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A Plea to Internationalize Our Black Youth

A Plea to Internationalize Our Black Youth

By Carlton E. McLellan

Michael Jordan, Oprah, Muhammad Ali — three African Americans that most of the world recognizes. However, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Powell’s successor Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan are probably equally as recognizable around the world. They are not just prominent Black leaders in their respective countries, they are leaders in the global arena and should serve as inspiration to Black youth about the value of international education.

If the United States expects to gain back the respect of the world that it has lost as a result of the War in Iraq, among other things, we must encourage our youth to learn about world events, regardless of their long-term professional goals. We must convince them that it is vital that the world have an opportunity to see other Black Americans in leadership roles.

In 1990, while still serving as president of Spelman College, Dr. Johnnetta Cole in her opening remarks at the 43rd International Conference on Educational Exchange said something that will forever stick with me.

Said Cole: “For without increased numbers of Black and other minority students in study-abroad programs, we present to the people of other lands a most distorted view of who America’s people are … when Black students study abroad, they — like all students — gain extraordinary insights and experience extraordinary personal growth.” 

Although Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are probably among the most visible African-American leaders in the global arena, there are countless others in the African-American community who are committed to ensuring young people have international experiences. U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., Dr. Johnnetta Cole, now president of Bennett College, and Mark Chichester, director of the Institute for International Public Policy at the United Negro College Fund Special Programs Corp. have spoken out about the importance of international education for people of color specifically, and for American citizens in general.

As educators, it is incumbent upon us not to be complacent and reactionary, but proactive when it comes to the education and empowerment of our young people. Encouraging their participation in international education activities, and working to provide such opportunities for our young people is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can do.

Let’s not wait until the “research shows” or the “studies show” that international education experiences have a profound effect on those who participate. Let’s actively encourage our youth to take part in these types of activities. Let’s ensure that tomorrow’s leaders understand that international educational experiences can and do lead to personal growth, empowerment and achievement.

Finally, as educators, let’s step up to the plate and strongly encourage those directly involved in education and foreign policy to make urgent the implementation of international education activities into the curricula at all educational levels. We must ensure that the next generation of people of color have input into world affairs and opportunities to discover first hand that what goes on in the world does have an impact on life here in the United States.

Carlton E. McLellan is pursuing his doctorate in international education policy at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

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