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  • Steven Saum posted an article
    We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine the agency see more

    With our allies in Congress, we’re working to ensure that the administration understands this is no time to return to the status quo. We need diverse and experienced leadership at Peace Corps — and a commitment to reimagine, reshape, and retool for a changed world.

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

     

    Many of us in the Peace Corps community took note of the pledge in President Biden’s inaugural address to “engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And, we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” 

    Those words resonate with the Peace Corps mission, not with a sense of “be like us!” but with a sense of solidarity and commitment to working and learning alongside one another, wherever we serve. One of the messages we’re driving home to members of Congress and the Executive Branch: If we’re reengaging with the world, let’s do it with ideals that are supposed to represent what’s best about this country — even as we work in our communities and at the national level to build a more perfect union. 

    That said, if we value the role of the Peace Corps, we have to be serious about reimagining, retooling, and reshaping the agency for a changed world. As the administration appoints new leadership for the agency, it is critical that it brings on board not only a director but top staff who reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice, and that these leaders come equipped with global experience and a deep understanding of — and commitment to — the Peace Corps community.

     

    Equity, experience, and community

    At the Peace Corps agency, January 20 marked the departure of Director Jody Olsen, who led the agency during unprecedented times, including the global evacuation of Volunteers in spring 2020. Last fall she was optimistic about Volunteers returning to the field as early as January 2021. But by December it was clear that was no longer a possibility. Plans are now for Volunteers to return in the second half of 2021. The health and safety of communities and Volunteers is paramount.

    Carol Spahn has been named Acting Director of the Peace Corps. The Biden Administration has also begun to announce new political appointments. We’re meeting with Spahn and the leadership team as it takes form to ensure that we keep moving forward with the big ideas the Peace Corps community has outlined to meet the needs of a world as it is, not as it was. For Peace Corps, as with so much in this country, now is not the time to return to the status quo. Now is the time for historic changes.

    When many hundreds of members of the Peace Corps community came together in summer 2020 for a series of town hall meetings and a global ideas summit, it was with a sense of an agency, a nation, and a world facing multiple crises. From those meetings came “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” a community-driven report that brings together big ideas and targeted, actionable recommendations for the agency and the Executive Branch, Congress, and the wider Peace Corps community — particularly NPCA. 

     

    Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential.

     

    Past directors of the Peace Corps who served under Democratic and Republican administrations alike have underscored to us that the big ideas put forward here are absolutely essential: that many of them address longstanding issues and sorely needed changes, but there never had been the opportunity to undertake them on a major scale. Now is that time.

    Whom the Biden Administration appoints to top posts at the agency sends a powerful signal to the community. Will the leaders reflect a commitment to equity and racial justice — and a serious commitment to the quarter million strong Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community? Members of Congress who have been champions for Peace Corps funding are watching as well. 

     

    A roadmap for change

    The report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” provides a roadmap for change. While the report is far-ranging in point-by-point recommendations that are grouped into eight separate chapters, here are three overriding themes that emerged. We’re working to ensure that the administration and new staff at the agency take these to heart: 

     

    1. The Peace Corps community must be a leader in addressing systemic racism.

    The Peace Corps agency, like American society as a whole, is grappling with how to evolve so that its work fulfills the promise of our ideals. This means tackling agency hiring and recruitment, and greater support for Volunteers who are people of color, to ensure an equitable Peace Corps experience. It also means ensuring that perceptions of a “white savior complex” and neocolonialism are not reinforced. These are criticisms leveled at much work in international development, where not all actors are bound by the kinds of ideals that are meant to guide the Peace Corps. Conversely, many in the U.S. bristle when hearing these terms; but it’s important to both recognize the context and address them head-on to enable a more effective and welcome return for Volunteers. 

     

    2. The Peace Corps agency needs to stand by its community — and leverage it for impact. 

    The agency’s work is only as good as the contributions of the people who make it run. This does not mean only staff but includes, in particular, the broader community of Volunteers and returned Volunteers. In programs around the world, it absolutely includes the colleagues and communities that host Volunteers. NPCA has demonstrated that it is both possible and beneficial to become community-driven to promote the goals of the Peace Corps. Community-driven programming will keep the work both current and relevant to the world around us, ensuring that the agency succeeds in its mission in a changed world.

     

    3. Now is the moment for the Peace Corps agency to make dramatic change. 

    The opportunity for a reimagined and re-booted Peace Corps now exists and it should be taken.

     

    Who is there to lead the change matters. From the Peace Corps community, this message came through clearly: When it comes to the permanent director, they should be an individual of national stature, preferably a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, who is committed to transformational change at the agency. They must have the gravitas to advance the Peace Corps’ interests with both Congress and the White House while also making the case to the American people about the value of a renewed Peace Corps for the United States — and communities throughout the world.

    In an unprecedented time, the Peace Corps community has come together with an unparalleled response. With the new administration, there are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with years of experience already taking on key roles in the U.S. Department of State, Department of Labor, and National Security Council. These appointments show a value placed on experience and racial equity — and a commitment to leading with the best. Let’s ensure that commitment carries over to Peace Corps as well. 


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A perspective from Guatemala — at the NPCA global ideas summit July 18, 2020 see more

    A host country perspective from Guatemala. Remarks from the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.

    By Luis Argueta

    On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. NPCA invited three winners of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award to share their perspectives. Here are remarks delivered by Luis Argueta — film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. 

    Below is an edited version of his remarks.

     

    We are at an unprecedented situation worldwide because of this pandemic. It is a perfect time to ask some very basic questions about humanity in general and about the Peace Corps in particular. 

    From what I have seen here in Guatemala, the pandemic has revealed the vast differences between a small group of people who have a lot and the large majority who have very little. It has also revealed in its stark nakedness the structural deficiencies of states like Guatemala, where the economic disparities are tremendous. But also where the neglect of the large population for many, many years has caused the current critical situation where, for over 50 years, people's basic needs like education — and today, it's obvious health — have been not addressed.

     

    Watch: Luis Argueta’s remarks at Peace Corps Connect to the Future

     

     

    The response in Guatemala has been to create hospitals and to augment the number of beds that can be occupied by people who are ill with the COVID-19. That looks like a great solution. But in a system where we don't have basic access to minimal healthcare, this is not the solution. 

    By addressing this particular need, and by the Peace Corps focusing on the basic health needs of rural communities, we can start focusing on the future. Because when you need to go to a hospital to treat a minor illness that could be treated by a local health post — when there’s not even a clinic in the rural areas — I think we would be serving the communities in a very different way. 

     

    The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege.

     

    Something that I have been particularly focusing my work on for the past 12-plus years is migration. And these structural deficiencies — these major differences in the country — have provoked what, to me, is one of the most crucial issues of our times: forced displacement, forced migration and asylum seeking. 

    The current situation is not making those things better. And even if borders today are closed, once they open — and we hope that will be sooner than later — people will be forced again to leave their homes. So, again, what is the Peace Corps to do at a time like this? I think it is to go and work at the very basic community level and helping better these conditions that are making it impossible for people to stay at home and be with their family and prosper and be healthy. 

    I don't think that this is a time to be shy about our common links and our historical connections. The same way that in the streets of the U.S. and in other countries — but especially in the U.S. — people are protesting racial inequality and people are coming to terms with our own privileges, it is a time for the Peace Corps to realize that every Volunteer who comes to a host country comes with great privilege. And it is to the betterment of everybody we self-reflect on our position in these communities. 

    At the same time that we self-reflect on our role and our privileges, and the privileges of Volunteers, we should look at the historical ties between the host countries and the U.S. It is a time of many contradictions.

    Guatemalan immigrants, and immigrants from many other countries, are today in the U.S. working — and are considered, in many instances, essential workers. However, they also are risking being detained and deported. They're also suffering the effects of the pandemic in larger numbers, as are other minorities and more vulnerable populations in the U.S. We must recognize this. 

     

    We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world.

     

    We must recognize that the Peace Corps does not operate in a vacuum. It operates as part of a larger government structure — and that, yes, it represents the best America can offer. But it also has to be very conscious of the current image of the U.S. around the world, because of very unfortunate isolationist policies. 

    So at the same time that we're reaching out to host countries — and hopefully, we will be receiving many more Peace Corps volunteers in the future — they're not issuing visas for my fellow Guatemalans to travel to the U.S. There is the threat of cutting visas even for exchange students who pay full tuition at U.S. universities, let alone temporary workers who go pick the crops in the fields of the U.S. So we must be conscious of these contradictions. And we must relearn the history between our countries.

