On Friday morning, June 24, it looked like a United Nations of Africa had convened in the Manzulli Board Room in Wagner College’s Foundation Hall.
Their names, countries, and national flags displayed in front of them, this group of “global change agents,” as President Guarasci called them, explained one by one the amazing work they do to improve education, health, democratic governance, human rights, and many other areas of need in their home countries.
This marks the third year that Wagner College has hosted a such a group through the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. In 2016, this fellowship program has brought 1,000 dynamic people from Africa to 40 colleges across the U.S. to spend six weeks on leadership training and mentoring.
This year’s Wagner group includes 25 people from 20 countries. (Read more about the fellows at Wagner.) “This is the third year of Mandela Fellows at Wagner College, and we have made them international ambassadors for Wagner College,” President Guarasci noted with pride.
Wagner offers an academic institute on civic leadership, mirroring the Port Richmond Partnership. In talking with the Mandela Washington Fellows, Guarasci emphasized how much they share in common — not only with each other, but also with the Wagner College community.
For example, Josphat Namtenda, who is a filmmaker by profession, described his work with young people who live in Kibera, a huge urban slum in Nairobi, Kenya. He co-founded the Slum Film Festival, which allows youth from the slums to have a platform to tell their stories.
Guarasci compared Namtenda’s work to the Sound of Port Richmond community theater group that Wagner College launched in partnership with local residents who write and perform theatrical works to share their stories.
Other fellows described working to advocate for people with disabilities, improve access to education, provide health care to underserved communities, use the arts to engage youth, and more. As Guarasci noted, their interests and issues correspond closely to the goals of the Port Richmond Partnership, which is focused on immigration, education, health, economic development, and the arts.
“You are the change agents globally. These are the issues we all have to attend to. And you inspire me,” he said.
The Mandela Fellows will be in residence at Wagner College until July 31.
— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine, June 24, 2016