building collaboration and solidarity among different communities to achieve common goals of equality, recognition, and social progress.



Afterwards, we watched a film screening and a panel discussion with the protagonists of "Descendant" (2022). The film and the discussion were of great importance to the global African diaspora and the fight for justice. "Descendant" is a historical documentary film directed by Margaret Brown in 2022. The film tells the story of Africatown in Alabama and the descendants of the last known enslaved Africans who were brought to the United States aboard the Clotilda. During the film screening, I learned shocking details that some of the enslaved people came directly from Benin and were sold by the Agojie warriors. This underscores the cruel reality of slavery and the direct connections between African and African-American history. The film "Descendant" gives these descendants a voice and tells their stories in a moving way. The subsequent panel discussion was a valuable opportunity to discuss the significance of the film and reflect on the impact of slavery on today's society. The film's protagonists shared their personal experiences and their commitment to addressing the past, acknowledging the suffering of their ancestors, and fighting for justice and equality.


It was deeply impressive to see how this film heightened awareness of historical events and the ongoing impact of slavery. It also showcased the power of art and film as a means to tell stories that are often overlooked or underrepresented. The film screening and panel discussion encouraged all of us to continue advocating for justice, honoring history, supporting the descendants of enslaved African Americans, and understanding the complex relationship with the African continent. It is crucial to tell such stories to develop a better understanding of the past and the connection to the African diaspora and to work towards a fairer and more inclusive future. The film "Descendant" reminded us that the fight for justice and the recognition of the dignity of all people must never end.


We decided to book a tour called the "Baltimore Black History Tour" to learn more about the city. During the tour, we visited the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, Orchard Street (a historic part of the Underground Railroad), the Billie Holiday statue, and Ave Bakery. Baltimore is a predominantly black city that has experienced many disadvantages due to gentrification. Our guide told us about Frederick Douglass, a former slave who later became an abolitionist and writer. He left a lasting impact on the city of Baltimore and advocated for social housing for black people to support the precarious lives of many. Additionally, we learned about Billie Holiday's tragic childhood and her most famous song, "Strange Fruit," which openly denounced the oppression of Black people in the United States for the first time. This song became an anthem for the civil rights movement and highlighted the lynchings and discrimination perpetuated by the so-called Jim Crow laws. The tour was extremely enlightening and provided us with a deeper insight into the history and challenges faced by the black community in Baltimore.

After Baltimore, the participants were divided into three groups. Two groups traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, and split between Southern University New Orleans (SUNO) and Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA). One group traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, for a program organized by Spelman University.


Atlanta


On my further journey, I made my way to Atlanta, Georgia, also known as the "Black Hollywood" of the world and a city of Black success. It was also the birthplace of Martin Luther King. It was an incredibly beautiful feeling to arrive in a city predominantly inhabited and influenced by Black people, success, and peace. The people were incredibly kind, and they called it "southern hospitality" here. When I was asked where I was from, I answered "Germany." To my surprise, an older Black lady who worked at the hotel told me that she herself was in Germany in 1970 because of her husband. Her husband was a GI, and she told me, "The Germans were so nice and friendly. I have fond memories of the country. I was also pregnant at that time." She asked me if I liked Germany and felt comfortable there. Without hesitation, I told her that I would rather stay here.



During our stay in Atlanta, we collaborated with the Atlanta Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), an organization that advocates for political and institutional actions to promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growing metropolis of Atlanta and the American South. We then visited The Gathering Spot ATL, a premier networking venue that brings people together to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. There, we met Kwanza Hall, a former United States Congressman, and Atlanta City Council member, among others. He taught us how to promote collaboration between businesses and disadvantaged communities. His guidance provided practical insights into changing the legal framework for the greater good and the power of networking for the common good. We then visited the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and entered his birth home. It was impressive to be in this beautiful, fairly large house. Martin Luther King grew up in a time of segregation, in an affluent and politically engaged family. His grandfather founded the first high school for Black people in Atlanta since they did not have access to high schools or universities at that time. Despite the hatred he encountered, King dreamed of equality and was propelled by fate to the forefront of the modern civil rights movement. We walked in his footsteps and heard his voice in the church, where he moved hearts and minds and became an instrument for social change.