    One of the privileges that we should look at is the fact that, as the pandemic was declared, Peace Corps Volunteers were sent home. Fortunately, they were able to go home and are now with their families. However, this took them away from a place where they had committed to work — and where people without that privilege, that choice, had to remain in a more vulnerable position. 

    Definitely to me, this is a time of meditation, of self-reflection, and self-analysis — and, as hard as it might seem, to look forward to the future with hope. I wish everybody the best now and in the days to come.


    Luis Argueta of Guatemala is a film director and producer whose work helps audiences better understand people on the margins — including “The Silence of Neto,” Guatemala’s first Oscar submission. He is the 2019 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A time to honor the past — and commit to a different future see more

    A time to honor the past — and commit to a different future

    By Glenn Blumhorst

    Illustration by Richard Borge
     

     

    HERE’S A FAMILIAR CELEBRATORY REFRAIN: On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps with the mission of building world peace and friendship. In honor of that beginning, every spring is a time for us to recognize the ways that the Peace Corps has made an impact — in individual lives and in communities around the globe. 

    But this year is different. And an unprecedented time in so many ways.

    One year ago, March brought the global evacuation of Volunteers from communities where they were serving. Communities were bereft, Volunteers heartbroken. Thousands in the Peace Corps community came together in an unparalleled response, assisting evacuated Volunteers in ways big and small. Some of those evacuees were able to help communities across the United States reeling from the pandemic; they began serving as contact tracers, working with food banks, making masks, or later deploying as part of NPCA’s Emergency Response Network in Washington State — and so much more. This May, many begin serving domestically as Peace Corps Response Volunteers, assisting at FEMA community vaccination centers.

    Here at National Peace Corps Association, we rapidly launched the Global Reentry Program one year ago — at the outset to focus on the immediate needs of evacuated Volunteers. The program has expanded to provide broader, more robust support for returned Volunteers — such as counseling, mentorship, career advice, and more.

     

    Future tense

    Last summer we convened a series of town halls and a Global Ideas Summit to ask deep and searching questions about the relevance of Peace Corps in a world profoundly altered by COVID-19—and the systemic inequities the pandemic underscored. Drawing on decades of experience and commitment, members of the community offered concrete ways we might reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps for a changed world. 

    The report distilled from those conversations, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” has provided a road map. Recently it helped shape the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation in decades: the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. John Garamendi to the House of Representatives on March 1. Garamendi served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia. This legislation calls for important reforms, including addressing better healthcare and providing protection for whistleblowers in the Peace Corps. And it calls for the increase in funding that will be necessary for the Peace Corps to help lead the way in reengaging with a world profoundly changed by COVID-19.

    This legislation is one of the concrete ways that the report is yielding results. Several working groups focused on implementing the report—through Congress, the Peace Corps community, affiliate groups, and more — continue their efforts. And in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine, Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn speaks of how the report is already informing work at the agency.

     

    A time of reckoning

    In more ways than one, last year also began a time of reckoning for our nation. And it’s far from over. COVID-19 continues to exact a terrible price, even as vaccines are deployed in the United States. Globally, more than 3 million have died. We continue to witness the crushing toll of systemic racism: in terms of healthcare and economic opportunity, and with people of color being victims of hate crimes, as well as far too often violence at the hands of police. The murder of George Floyd last May was a catalyst for protests across the country and the world. Let us hope that the conviction of his murderer is a step forward on the journey toward justice.

     

    “Empower the people,” Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya reminded us last summer. “That’s the main aim of the Peace Corps.” 

     

    “Empower the people,” Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya reminded us last summer. “That’s the main aim of the Peace Corps.”  

    Here at home, as part of our commitment to service, we have asked members of the Peace Corps community to take a stand to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We renew those calls for reform.

    We know that equity and justice are works in progress. That intentionality matters. That service continues in the communities we call home. And as we look toward the future, we know that it is a sense of solidarity, not charity, that must be the compass by which we steer the Peace Corps. 

    In this anniversary year, thank you to all who have served. Thank you to the people and communities around the world who have undertaken this work together. And thank you for being willing to show the commitment that we all must in the ongoing work of building peace and friendship. It’s work that’s far from finished.

     


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: president@peacecorpsconnect.org 


    This story appears in the spring 2021 edition of WorldView magazine. Sign up for a print subscription by joining National Peace Corps Association. You can also download the WorldView App for free here: worldviewmagazine.org

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    And a conversation on Peace Corps ideals in today’s world see more

    Williams issues a clarion call for building a more inclusive network for global development. And he explores the arc of Peace Corps history in an interview about the documentary A Towering Task.


    By Del Wood and Steven Boyd Saum
     

    We are in an historic moment. The protests against racial injustice that have swept the United States and scores of other countries since the end of May were sparked by the killing of George Floyd — one of so many Black women and men killed by police. The protests erupted with anger and frustration — and not only among Blacks. They have also ushered in the possibility of the United States coming to terms with systemic racism. That transformation needs to be carried over into global development work, writes former Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams. 

    “The diversity of the demonstrators gives me great hope that this could be the pivotal moment in our nation,” Williams observes in an essay published by Devex in June. “They are demanding that we live up to the American dream, and the ideals of democracy, civil rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality that the country was founded on two centuries ago.”

     

     

    Williams also argues that international organizations have a responsibility to transform how they do their work:

    “U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broad-based policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices. They play a prominent role — as principal partners with the U.S. government — in the country’s global leadership, and thus should invest in the diverse human capital of the future that will mirror the true face of our country.”

    Williams served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1967 to 1970 and as Director of the Peace Corps from 2009 to 2012. Read the full essay here.

     


    ‘Transformed my life’: Aaron Williams on Peace Corps history and A Towering Task


    With the screening of A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps in Florida recently, Aaron Williams sat down for a conversation about the film. He supplements the sweeping history of the Peace Corps in the documentary with personal stories. How he, as a young Black man from the South Side of Chicago, headed into Peace Corps with a nearly all-white cohort of Volunteers. Of the powerful impact Peace Corps had in Ghanateaching a young man and inspiring him to become a scientist, then later vice president and president. And he makes the case for Peace Corps ideals as offering a way forward: with understanding what it means to be engaged with the world, and to live out those ideals at home. 

    Here are clips from the conversation with film exhibitor Nat Chediak. 

     

    “My entire career … whether I've been in business, I’ve been in government, I’ve been in the nonprofit world Peace Corps was the trigger for that.”  

     

     

    WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, so I grew up in a working-class family on the South Side of Chicago. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and people expected me to settle down, become a teacher and, you know, have a normal life. Well, I had become intrigued by the Peace Corps by listening to Sargent Shriver’s speeches. And I heard a couple of Kennedys speeches. I was still pretty young when Kennedy was president. But I decided, this is something that I should look into. It sounded like something that would be structured, would give me a chance to learn something about outside of the United States, and it turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime. I mean, truly, truly transformed my life. Everything that I’ve done, Nat, has emanated from the Peace Corps. My entire career … whether I've been in business, I’ve been in government, I’ve been in the nonprofit world — Peace Corps was the trigger for that.

    The other thing about the Peace Corps is that when I arrived out in California, the San Diego State College where I was trained, I was in a group of about 80 or 90 people. I was the only Black person in the group. And I was wondering to myself, those first couple of days, what have I parachuted myself into? I quickly found out, within a week or two weeks there, that I was in the presence of some very special people. People who had self-selected to join in this wonderful enterprise called the Peace Corps, who were interested in making the world a better place, and were open to ideas, to people, to thoughts, and philosophies. That was just amazing. So it was an amazing time. And I trained with some amazing people. Part of our group went to El Salvador, part went to Honduras, the other part went to the Dominican Republic, and we were teacher trainers. So that's how it all emanated. That’s how I ended up in the Peace Corps. 

     

    “And that’s when this young man who became vice president, and ultimately president of Ghana, decided he wanted to become a scientist.”

      

     

     

    WILLIAMS: There’s also a great commonality. And that’s what you really learn in the Peace Corps, right? You learn about the commonality and things that we worry about: our children, the future, good healthcare, aspirations for our children and our family. And you learn that those are the basic common elements that we all share, no matter where you might be born or live on the globe.
      

