On Thursday, April 28, 2011 at the Embassy of Ghana, The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa held the first Ambassador Andrew Young lecture series of 2011 entitled “Youth, The Vanguard for Change,” featuring Mr. Michael Blake, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Deputy Associate Director of the Office of Inter-governmental Affairs as well as Ms. Karen Richardson, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. The speakers emphasized the importance of realizing the potential and promise of youth populations, both in the United States and abroad.
His Excellency Daniel Ohene Agyekum, the Ambassador of the Embassy of Ghana and host of the event, provided welcoming remarks while Bernadette Paolo, President and CEO of The Africa Society, served as the Mistress of Ceremony. Joy Scott, a student from School Without Walls in Washington, DC set the electrifying tone of the program with the recitation of a poem written by Lauren Hill, “Motives & Thoughts.” Her classmates, Joy Scott and Bryan King introduced Mr. Michael Blake and Ms. Karen Richardson respectively. The students were excellent representatives of the next generation and their inspiration provided the audience with much hope for the future.
Mr. Blake’s remarks focused on the potential and promise of the next generation. He thanked the youth for being the “generation that will get our people to the next level” and reminded the older members of the audience that it is their responsibility to empower those who come after them. He called on the youth to help lead a paradigm shift in how Americans think and talk about Africa and those of African descent. He spoke about the importance of not letting “our present circumstances define us.” He also emphasized that the youth of today are a necessary and integral component in generating the kind of change we want to see in the societies of tomorrow. He cited the youth led movements in Tunisia as an example of this. He explained, through the words of President Obama, the fundamental interconnectedness of Africa and its peoples to the United States and the greater world at large. Mr. Blake charged the youth to become leaders and inspiration for the rest of the world and gave a moving testimony on his own life experience to inspire the youth to realize their full potential.
Ms. Richardson’s speech focused on the role of youth as a “significant catalyst for political and social change” both domestically and internationally. Ms. Richardson cited the example of the 2008 presidential election in the U.S which saw the largest voter turnout in 3 decades as well as the international example of how a pan Arabic youth movement dedicated to democracy led to a 4 week uprising in Tunisia and culminated in the end of the 23 year and 30 year rule of the Presidents of Tunisia and Egypt respectively. Ms. Richardson also referenced other key youth led movements in African history, such as the formation of an ANC youth league in 1944 by a 26 year old Nelson Mandela and his peers, instrumental in bringing an end to apartheid. Ms. Richardson defined youth populations as being “at the center” of all these changes. Ms. Richardson highlighted the important and undeniable fact that we live in an increasingly globalized world which means that what happens in other countries has significance for us here at home and world at large. Additionally, Ms. Richardson provided insight into President Obama’s outlook on the subject of “Youth as the Vanguard of Change”, reiterating a prior quote by the President that “not only that youth are at the forefront of change but that they are necessary and key active players as change agents.” As well as the importance of civic responsibility engagement by African governments among their young populations to help realize the vision of a peaceful and prosperous Africa.
The night ended with a question and answer session, where both speakers offered substantive and inspirational remarks. After the speakers had finished, The Africa Society Fellows, Ms. Sarah Kuruswo and Aisha Nzibo presented both Mr. Blake and Ms. Richardson with awards for their participation in the Ambassador Andrew Young Lecture Series.