A former DC city council member spoke to a crowd of international leaders from the Middle East.
Former Ward 1 council memberDr. Frank Smith, Jr. gave a presentation on African-Americans in the US from the US Civil War to the Civil Rights period. The presentation was given to youth leaders from the Middle East and North Africa, who are in DC as part of a program called Leaders for Democracy Fellows (LDF). The event was held at the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum.
The meeting was organized by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), a DC-based international non-profit organization operating in nearly 30 countries. The organization has created the Search for Common Ground on Race component, which aims to heal racism in the United States, but also create opportunities for people from around the world to learn of constructive ways to building peace.
In a Search for Common Ground press release, it states:
The purpose of the visit is to acquaint the group with the struggle for freedom and for democracy at a pivotal time in American history. According to Democracy Fellow and Search for Common Ground Intern Dala Ghandour, a lawyer from Lebanon, she looks forward to visiting the Museum to hear the story of struggle of African Americans in the US, from such a prominent individual in the African American DC community. For her, knowing history is crucial to understanding the present challenges in our societies, and brings nuance and complexity to that understanding.
While Smith was in the DC Council, he worked tirelessly to establish a national memorial for African Americans who fought, died, and served in the Civil War. The end result was the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum, which was dedicated in 1998, and he serves as its executive director. The civil rights activist now has an opportunity to follow is dream of honoring African-Americans and their contributions during the Civil War, and he also has a chance to inspire others on a more global stage.
Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia, Palestine, and Syria are just a few countries that were represented, and many of program participants said they saw many similarities between the African-American Civil Rights period and the countries they represent.
Fellow Muna A. AlBuloushi, who teaches English in Kuwait, said "It reminds me of a lot of similarities in the Arab World. I don't mean the color issue, but another issue which deals with the structure of government, money and finance, and what rights belongs to the people; and for these things people in our countries are being killed."
Another fellow, Salma Nazzar, said, "For me, I'm Palestinian and I see the connection, because the African-American went through a lot during the civil rights movement, and my hope is that it will motivate Palestinians to fight for our rights in a positive and less harmful way."
She also added, "We as Palestinians have been misinterpreted during our struggle to get our freedom and have been entitled as terrorists which is not true."
Fellow Dala Ghandour, who's doing an internship at SFCG, remarked, "The program is made up of twenty Arab activists and each of us are doing great things in each of our respective countries. Dr. Smith talked eloquently about the civil rights, and right now many of our countries are going through a restructuring and many of feel that hearing about the civil rights period from a civil rights activist simply shows our similarities; our global unity."
Ghandour, who works as an attorney in Lebanon, says she's very excited about being in the District of Columbia.
"I think coming to the museum is very important because people have a chance to see another part of America's history; America's different communities," she said. "You have the Asian culture, you have the African-American culture, and etcetera. Each community has their own challenges and beauty, so its important for us global travelers to have a chance to learn about all the differences and diversity in America - especially the history of African-Americans because their history is rooted in change, overcoming so much, and progress."
Search for Common Ground's mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict: away from adversarial approaches, toward cooperative solutions.
"The LDF program is wonderful, and being here today listening to Dr. Smith has been a great experience," AlBuloushi said. "For me it would be accepting others more and being even more open minded."
Yedder agreed and added, "It shows how you can unify your people, so that you have the same goal."
The Syrian fellow commented that the experience shows just important it is to not give up on changing things, because we struggle for our dignity and to be recognized every day.
When asked what the group wanted Washingtonians to learn from their experience in DC, the Kuwaiti fellow said, "The most important thing to remember is we are just like you. Yes, we have oil at home, but we have the same day-to-day issues like the people in Washington, DC. We have the same problems of injustice that African-Americans and other minorities face too."
Yedder concluded things by saying, "We are peaceful people, and like Washingtonians, we are seeking our rights. We are educated, civilized and don't generally fit the sterotype that most people may put on us."
Smith represented Ward 1 on the DC Council from 1982 to 1999.
The African American Civil War Memorial & Museum was dedicated in 1998,and is located at: 1925 Vermont Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Those interested can reach the museum via phone: 202-667-2667
On Friday the museum will conclude its four-part lecture series on a secret African de-scent organization that sought to end slavery in the U.S. To many, the secret organization became the single most important source of military intelligence during the Civil War. The lecture “For Light and Liberty,” will be given by Hari Jones. To learn more, check HERE.
The Leaders for Democracy Fellows aids the global leaders of tomorrow with detailed access, information, and first-hand knowledge of the US democratic process. The program also helps to strengthen their leadership skills, broaden their understanding of the world, and position themselves as successful innovators inn their home countries and across the region. The LDF program is divided into two major components. The Fellows spend four weeks at Syracuse University and the remaining time in Washington, DC.
Emna Ben Yedder is also involved with Bus Citizen, you can learn more HERE.
If you have any direct questions or are interested in interviewing the fellows, feel free to contact SFCG on Race's Project Director Jeanné Isler at 202-777-2229.