    Let me tell you a story. I was in Ghana to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. And I went to an event with the then-vice president of Ghana. He had been taught by a Peace Corps Volunteer when he was a young man in elementary school in a remote part of Ghana. Ghana was one of the first countries where Sargent Shriver established the Peace Corps in 1961. So when we arrived at this event, it was to celebrate the Year of the Teacher in Ghana. And a Peace Corps Volunteer was one of the ten top teachers that was being honored, as a matter of fact. And that Peace Corps Volunteer, by the way, her parents had served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Latin America, you know, years before — so what a marvelous confluence of events. As I was waiting in the government house in this regional city to go out to the event with the vice president, I had a couple of talking points I wanted to share with him about the future of the Peace Corps in Ghana and some things that the ambassador had asked me to share with the vice president. And instead, he wanted to tell me a story about how he met this Peace Corps Volunteer.  

    So he’s a young man in this classroom. They had never seen a white person before in the village, and they were worried about this new teacher they had heard about. They wondered, would this man even speak English? Could they understand him? What was this gonna be all about? He comes in and he says: How many people here in this room know how far the sun is from the Earth? And they’re thinking, why is he asking us this? Who knows the answer to this question? Everybody put their heads down, nobody answered. He went up to the board and he wrote on the board: “93.” Then he went around this one-room classroom — with these chalk balls — and he kept circling with chalk until he came back around to the front. He says, “Ninety-three million miles. Don’t you ever forget that.”

    “And that’s when this young man who became vice president, and ultimately president of Ghana, decided he wanted to become a scientist.”

      

    WILLIAMS: He could have told me anything that day, but that’s the story that he shared with me, which I have never forgotten. It was such a stunning, amazing — and it tells you a lot about the impact of the Peace Corps. Now, lastly, when I got back to the States I did everything I could see if we could find this volunteer who had taught him. And we did!


    CHEDIAK: No kidding!


    WILLIAMS: When he came over for a summit of African nations with President Obama, we arranged a reunion with the then-vice president and the Peace Corps Volunteer who taught him in Ghana in that rural school.
     


    CHEDIAK: You're kidding. Were you there? Was it very emotional?


    WILLIAMS: No, I was not there.
     


    CHEDIAK: Ah, okay. Okay, but I can imagine now I'm, you know, what a beautiful moment that must have been for both of them.


    WILLIAMS: It’s a miracle they tracked him down. This is 50 years later.

    CHEDIAK: Oh, my gosh, that’s incredible. That’s a beautiful story.

    “That’s what we bring to the rich tapestry of America when we return home."

     

     

    CHEDIAK: Even in these difficult, nationalistic days — and I’m not talking simply about the U.S. — you know, but it’s something that we have seen in other countries that is a troubling concern. You still feel that the goodwill of men will prevail?
     

    WILLIAMS: I think so, and I think the Peace Corps is really my foundation for believing that. Because I’ve seen people prevail against really tough situations — horrendous conditions, right? Fighting disease, fighting poverty, political unrest, civil war, and they come out the other side, in most cases, better than they were in the beginning. Not in all cases, right — but it happens. So, that’s the reason I continue to be optimistic about the future of the world and mankind. And I’m so proud of Peace Corps Volunteers who have served for almost 60 years in countries around the world, who represent the true face of America and who really understand what it means to be engaged with the rest of the world and to become effective and optimistic global citizens. That’s what we bring to the rich tapestry of America when we return home and what we do in our future careers here at home.

    Watch the full interview here

     

  • Brian Sekelsky posted an article
    An open letter to the Peace Corps community. see more

    The pandemic underscored that we need to foster global solidarity and understanding. But it led to a rising tide of violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. An open letter to the Peace Corps community. 

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    The pandemic has underscored that we need to foster global solidarity and understanding. Ominously, it also sparked an uptick in violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In the past year alone, some 3,800 incidents have been reported, with most of the violence directed against women. 

    For months, some have used hateful rhetoric to exploit the virus and stoke the flames of hate, resentment, and fear. This is unconscionable but undeniable — and, if we’re honest, unsurprising.

    This week brought a new dimension of horror: On Tuesday, a series of shootings at spas in Atlanta and nearby Cherokee County. Eight people were killed by a white male. Six of those murdered are women of Asian descent. Another person was injured.

    We condemn this violence unequivocally. It has caused revulsion throughout the Peace Corps community, and rightly so. But not only that: This unchecked violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders telegraphs to those in the Peace Corps community who are of Asian descent that they, too, could be a target. I have heard from returned Volunteers who are truly shaken.

    After more than a year of witnessing escalating violence against Asian Americans, we must raise our voices and call for an end to this violence — and to the rhetoric that has fueled it. These incidents have taken place across the country, and communities have rung alarm bells again and again.

     

    As I write this, we know four of the names of the victims of the shooting: Xiaojie Tan, who owned Young’s Asian Massage in Acworth, Georgia. She would have celebrated her 50th birthday yesterday. Daoyou Feng, who was 44 and had just begun working in the spa a few months before. Delaina Ashley Yaun, who was 33, and had come to the spa with her husband for a couples’ massage. She was killed; he survived. Paul Andre Michels, an Army veteran who lived in Tucker, Georgia, and was 54; he had recently begun working as a handyman at Young’s Massage. Yong Ae Yue was a licensed massage therapist and was laid off in 2020 when the pandemic hit; she had recently begun working again. She was 63 years old. Hyun Jung Grant was 51 years old and a single mother and worked at Gold Spa in Atlanta; in South Korea, she had been an elementary school teacher. Soon Chung Park had moved to the Atlanta area several years ago and helped manage a spa. She had lived most of her life in the New York area and was planning to move back to New Jersey when the pandemic was over. She was 74 years old. Suncha Kim worked at one of the spas and was 69 years old. She was a grandmother and, according to family, had been married more than 50 years. Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz of Acworth, who was making his way to a money exchange next door; he moved from Guatemala to the United States a decade ago and was critically injured in the attack. 

     

    What does that have to do with the Peace Corps? Everything.

     

    The statistics of the past year are frightening — but the thousands of reported incidents are only that — reported incidents. More broadly, the FBI reported a 20 percent increase in hate crimes over the past four years. And, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, early on in the pandemic the FBI specifically warned of a surge of anti-Asian violence.

    One more disturbing truth is, just a few days later, this is no longer the latest incident of violence against Asian Americans.

    What does that have to do with the Peace Corps? Everything. If we are committed to a lifetime of Peace Corps ideals, we must stand against hate. As we noted early in this pandemic, our nation finds itself faced once more with a brutal truth articulated years ago by Sargent Shriver, who founded the Peace Corps: “We must also treat the disease of racism itself.”

    A California-based coalition, Stop AAPI Hate, began chronicling incidents and gathering resources last year. The New York City Peace Corps Association has shared this toolkit put together by a coalition of anti-hate crime groups. We encourage members of the Peace Corps community to share additional ideas and resources.

    Lawmakers have begun calling for March 26 as a day to speak out against hate speech directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We fully endorse this effort, and we ask all members of the Peace Corps community to join us in marking March 26 as a National Day of Action and Healing. And join us in participating in a worldwide vigil to remember the victims of the Atlanta shooting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. The vigil will be  livestreamed at 326vigil.org.

     

    Let me also say this: It should not escape us that this day of action comes almost exactly three years after the first March for Our Lives event, in March 2018, speaking out against gun violence in the United States. The women and men killed and injured on Tuesday were slain with a gun purchased just before the murders.

    Nor should it escape us that a volunteer coalition in San Francisco’s Chinatown, which last year set out the document and stem the rising tide of violence against Asian Americans, formed under the name United Peace Corps.

    We need to hold ourselves accountable to the ideals that have inspired us — and others.

    And we’ve got tremendous work to do here at home when it comes building peace and friendship.

     

    Story updated March 26, 2021, at 12:30 p.m.


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Communities and Volunteers still feel the trauma. An open letter to the Peace Corps community. see more

    Communities and Volunteers feel the trauma of this disruption. But the pandemic has underscored even more profoundly that we need to foster global solidarity and understanding. An open letter to the Peace Corps community.

     

    By Glenn Blumhorst

     

    Nepal farewell: Training to become Volunteers, Rachel Ramsey, left, and Elyse Paré had to evacuate instead. Photo by Eddie De La Fuente 

     

    Around the world in recent days, we have been marking a truly somber anniversary: It was just over a year ago that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. For the Peace Corps community, the burgeoning health crisis led to something unprecedented as well: On March 15, 2020, the decision to evacuate all Peace Corps Volunteers from across the globe. 