The guide in his birth home told us that he grew up in an affluent home, contrary to the notion that he was poor. She also told me about her own experience as a soldier in Germany in 1960, and when I asked her what it was like for her to grow up during the civil rights movement, she replied that one day she went to school and everyone went to demonstrations while she stayed home full of fear. Later, one of the participants told us that he knew a nephew of Martin Luther King who worked as a police officer in the same area. He called him, and he came to greet us. We were impressed by his down-to-earth demeanor, and he told us how he carries on his family's legacy in his own way. After our tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, the next day we went to Spelman College, a historically Black women's college and a global leader in the education of African descent women. The college is dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, as well as the intellectual, creative, ethical, and personal development of its students. We received a tour of the college, learning about the origins of traditional Black colleges and universities. They emerged out of necessity as Black people were excluded from the education system, and Black communities established their own universities. It was a somber feeling to learn that at this university, there was a time when Black people were only allowed to drink from a specific fountain. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to engage with Lavonya Jones, the Director of the


Georgia Social Impact Collaborative, Dr. Regine Jackson, the Dean of Humanities, Social Sciences, Media, and the Arts, Professor of Sociology, Dr. Sher R. Gibbs, the Dean of Business and Economics, and Dr. Jenny Jones, the Dean and Professor at the Whitney M. Young Jr School of Social Work (CAU), discussing social impact.


Copyright Spelman College

After our visit to Spelman College, the journey took us to Morehouse College, a private men's college in Atlanta, Georgia. Morehouse College is one of the historic African American colleges and universities and was exclusively attended by African Americans-during the era of segregation. Today, it is one of the four remaining traditional men's colleges in the United States. Morehouse College is particularly known as the educational institution where the later civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. studied sociology and was introduced to the issue of racial segregation by Walter P. Chivers. He learned about Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent resistance from George D. Kelsey, the head of the School of Religion. The college houses a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.'s materials from 1944 to 1968, including handwritten notes, manuscripts of his speeches, and sermons. It was impressive to see this collection and trace the history of college student Martin Luther King Jr. During our visit, we were guided by two wonderful young men who considered Morehouse College a community that shaped them for life. The sense of community was palpable, and we heard a loud voice as a large group of men sang the slogan "Who's House? Morehouse!" It was amazing to learn that Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee also studied at this university.


What impressed us, however, were the reports from the guides that the college often receives terror calls and bomb threats and has been attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan since its founding. It was tragic and traumatic to hear this. Some of us expressed their astonishment at why African Americans had to complain so much and establish Black universities. However, through the on-site visit, they could better understand the necessity and importance of such institutions. Others were shocked to learn that Black people were not even allowed to drink water in a normal environment. Another person expressed their surprise at how people can live in an environment where their existence is endangered. The guide encouraged us to look at the clouds in a monument illuminated by the sun. The clouds represent the problems that haunt us, and the rays of the sun represent us, those who want to change the world for the better. It was inspiring to see so much optimism and love for life in an environment confronted with challenges and dangers. The exchange allowed us a deeper insight into the significance of social impact and how it can be implemented in various fields, including economics, humanities, and social work. The expertise and experiences of the participants enriched our discussion and opened up new perspectives on social engagement and social change.


Los Angeles


As the highlight of our visit to Los Angeles, the trip took us to the Pitch Lab, where we had the opportunity to engage with representatives from UCLA's Black Business Student Association and the Plug in LA incubator. There, we learned about entrepreneurship, innovation, and the support of Black businesses. Following that, we had a roundtable discussion with the Global Initiatives Council of the LA Area Chamber of Commerce. We gained valuable insights from experienced leaders, including Kenneth Wengrod, Vice President for Global Trade and Foreign Investment, Maria Salinas, President and CEO of the LA Chamber of Commerce, Nicole Simonian, Director of the Global Initiatives Council, and Brian Peck from USC Law.


As the crowning moment of our stay, we had the opportunity to meet Mayor Karen Bass at Los Angeles City Hall. Excitedly, we headed there, but unfortunately, she couldn't be present due to a teacher's demonstration. Instead, we were received by Curren D. Price Jr. I was impressed by his manner and respected the fact that the mayor couldn't attend because she was elected to serve the people of Los Angeles. She is known for her dedication, but the meeting also sparked frustration among some participants. Some expressed that their visions and expectations were not fully met. In a discussion that took place two days after our arrival, one participant mentioned being Algerian and unable to identify with African American history. This group felt out of place. Others responded that he wasn't Black either.



