Crafting Change Agents Through Dialogue in South Africa and the US
Over the past year, in collaboration with my friend, Isabel Morgan, we founded Crafting Change Agents (CCA), as a means to provide opportunities for civic engagement and leadership development for underrepresented undergraduate students. We envision a transnational social justice network of youth scholar‐activists that support knowledge-sharing of strategies to advance social justice efforts. With the #RhodesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName and many other youth-spurred movements challenging the status quo, this is an opportune time for us to create a network of talented visionaries and passionate youth voices. Our work focuses on the intersections of two communities and how their lived experiences converge and diverge.
Crafting Change Agents is a youth-led program that serves as a cross-cultural dialogue between black American (US) students and coloured* South African (RSA) students. This project aims to better understand the ways in which minority groups function within democratic societies and how greater participation in democratic processes can encourage peace. In order to promote social cohesion and the building of inclusive societies it is imperative that safe spaces be created where both intra- and inter -group conversations can be held. The goal is for both groups to gain a better understanding of one another’s culture and to better define their position within their community and political activism spaces.
CCA is structured into two phases. In April 2015, selected scholar-activists participated in Phase I of the program. In Phase I, six students from Spelman, Morehouse and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health engaged in weekly-structured digital conversations with seven students from the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape to explore US and RSA history, critical race theory, and political and community activism. US students traveled to Cape Town to meet their RSA colleagues to participate in Phase II of the program.
During May-June 2015 in Phase II of the Crafting Change Agents program, six U.S. students embarked on a journey to Cape Town, South Africa to bond and create lasting friendships with seven South African students. Scholars had the opportunity to meet with an academic professor, the U.S. Consul General, a journalist, a filmmaker, instructors and school administrators and community youth activists to bring to life their scholarly understanding of the Black experience in South Africa. Scholars were challenged to question and embrace their identities; to dialogue about the social barriers that hinder progress toward true equity; and to empower one another and promote social justice in their respective fields, including but not limited to law, public health, public diplomacy and foreign relations. Likewise, American students shared their experiences as being black in America and what that means in 2015 to various South African audiences.
Additionally, students were able to explore these questions through an inter-disciplinary approach at our poetry event at the District 6 Museum. Perhaps, one of the most memorable moments of the exchange was during the Night of Reflection, held at the symbolic District Six Museum. The event attracted over 100 guests and showcased talent from local artists and screened a short film on displacement in South African flats, sparking a discussion about privilege and oppression. Our scholars led a rich dialogue with the audience using a participatory exercise, selecting 10 people from the audience to form a line. A volunteer was then asked to arrange the individuals by level of privilege in South African society, simply based on their appearance. This kind of exercise promotes genuine discussion about privilege and also allows for an exchange of how relative it can be given differences in lived experiences. Overall, the students used poetry and art to spark meaningful conversations about the topics in order to truly challenge their understandings of race, identity, and social justice.
Without genuine dialogue, the dynamic of change is not sustained, and diversity is lost as a result of self-enclosure. Through this program, youth were able to find similarities in the points of intersection between their lived realities, social justice spaces, histories, and nationalities. Isabel and I thought that the students would have been initially divided by these differences and needed time to “warm up” to each other. However, the students acknowledged their differences and quickly moved forward with their dialogues about race, identity, and social justice. The differences are the spaces “in between”, yet these spaces served as the heartbeat to the program. The points in between were the very points that served to unite.
About the blog contributors:
Tayler Ulmer is currently pursuing her masters in cialismax.com the Social Anthropology of Development at SOAS, University of London. Her research explores tourism as a tool for international development. Tayler is a Marshall (’15) and Truman (’13) Scholar. Tayler is a black girl without borders. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling the world and baking delicious treats!
Follow Tayler: LinkedIn
Isabel Morgan is a Master of Science in Public Health student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, studying disparities in maternal and child health research. Most recently she served as a Healthy Equity Fellow in the Nemours Office of Health Equity and Inclusion. Her future career path will likely be guided by her commitment to improving health equity in communities of color, grounded in strong collaborations with community stakeholders.
Follow Isabel: LinkedIn