    All told, some 7,300 Volunteers were evacuated from more than 60 countries. Sometimes with just hours’ notice, they were told they needed to pack and leave. 

    Communities were bereft; Volunteers were heartbroken, stunned. At the same time, so many rose to the occasion — communities and returned Volunteers alike, reaching out in solidarity in a time of need. Here at National Peace Corps Association, we quickly brought online the Global Reentry Program to assist this surge of Volunteers — who were coming home to a country hit by pandemic and economic turmoil. And soon, too, it was a country wracked by protests against racial injustice.

     

    It’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption.

     

    On this day, it’s important to pause and acknowledge the enormity of this disruption. For those who are part of the Peace Corps community, I would encourage you to reach out to evacuated Volunteers and communities where they were serving. As the 240,000 of us who have served realize, the Peace Corps is profoundly about personal interactions and connections, built up over weeks and months and years. Rupturing those connections because of a crisis is deeply traumatic. 

    Over the past year, many of the evacuated Volunteers have kept in touch with people in the communities where they were serving. At the same time, many evacuated Volunteers have moved on to jobs or graduate school, many with fellowships provided to returned Volunteers. Some are hoping to return to Peace Corps service as soon as possible. And in fact, on their own, a few have returned to the countries where they were serving, though not with the Peace Corps. Scores more have taken part in the first two rounds of virtual volunteering, through a program the Peace Corps launched in the fall, supporting projects in communities where evacuated Volunteers had lived. 

    NPCA’s Global Reentry program continues to work with many evacuated Volunteers, and it is envisioned to become a truly robust resource for the entire Returned Peace Corps Volunteer community, providing guidance, advice, and support in tumultuous times. It’s one more way to build connections at a time we so desperately need them.

     

    Amid pandemic: celebration, legislation, and a road map for the future

    At the beginning of March, people and organizations around the world celebrated the establishment of the Peace Corps by an executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. We heard congratulations from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Ambassador of Colombia to the United States. We heard from the State of Colorado and the city of Madison, Wisconsin. We heard from governors and senators and representatives across the country. We heard congratulations from Ghana and Germany, Fiji and Korea. The anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps is a time to recognize the powerful impact of service in communities — and how that has been felt across countries and generations. 

    Even more important, it’s a time to look to the future and to ask: How will the Peace Corps work in a changed world? And, as the United States reengages with communities and nations outside its borders, how can the Peace Corps help lead the way?

     

    The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years.

     

    Last year the Peace Corps community came together in a series of town halls and a Global Ideas Summit to reimagine, reshape, and retool the Peace Corps. The fruits of those intensive discussions were the community-driven report, “Peace Corps Connect to the Future,” which provides a roadmap for change. As the Peace Corps agency continues to assemble its new leadership team and tackles strategic planning, that report provides guidance. 

     

    The report and the team at NPCA have also helped inform the most important piece of Peace Corps legislation in years. Two weeks ago, on Monday, March 1, Rep. John Garamendi, who served as a Volunteer in Ethiopia, introduced the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. National Peace Corps Association worked with Rep. Garamendi’s office to help understand and address key priorities expressed by the Peace Corps community.The legislation calls for important reforms, including issues addressing better healthcare and protection for whistleblowers in the Peace Corps. And it takes seriously an increase in funding that will be necessary for the Peace Corps to help lead the way in reengaging with a world profoundly changed by COVID-19. 

     

    Let’s approach the work ahead with a sense of solidarity, not charity — and an awareness of both the privilege we have and the responsibility we share.

     

    Along with the celebratory news stories from around the world, there have been a couple of opinion pieces that have raised the question as to whether the Peace Corps should continue to exist — including one in the Chicago Tribune, to which we responded. In fact, we asked the Peace Corps community that very question last summer, as we convened town halls and our Global Ideas Summit. We took as a touchstone words we heard from people in countries including Nepal, Guatemala, and Kenya: the work of Peace Corps is more important than ever, with a clear sense of solidarity, not charity; with an awareness of the privilege we have and the responsibility we share to our fellow citizens of the world; and the understanding that we can empower communities by working together. That holds true in whatever community we call home.

     

    Unfinished Business: Read the stories from dozens of Volunteers who were evacuated in March 2020 — what they left behind in their communities, and the unfinished business they have — and Peace Corps has — around the world.


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. Write him at president@peacecorpsconnect.org.

  • Jonathan Pearson posted an article
    Addressing systemic racism begins with us see more

    Work with NPCA on this crucial issue — and have an impact on the wider Peace Corps community. 

     

    In our work to lead a vibrant Peace Corps community, National Peace Corps Association is looking for a partner with expertise in providing training on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our society needs to tackle systemic racism as it has shaped institutions and communities — including the Peace Corps community. And addressing systemic racism begins with us.

    Here is a request for proposals to work with NPCA in this crucial area — and, through the work we do with the broader Peace Corps community, make a valuable contribution in this area more broadly.

    Those specializing in building an anti-racism environment within member-based nonprofit organizations are particularly encouraged to submit proposals. For questions please contact NPCA by email.

     

    Please review our Frequently Asked Questions regarding this request for proposals.

     

    Submissions will be accepted through Friday, February 26, 2021 at 6 p.m. EST.

    SPECIAL NOTE: Submission deadline has been extended to Friday, March 5, 2021 at 6 p.m. EST.

     

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    President's Letter for the Winter 2021 Edition of WorldView magazine see more

    An Unprecedented Year. And Insurrection at the Capitol. 

    By Glenn Blumhorst

    Photo: Makeshift Fence Memorials to Capitol Police Officers Brian D. Sicknick and Howard Liebengood. By Elvert Barnes

     

    For so many of us, the year 2020 seemed the challenge of a lifetime. But if anyone was built to persevere through the crises these months presented, it’s Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Having endured a tumultuous year marked by a global health pandemic, racial disarray and instability, and the first-ever global evacuation of Volunteers, we could use skills we learned and experiences that have shaped us to take on many roles, including working professional, volunteer in communities at home, teacher, caregiver, colleague, and more. And we would turn the page. 

    Then came January 6 — a horrific day for our country. A violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, smashing windows and looting offices. We condemn these acts of violence and chaos in the strongest possible terms. The Peace Corps community is committed to building peace and friendship. When we are sworn in as Volunteers, we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

    Symbolically and literally, democracy itself was under assault. What do we take from this moment? It’s profoundly clear that the work of building peace needs to start here at home. And as many in the Peace Corps community have observed, the extremists who took part in the attack were not met with the kind of show of force that has met Black protesters. It underscores once more that we need to address racial justice as a root issue in society. 

     

    We must be unequivocal: Violence and hatred have no place in the Peace Corps community.

     

    We stand in solidarity with the public servants who were terrorized by these acts of violence. That includes not just members of Congress but the many staff who work behind the scenes — especially those who are people of color. Dozens of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers serve as congressional staff. Their lives were at risk. Our hearts go out to them. But that is not enough.

    We must be unequivocal: Violence and hatred have no place in the Peace Corps community. Those who took part in these violent acts — and those who incited them — must be held accountable.

    It is reprehensible that among the mob that stormed the Capitol is one man who served in the Peace Corps, Thomas Baranyi, who began basic training in the Marine Corps before being discharged. A CBS affiliate interviewed him; he gave his name and home state of New Jersey. “We tore through the scaffolding and flash-bangs,” he said, and blitzed into the chambers. He described witnessing the death of Ashli Babbitt, shot as she and others tried to breach a barricaded door. He clearly believed actions by the violent extremists were justified.

     

    What We Must Do

    I believe that the Peace Corps community can and will play a pivotal role in the United States reengaging with the world. During months of crisis, we’ve seen many take inspiration from the model of the Peace Corps in looking for solutions to big domestic problems. This moment also underscores once more that, as we undertake the work we do, we must do it with a sense of humility and solidarity — and a sense of what’s at stake. 

     

    I believe that the Peace Corps community can and will play a pivotal role in the United States reengaging with the world.

     

    I want to give a special thanks to those who have given their support to work for the Peace Corps community in recent months. With your time and commitment, we will ensure that the Peace Corps and the values it is meant to nurture can play an important role in the great unfinished task ahead of us.