Another person noted that the focus was too much on African Americans and not enough on the migrant community. Still, others mentioned struggling to identify as mixed race individuals, while some from Africa stated that the term "African descendant" or "Black" felt unfamiliar as an identity. After this exchange, one participant asked what we should do next. Our task was to independently build a network. Two participants from the New Orleans group presented their idea, leading to a controversial discussion. Another person suggested that next time, only Black people should be invited. In response, someone mentioned the question of being "Black as an identity" and whether one is "Black enough." Many were frustrated, others were overwhelmed by emotions, and we concluded the conversation.


The next day, a participant from Morocco posted a Walk of Fame star of Donald Trump on their social media channels, followed by a "Marokko First" post. This made me uncomfortable, and I wondered if I should report it. Ultimately, I kept it to myself and began reflecting on shaping my own identity.


Overall, our visit to Los Angeles provided a unique opportunity to explore both the entrepreneurial and political sides of the city and gain valuable insights. It was an inspiring experience that encouraged us to further advance our own ideas and initiatives and make a positive impact in our own communities. After arriving at our fancy hotel in Los Angeles, we decided to spend the remaining one and a half days of our trip exploring the city. In the afternoon, we embarked on individual tours, and I chose to join nine other participants on a Hollywood City Tour. We were captivated by the glamour of the city, admiring the mansions, pools, and famous streets of Beverly Hills. Our driver, who was also our tour guide, passionately told us about the city, who lives in the trendy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, and where the stars spend their time. This tour took us through Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. We saw filming locations of movies like "La La Land," "Pretty Woman," "Sister Act," and many others. We admired the magnificent homes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Katy Perry, and many other stars. However, what impressed me was how the stars were idolized like gods and everything revolved around them. Nevertheless, the city of stars is fading as many of them have moved away during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many film studios are relocating. Unfortunately, our tour guide told us that the city is suffering as a result. He pointed out two women and derogatorily mentioned not to take a picture of one of them because she was just a regular wealthy woman and not a star. That made me pensive, and he explained to us that everyone aspires to become successful. However, the flip side of this city is that it has one of the highest homelessness rates in the USA. The next day, I decided to explore the city beyond the glamour. I took a bus and witnessed how precarious life can be for some people. I was confronted with the sad reality as I saw streets filled with homeless individuals, litter, and dirt. It was a completely different picture compared to what we had experienced the day before. During my exploration, I came across a post about the Black Flea Market organized by Kids of Immigrants. I went there, and the atmosphere, the look, everything was so unique, but I had to move on since my flight was in just four hours.




Overall, participating in the Leaders Lead On-Demand program was an enriching experience. It allowed us to form new partnerships, build friendships with people from different countries such as Peru, Colombia, Tanzania, the USA, Brazil, Spain, Japan, and others, and foster a stronger sense of community among participants. The interactive nature of the program was particularly impressive, enabling us to exchange stories, share experiences, and best practices, discuss common challenges, and connect with other social entrepreneurs from around the world. The program also provided valuable resources and tools through its online platform to support social entrepreneurs in implementing their principles, practices, and values in their respective countries.


However, there were also challenges and frustrations during the program. Some participants had different notions of identity, making the exchange difficult. The planning of some interactive sessions left much to be desired, leading to further frustration. For future programs, it may be beneficial to incorporate more social skills training and ensure better planning to avoid these frustrations. Personally, visiting Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Atlanta and Morehouse University was a highlight of the trip for me. I had many beautiful moments with the group and made true friends for life. One of the significant challenges as a team member was the diverse political and ideological views of the participants. While this brought diversity and knowledge, it also led to debates. Participating in this program has inspired me to further expand my entrepreneurial activities and connect people of African descent worldwide through travel. My perception of the United States has changed throughout the program. I have experienced the violence mentally that Black people have faced for over 400 years, which not only persists institutionally but also across generations. The country offers many opportunities but also has its pitfalls. I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and openness of the people on-site, who were willing to share their stories and networks. I have had many beautiful moments and definitely plan to return in the future.


For similar programs in the future, I hope they continue to provide the opportunity to form new partnerships and friendships, foster a strong sense of community, and promote interactive exchange. Additionally, more resources and tools should be provided to support social entrepreneurs in their respective countries.


Thank you U.S. Embassy Berlin and World Learning!


Miriam Fisshaye



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