    When we set out the tasks for the Peace Corps community, Congress, and the Executive Branch in the report “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” — included in this edition of WorldView — we didn’t fully fathom the enormity of the rebuilding ahead. But here we are. To the community-driven recommendations outlined in the report, let us add: To best serve our robust intergenerational and diverse community, we need a Peace Corps Director equal to these times: a committed, well-known leader in international development who plans for innovation and transformation of the Peace Corps as we know it. There must be a strong emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruitment and retention of Volunteers and staff. We must work with members of Congress to pass legislation to expand Peace Corps funding. And the agency must help lead the way alongside others in peace, diplomacy, and foreign affairs.

    This year’s challenges have revealed enduring resilience and purpose for moving forward and staying true to our mission. I remain humbled by this awareness, and I am committed to working towards the transformation we have undertaken.


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: president@peacecorpsconnect.org

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    First African American to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice see more

    First African American to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice — and the first Black man to lead any division at Justice, period.

    Photo Courtesy Yale Law School

     

    Drew S. Days III was appointed to the Department of Justince in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter. He later served as solicitor general of the United States under President Bill Clinton. Gentle, courageous, and kind, he devoted much of his career to striving for racial equality. Born in Atlanta in 1941, he grew up in Tampa, Florida, and at the age of 30 won a lawsuit that desegregated the schools where he was educated.

    “I rode segregated buses, and I was from the era with the segregated lunch counters and water fountains,” he recalled. Early work as a lawyer also included fighting housing discrimination.

    He studied English literature at Hamilton College and law at Yale. And he sang. It was at Yale Russian Chorus rehearsals that he met Ann Langdon. They wed and joined the Peace Corps and served in Honduras 1967–69 and were married for 54 years.

    After Peace Corps service, Drew Days worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York City. Tapped for his role in the Justice Department, he tackled racism in blatant forms in school districts and sought to ensure more effective discipline for police who abused their authority.

    He joined the faculty of Yale Law School in 1981 and was founding director of the Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights. Days argued 17 cases before the Supreme Court and supervised nearly 200 more. He died on November 15 at the age of 79. Our hearts go out to Ann and the family he loved dearly. 

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A pioneer in Peace Corps, law, and social justice see more

    Civil rights attorney Elaine Jones talks with Jalina Porter

    Photo: Elaine Jones. Courtesy Elaine Jones

     

    Elaine Jones has led a landmark career that has included being the first woman to direct the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the first African American woman to attend law school at the University of Virginia. Where she learned the lessons in diplomacy that prepared her for that: Peace Corps in Turkey.

    The daughter of a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, Elaine Ruth Jones was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and was raised in the Jim Crow South. She has spoken of the importance of understanding “the realities of racism and the importance of idealism.” In 1972 she was the counsel of record for the case Furman v. Georgia, in which Jones represented a Black man on death row who had been accused of raping a white woman. The Supreme Court ruling on that case found that the death penalty as practiced by all U.S. states was cruel and unusual punishment. 

     

    Jones as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ankara, Turkey, where she taught at Hacettepe Science Centre. Photo courtesy Elaine Jones

     

    Jones served in the Ford and Clinton administrations. She was instrumental in the passage of legislation bolstering voting rights, fair housing, and civil rights. She is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, and in December 2000 President Clinton presented her with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award.

    She spoke with Jalina Porter, a graduate of Howard University who served with the Peace Corps in Cambodia 2009–11; was a communications director in the U.S. Congress; in 2020 was honored with the Franklin H. Williams Award by the Peace Corps; and in January 2021 was named deputy spokesperson for the Department of State.

     

    You either give in to it or you decide that you are going to do something to defeat it.


    Jalina Porter: You served in the Peace Corps 1965–67. After graduating from Howard University, what made you want to join the Peace Corps, especially during that time?

    Elaine Jones: I came from a completely segregated environment, born in the South in the ’40s. You had your separate water fountains, sitting in the back of the bus — we had all of that down in Virginia. That molds you — you either give in to it or you decide that you are going to do something to defeat it. I decided that this is not the way the world should be, as a little Black girl in the South. I decided that one day I would be able to do something to change it. And my parents always encouraged me.

    I had come through elementary in public schools using secondhand, hand-me-down books. When I went to Howard, I got a scholarship. Stokely Carmichael was in my class, and folks would come back from the Freedom Rides. I was not down in Mississippi doing the Freedom Rides, but many others were. President Lyndon Johnson gave the “Great Society” speech at Howard during my graduation in 1965. And that is when I realized that I wanted to do law. Thurgood Marshall had come out of Howard. And I mean, they were my heroes — the lawyers. But I didn’t have any money, and I didn’t know anything about the world. I really had only been exposed to my own culture. I knew I needed more exposure and to be able to travel and meet other people. So I said, “My answer is the Peace Corps.” All I had to do was get in, because I knew I didn’t want to go to law school right away.

    I applied to the Peace Corps, and they decided I would go to Turkey. We trained at Princeton; it was a special program, TEFL — teaching English as a foreign language. I was in Turkey Eight. There were nearly 200 of us in Turkey Eight, which was the biggest class that they’d had. And then we trained in-country. And guess who was studying there that summer? James Baldwin! You’re meant to go where you’re meant to go. 

     

    Folks in the street would look at me and spit on the sidewalk when I walked by, not because of an anti-Americanism, but because they thought I was Arabic.

     

    Porter: What was it like being an African American woman volunteering in Turkey? 

    Jones: I was the only African American in that group. About 35 or 40 percent were women — white women — and then me. I had never been around their culture — whiteness, it’s a culture. For me, it was trying to respond and understand how to take them wanting to feel my hair. They focused on different things, too, and obviously had not been around people of color. So it was then that I understood I’m the experiment, you see? But the Peace Corps taught me patience. It taught me that if you adopt an attitude or something rubs you the wrong way, every time it happens that’s what you’re going to have the whole time you’re here. What you have to do is give people the benefit of the doubt. A lot of it is ignorance — just like you are ignorant about them, they’re also ignorant about you. And so I viewed it as an opportunity. I embraced it and made these two years in which I could grow, develop, and learn, which is what happened. I also made some great friends in the Peace Corps. 

    But I was still so different, because my students would not believe that I was American. A lot of them thought I was Arabic. There was no love lost between the Turks and the Arabs. But my students knew me and eventually accepted that I was American; I didn’t feel any antipathy from them. But folks in the street would look at me and spit on the sidewalk when I walked by, not because of an anti-Americanism, but because they thought I was Arabic. And the white volunteers got their share of stuff. Because it was a tough time when we got to Turkey in August of 1965. There had been a big slap in Cyprus; the Greeks and the Turks had been fighting over Cyprus for decades, and the U.S. had taken a position that was not palatable to Turkey. Feelings were running high, and the fact that we were American did not help the white volunteers. The Turkish people got angry with them because of the situation in Cyprus and the position that the U.S. had taken, which the Turks interpreted as being pro-Greek. 

    Even so, the Turks opened their hearts to us, on an individual level. When you take the institutions or nationalities out of it, and on a people-to-people level, Peace Corps worked because of the humanity of people.

     

    Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was in law school. Nobody in the law school said one word, and some of them were gleeful.

     

    Porter: Tell me about when you came back to the United States, and you already knew you wanted to be a lawyer. How did being in the Peace Corps and what you learned in Turkey help you when you became a lawyer, and eventually in your longtime role as president at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund?

    Jones: I took the LSAT in Turkey. I was admitted to two law schools to which I applied. One was Howard and the other was the University of Virginia. When I came back from the Peace Corps, I decided that I had been to Howard, and it had been a rich experience. I learned a great deal. But I needed to do something different. It’s always easy to go to what’s comfortable. And the Mecca was comfortable. And I said, “Elaine, just like you went into Peace Corps, let’s do something different.” I showed up in Charlottesville in mid-August, and I didn’t know I would be the first African American woman to come through that law school. But I learned it fast though. I had learned diplomacy in the Peace Corps. And like Thurgood Marshall always said about the cases, “Lose your temper, lose your case.” 

    When I left law school, I had a job offer with President Nixon’s law firm on Wall Street — Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. And he was president at the time when I graduated, which was in 1970. But then I thought about it and told myself, “You didn’t go to law school to go to Wall Street. You went to law school because of the work of Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall and all those lawyers who litigated all those landmark cases.” My dean sent me to his friend in New York, Jack Greenberg, and Jack hired me on the spot. 

    The Peace Corps also helped me in Charlottesville. That, too, was alien territory. I had to apply the lessons of patience I learned. For example, try not to get an ulcer but keep your anger to yourself, and also try to give people the benefit of the doubt when there’s some benefit there to give them. Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was in law school. Nobody in the law school said one word, and some of them were gleeful.

     

    Porter: What are your thoughts on the next chapter of Peace Corps — and what we should do to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion?

    Jones: The Peace Corps is a good idea. It only works, though, if our hosts fully embrace us. In other words, if our hosts give us the benefit of the doubt. It shouldn’t be what we want; they have to want us, as well. It’s very difficult to plop anybody down in a different culture and not have somebody in that culture that they can relate to, who looks like them. It’s also important that we have the right attitude, that we understand that it’s a partnership, and that we have things we want to give. But in order to give they have to be received. 

     

    Peace Corps has to have someone who really believes in its mission, who will be an advocate, have presence among her or his colleagues and influence within the administration.

     

    Porter: What advice do you have for anybody who’s thinking about joining the Peace Corps, especially in light of the new administration coming into office?

    Jones: Peace Corps has to have someone who really believes in its mission, who will be an advocate, have presence among her or his colleagues and influence within the administration toward the funding in a budget.

    I think the heart of the Peace Corps is two things: the relationship in choosing carefully the nations that we’re going to; and the outlook and disposition of the putative Volunteers. How they view the world is very important. We cannot have people who anger quickly, jump to conclusions, or who are judgmental. Volunteers should also believe in the mission. If someone has had some positive experiences or negative experiences with the host country, they should have the ability to talk it through diplomatically.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    He fought for racial equality and served as Solicitor General of the United States see more

    He also served as Solicitor General of the United States. He was a man of principle and devoted much of his life’s work to racial equality.

    By Steven Boyd Saum

    Photo courtesy Yale University Law School

     

    The Peace Corps community mourns the loss of a pioneer for our nation: Drew S. Days III, the first African American to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice — and the first Black man to lead any division at Justice. He was appointed in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter. Later, under President Bill Clinton he also served as Solicitor General of the United States — a position often referred to as the “tenth justice” of the Supreme Court. 

    He was gentle and courageous and kind and a man of principle. So much of his career was committed to striving for racial equality. He was born in Atlanta in 1941 and grew up in Tampa, Florida — and at the age of 30 won a lawsuit that desegregated the schools where he was educated. He studied English literature at Hamilton College and law at Yale.

    He sang — and it was at Yale Russian Chorus rehearsals that he met Ann Langdon. They wed and joined the Peace Corps and served in Honduras 1967–69 and were married for 54 years.

    After Peace Corps service, Drew Days worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Education Fund in New York City. Tapped for his role with the justice department, he tackled racism in blatant forms in school districts and sought to ensure more effective discipline for police who abused their authority.

    He joined the faculty of Yale Law School in 1981 and took a leave of absence to serve as solicitor general of the United States. He argued 17 cases before the Supreme Court and supervised nearly 200 more. He was founding director of the Orville Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights Law at Yale. 

    He died Sunday, Nov. 15 at the age of 79. Our hearts go out to Ann, their children, and the family who meant so much to Drew.

    You can begin to understand more of the scope of what Drew Days did in the stories by Yale University Law School, the  New York Times, and the Washington Post chronicling his remarkable life and work. 

     

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Unprecedented Times. Powerful stuff. Stories that brought tears. see more

    Unprecedented Times 

     We set aside the standard magazine playbook for our summer edition. We’re happy to bring back your letters — to continue the conversation.Write us: worldview@peacecorpsconnect.org
     

    I’m writing to congratulate and  thank you for the current issue of WorldView. It’s the most powerful thing in print I’ve seen from Peace Corps since I received my acceptance letter in 1969. Congrats to everyone involved on a mammoth job so very well done. 

    Stephen Barefoot 
    Kenya 1969–72 

     

    Most remarkable WorldView ever, both the quality of the product and the effort it took to gather and edit the stories. What we may have is the substance for a book, proceeds from which would fund NPCA  services and support to returning Volunteers. Two quotes (both from the stories from China): “A lot of my students had never seen or interacted with a foreigner. For them, the experience  is transformational” and, “To assume that  the Chinese government and people are the  same is a fallacy.” 

    Steve Kaffen 
    Russia 1994–96 

     

    I wept my way through reading WorldView. The evacuation stories both broke my heart and raised my spirit. I could not help but imagine myself being torn away from my community, friends, counterparts, programs,  and much more, had I had to leave Paraguay  (where I served) within 24 hours. Unbearable thought for me and yet excruciatingly real for 6,892 Volunteers. Their stories were beautiful and so painful. I was buoyed up with an affirmation that Peace Corps is still making its unique contributions worldwide. Not just in the countries where Volunteers serve, but also in the Volunteers themselves. Peace  Corps must survive this global pandemic. We need it now more than ever. 

    Congratulations on the rapid launching of your Global Reentry program. NPCA has risen to the challenges of today in so many  fabulous ways. Thank you for your leadership. 

    Diane Wood  
    Paraguay 1977–81 

     

    Engaging, thoughtful, and truly remarkable — I’ve read it in print cover to cover, and will read it again online. This one’s a keeper. 
    Peter de Groot 
    PCV Benin 1980–82 
    Peace Corps Trainer, Africa, 1983–92 

     

    Amazing with the stories from the country directors closing their sites. These stories bring a world of hurt thinking about what each had to go through to plan their departures, and the Volunteers having to say “goodbye.” 

    Kenton Hawkins 
    Lesotho 1976–79 

     

     

    On behalf of our RPCV Gulf Coast Florida group: We were touched to read the heartrending stories of so many evacuated PCVs, and especially Missi Smith’s eloquent lament, “I’m Tired.”

    For our signature project, we have dedicated ourselves to fundraising for and assisting the African American community in the heart of Sarasota called Newtown, through its grassroots organization, Newtown Alive. African American residents played a major role in the development of Sarasota. Black labor cleared snake-infested land for real estate developers, laid railroad ties, harvested celery, helped plant golf courses, and labored in the homes of Sarasota’s power brokers — cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. The men and women fought for equal rights, triumphed over Jim Crow segregation, KKK intimidation, and vigilante violence. Today, a diverse group of historians, community scholars, and others  have united to present the dramatic history of strivers who refused to give up. More:  rpcvgcf.peacecorpsconnect.org 

    Leita Kaldi Davis 
    Senegal 1993–96 
    Lillian Carter Award Recipient 2017 

     

    We need to find  ways to make the  Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better, bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. 

     

    Terrific — packed with timely, important news that helps put unprecedented issues impacting the Peace Corps into perspective. I hope all past and future Volunteers and staff will go through the magazine cover-to-cover. I especially like“Our Unprecedented Times,”  tracing momentous events and decisions which have changed not only Peace Corps but also our nation and the entire world. And Lex Rieffel’s “The Peace Corps in the  Post-Pandemic World,” while controversial,  is worth pondering. I disagree with proposals to convert the Peace Corps into something other than an independent federal agency, but I agree we need to find ways to make the  Peace Corps in its current form “bigger, better,  bolder” and give the Third Goal more explicit attention. We must have more conversations about the ideals, relevance, and mission of the Peace Corps in a rapidly-changing world and make sure the Peace Corps truly reflects America’s diversity and has the resources it needs to get Volunteers back into the field as soon as it is safe to do so. 

    Michael H. Anderson 
    Malaysia 1968–71 
    Board Member, Friends of Malaysia  

     

     

     

    Well written and edited — a pleasure to read, though my eyes fill with tears as I learn Volunteers’ stories of their emergency  evacuations. That many returned Volunteers can continue to communicate with their colleagues and friends living in remote places is one benefit not afforded earlier Volunteers. Nevertheless, the bonds are immutable; after 40 years, I and a fellow RPCV returned to the sites where we trained and supervised  healthcare providers and located many of them because of their long, successful careers. We only had to ask a few strangers who recognized faces in old photos. (See  WorldView Spring 2018.)

    I hope evacuated Volunteers are able to return to their work, if they so choose. 

    Beverly Hammons  
    Ecuador 1970–73 

     

    You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many.

     

    As a longtime journalist, allow me  to say that you’ve done a great job. The coverage of the withdrawal of Peace Corps from its posts was absolutely terrific. The text cover, a brilliant graphic touch, was only the beginning of a fascinating issue. You managed to convey the urgency of the moment and the vast disappointment of so many. These are terribly difficult times for us all, particularly painful for Peace Corps and the many new, reluctantly-made, RPCVs.  

    Barry Hillenbrand 
    Ethiopia 1963–65 

     

    Fabulous edition! I’m sending my copy off to my granddaughter, who was considering joining. Here’s hoping she has the chance!!

    Virginia Davis 
    Namibia 2007–10 

     

    Greetings from the Solomons. I am missing my WorldView mags due to no mail from the States for months. Glad to know there is an online edition. COVID19 has held up the reopening of the Peace Corps office for the Solomons this year and the bringing in of new PCVs in 2021.  

    Dennis McAdams 
    Solomon Islands 1974–78 

     

    Reading stories of the evacuated Volunteers brought back memories of my service 50 years ago in the Philippines. The agricultural school where I was assigned is now a full-fledged university. Some current  students are likely to be the grandchildren of students I taught while there. Best wishes for continuing Peace Corps ideals in the future.

    Steve Lahey 
    Philippines Group 36 

     

    Some time ago, my daughter was notified that she is on a list for training for Guinea. She is diligently working on French. I hope  this pandemic can be brought under control before many more months pass; she doesn’t  want to miss this opportunity.

    The issue of WorldView that tells the stores of the PCVs  being recalled was absolutely fabulous.  

    Joan Landsberg
    Costa Rica 1964–66 

     

    What a work by dedicated individuals! I  served in the first group to go to Nyasaland  (Malawi) in 1963. Thank you to those who shared, captured the info, and created this issue.

    Linda Millette 

     

    Truly wonderful issue. Thanks for your  hard work in writing and putting it together. 

    Angene Wilson 
    Liberia 1962–64 

     

    Fantastic! Thought provoking and meaningful, from the global evacuation to the pandemic to Black Lives Matter and the very future of the Peace Corps.  

    James Skelton 
    Ethiopia 1970–72 

     

     

     

    I’m Tired 

     

    Powerful and well-written, this article by Missi Smith challenges us to take action, giving us a clear list of things we can actually do to move our society toward racial equality. 

    Peter Szydlowski 
    Ecuador 1970–74, Nicaragua 1974–75 

     

    It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join  the Peace Corps and others to take action. Missi Smith’s essay, “I’m Tired,” is powerful.  The statements from the PCVs who were evacuated testify to the incredible importance of the Peace Corps around the world, especially as global ambassadors. I have just  now made contribution to the NPCA and  will add it to my annual giving list. Keep up  the good work! The return of Peace Corps  to the wider world is in my prayers.  

    Janet Stulting 
    Ukraine 2011–13 

     

    It is fabulous, and I would like to share among family and friends, to encourage some to join  the Peace Corps and others to take action.

     

    I got my edition and immediately called my brother, the father of an evacuated 25-year-old volunteer from Botswana. I told him I would keep this edition as a  keepsake for my nephew, saying it was  historical and powerful and moving! If one can order second copies please let us know.  We continue to support and pray for these Volunteers and communities!  

    Julie Cominos 
    Romania 1992–94 

     

    Indeed, we’re happy to send more! Support from  NPCA members and donors makes it possible for us to tell stories that matter.
    —Ed.
     

     

     

    No thanks 

     

    A few questions: What kind of a journal  has no place for readers’ responses — and simply takes current headlines and applies  them to something entirely different? Do you  really think there is systematic racism in this  country and the Peace Corps is part of it?  

    James Eric Lane

     

     


    Download, Read

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    A conversation we’ve had again and again. Here are some ideas, insights, and hard truths. see more

    Recruitment, support — and what next? It’s a conversation we’ve had again and again. Here are some ideas, insights, and hard truths. 


    ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2020, THE CONSTITUENCY FOR AFRICA convened a group of past, present, and future Peace Corps leaders for the annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs series. It’s a timely and needed conversation — with all Peace Corps Volunteers evacuated from around the world because of COVID-19, and as our nation grapples with pandemics of coronavirus and systemic racism.

    The conversation was moderated by educational consultant Eldridge “Skip” Gilbert, who served as a Volunteer in Sierra Leone (1967–69). Edited excerpts here. You can also watch the full video.
     


    Introduction 

    Melvin Foote: I served in Eritrea and Ethiopia in the early ’70s. Peace Corps is the reason I’m doing what I am today. Constituency for Africa is a policy advocacy organization; we help to educate Americans about Africa, improve cooperation and coordination between organizations, and help shape U.S. policy toward Africa.

    Now Peace Corps has gone through the trauma of evacuation of Volunteers worldwide, trying to figure out when and how it will return to the field. We want to increase the number of African Americans and Americans of African descent in Peace Corps. It comes at an interesting time for our country, as Black Lives Matter and the forces of coronavirus have taken over our lives. How do we strengthen the Peace Corps going forward?

    That is what this conversation is about.

    Melvin Foote, Founder & CEO, Constituency for Africa (Ethiopia 1973–75)

     


    Each One, Reach One!


    Darlene Grant: I’m speaking from Birmingham, Alabama, where I am steeped in my family’s and our nation’s history — of overcoming overwhelming odds, injustice, and disparities to fulfill our ancestors’ wildest dreams. We know what it means that we’re stronger together. That it takes a village to help individuals realize their full potential. That is what we have to offer the Peace Corps. I have six points to make.

    One, focus primarily on the health, safety, and security of Volunteers. Peace Corps partners with communities abroad to develop sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems and challenges. It’s critical to empower more African Americans and Black-identifying individuals to drive the narrative of who they are — Volunteers who can show the strength, resilience, ingenuity, beauty, richness of our culture in the spaces where they walk, live, and serve. It is critical that African American Volunteers work collaboratively with Latinx, white, Asian, and other identifying Volunteers, so that when they return to the United States, they are able to effectively communicate across differences. To mobilize diverse communities, form coalitions, make the U.S. — and the world — a better place.

    Two, in today’s world, a college degree is not enough to impact socioeconomic mobility of oneself or one’s family. Peace Corps service pays dividends. We must better communicate those dividends so that our Black-identifying and African American sisters and brothers can communicate to their families, schools, businesses, churches, mosques the value of leaving to come back stronger, bigger, badder, leaner, meaner. Peace Corps offers a significant resume value, on-the-ground international development experience, foreign language immersion, small grant writing and implementation skills. It offers interaction with State Department, USAID, United Nations staff, and other communities — and opportunity to take the Foreign Service test. I was 50 years old at my mid-service, and I was thinking, “Man, if I had known about all of this when I was preparing to graduate from college, where would I be today?” So I’m making sure my grandkids know — and nieces, nephews.

    My first leave of absence from Mongolia as country director I visited my niece’s first grade class. I was a secret reader of the day. I read a Halloween story. Then I held up a Mongolia flag, told stories of Mongolia to a bunch of first graders in a predominantly white elementary school in Birmingham, Alabama. Then I invited them to go home and tell their parents they were going to grow up to join the Peace Corps. That poor first grade teacher’s eyes got so big — she thought I was starting a ruckus she would not be able to control! But that is what we must do: Start early and often in the schools.

    Three, in many African American and Black-identifying families — particularly in lower income communities — if you have earned a college degree, you are the family’s bootstraps, by which families have a chance to see a bigger world, a broader view, a hope for different tomorrow.

     

    The role of African Americans in post-pandemic U.S. Peace Corps is to describe and design the doors for others to walk through.

     

    Four, the role of African Americans in post-pandemic U.S. Peace Corps is to describe and design the doors for others to walk through.

    Five, the pandemic has highlighted racial and socioeconomic inequities in our country. It has done so in countries abroad as well. They must see a more diverse volunteer corps to better understand and to better grow their own worlds.

    Finally, this pandemic and everything else going on have high-lighted global interconnectedness — and with that an increased need for people, for African Americans, who can effectively and sensitively navigate cross-cultural difference for the purpose of building a just and equitable world and systems, a just and equitable peace.
     

    Dr. Darlene Grant, Senior Advisor to Peace Corps Director (Cambodia 2009–11)

     

    Skip Gilbert: I would like to add a little bit more to that. Not only do we need to reach out and “each one, reach one,” but it's wonderful that we have the opportunity of “each one teaching one.” So we can learn to not only reach out for contact purposes, but we have the responsibility to teach as well.

     


    Recruitment


    Dwayne Matthews: When I was in the application process, I asked, “What is Peace Corps doing to gain African Americans?” I wrote a list of things I wanted to do. I didn’t find out about Peace Corps until going to community college. I was watching an episode of “A Different World” and heard the character Whitley say, “Well, why don’t you just ship me off to the Peace Corps?” That prompted me to look into it.

    When sitting in the village, I knew I wanted to target Historically Black Colleges and Universities. My first event as a diversity recruiter was doing an HBCU tour up and down the East Coast and the South coast. From there, I did the HBCU barbershop tour: 23 barbershops gave me the platform. We have to be more creative in the ways that we’re attracting folks.

     

    I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. Peace Corps just wasn’t a conversation. My folks didn’t travel.

     

    I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. Peace Corps just wasn’t a conversation. My folks didn’t travel. My dad’s a truck driver, my mother’s a housewife.

    Now, in this COVID-19 pandemic and racial pandemic, I was able to speak with the Peace Corps powers that be, and we are in the process of creating an HBCU video where we’re talking to returned Volunteers who graduated from HBCUs about their experiences — how Peace Corps has set them up for their life.
     

    Dwayne Matthews, Office of Peace Corps Diversity Recruiter (Malawi 2013–15)

     

     

    Clintandra Thompson: Senegal is predominantly Muslim, predominantly Wolof speaking. My community was Catholic and Sarare. I was in my language group with one other Volunteer, a white woman from Utah. I remember her dad sending cards and letters at least twice a week. She got one for administrative professionals day, for Veterans Day, for Tuesday! Her parents were very supportive of her service.

    My parents were a little lukewarm. When I saw the support white Volunteers had from their community — in the way of care packages, visits, sponsored trips to other places, social media, phone calls — I said to myself when I returned, There’s definitely something we can do to lift ourselves up. I reached out to RPCV friends and asked if they would help me send letters, care packages, make calls to Volunteers in service. I started out small on Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response; there are way more current Volunteers who wanted to be matched with a Black RPCV.

     

    I started the Adopt a Black Peace Corps Volunteer exchange to help and encourage Black Volunteers, to allow them an opportunity to reach out to Black RPCVs who’ve been there.

     

    I started the Adopt a Black Peace Corps Volunteer exchange to help and encourage Black Volunteers, to allow them an opportunity to reach out to Black RPCVs who’ve been there — who know what those slights and comments might sound like, what it’s like when your community kind of shuns you, what it feels like to be the only American for miles and miles and hours and hours of travel. The Adopt a BPCV exchange has been around since 2015. I usually gear up in September in anticipation for sending out a Halloween card, Thanksgiving card, Christmas card, Christmas care package.


    Clintandra Thompson, Communications Professional; Creator, Adopt a Black PCV Exchange (Senegal 2012–14)

     
     


    Why Peace Corps? 


    Harris Bostic II: After a decade of swimming in all things Peace Corps — as a Volunteer, agency employee, and NPCA board member — I stayed ashore for awhile. Now as the waters again beckon for help with diversifying this 60-year-old organization, I’m ready to dive back in.

    The years I spent in Africa as an advisor to a microcredit program and local Guinean small businesses have directly impacted my career, my personal life — and, frankly, my mere being. The Peace Corps was great for me. I do admit that it is not for everyone. But it certainly should be a viable option for more Blacks than it is now.

    Shortly after I concluded my service, I landed a position with the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. My boss chose me from a large number of applicants because of my Peace Corps experience: having a vast knowledge of the world beyond U.S. borders, the ability to embrace the unknown, push through ambiguity, work with limited direction and guidance, and continually learn about oneself and others. I became director of the 54 African Olympic National Committees, then advanced to the office of the chairman, Ambassador Andrew Young, where we were instrumental in negotiating South Africa’s return to the Olympics after a 30-year sanction due to apartheid.

    At the Peace Corps agency I participated on many task forces. The “How to Quantify the Peace Corps Service” task force was incredibly important, but it lost steam due to the Peace Corps five-year rule, continual turnover, and loss of institutional knowledge. Today I challenge the agency, NPCA, and RPCVs, to come together and create crisp messages on all the salient reasons to join the Peace Corps — and benefits of service that target specific audiences: Blacks, folks from lower socioeconomic levels, people of color, etc.

     

    Today I challenge the agency, NPCA, and RPCVs, to come together and create crisp messages on all the salient reasons to join the Peace Corps — and benefits of service that target specific audiences: Blacks, folks from lower socioeconomic levels, people of color, etc.

     

    Career and grad school recruiters scour resumes, applications, and essays in search of various experiences. Often they see military service, an MBA, law degree, formal sports experience — and they associate discipline, decision making, critical thinking, teamwork, striving for excellence. Recruiters should see Peace Corps and think of all the core competencies associated with it.

    Another call-to-action: Consider rebuilding the Peace Corps to attract Blacks and those from lower socioeconomic levels, who often just can’t afford to join the Peace Corps. They have college loans, credit card debt, need to support families back home. Unlike the military, the Peace Corps is unreachable — and sometimes seemingly more suitable for whites and privileged individuals. Allocate budgets to support those at lower socioeconomic levels so they can see Peace Corps as not only tenable but viable. Market and package Peace Corps service in such a way to attract Blacks by lifting up the quantifiable benefits of Peace Corps service.

    The goal is for Peace Corps to assemble at the same table a group of both likely and unlikely allies — to work toward identifying solid benefits of service; quantifying, or translating them to understandable competencies; then market and package them into sellable traits and attributes that recruiters value and seek, especially among people of color, and from diverse backgrounds. Imagine what a group of RPCVs — business and community leaders, media, social scientists, academics, and changemakers — could accomplish by putting their heads together and brainstorming how the agency can not only quantify what it means to serve in the Peace Corps, but also give every PCV and even parents the proof that their service mattered.
     

    Harris Bostic II, Strategic Senior Advisor & Client Services, Tides (Guinea 1988–91)

     

     

    Anthony Pinder: Peace Corps has run through the veins of my understanding of what a global citizen is. I started as a Volunteer, came back to the agency as a country director in Central Africa and Equatorial Guinea, then came back to Washington as a national director for minority recruitment.

    Removing barriers for underrepresented communities and creating a more just and equitable Peace Corps — we have always been concerned with that. It’s not enough to be concerned about increasing numbers. What are we going to do when we get them in the pipeline?

     

    Removing barriers for underrepresented communities and creating a more just and equitable Peace Corps — we have always been concerned with that.

     

    In the Office of Minority Recruitment, the first thing was change the name to the Office of Minority and National Recruitment Initiatives. I was given some university programs as well; you got to have tools in your toolkit. I did not want to just be the diversity guy. I wanted to have more juice among my own communities as I moved around the country and helped manage 11 regional recruiting officers.

    I have worked in other spaces where the robustness of the folks in leadership positions was absent. And it’s awkward to bring up questions and strategies that benefit a particular community when certain people aren’t at the table. We were able to go into the HBCUs and negotiate awesome, big events, not just for minority recruitment, but for the agency. The first group of volunteers we sent to South Africa was on my watch. We did a dramatic sendoff in Atlanta, at Morehouse College, and also at Emory at the Carter Center.

    Representation is important — as is supporting diversity at the country director level. As we talk about increasing recruitment of people of color, Black folks in particular, what happens when they get in country? Will there be advocacy for the difference that they bring, for the ingenuity and the wonderful things that make their experiences so rich — also for so many people alongside them? Look at what it takes for the successful completion of the volunteer experience, as well as leadership positions within the agency. This conversation is not a new one.

    We’ve talked about the awkwardness of a five-year rule. Why is it, as one of the few minority directors of Peace Corps, as a country director, I’ve never gotten a call from Peace Corps? I have leveraged the awesome experience that Peace Corps was into a career in higher ed and other areas. We should know who each other are, the strengths and resources we possess, so another person following Dr. Grant does not have to start from scratch trying to identify stakeholders.

    We should not have to revisit this topic again.


    Dr. Anthony L. Pinder, Associate Vice President of Internationalization & Global Engagement, Emerson College (Ecuador 1987–90)

     
    Skip Gilbert: One historical footnote: I also had a wonderful Peace Corps experience. And from that time until now, we've only had two African American Peace Corps directors. One, Dr. Carolyn Payton. And the other person, who is on this call, is Aaron Williams. Now Aaron Williams and I worked on an Office of Minority recruitment, under the leadership of one C. Payne Lucas. He and the late Dr. Joseph Kennedy were personal mentors to myself, and certainly others — among them Aaron Williams.

     


    Coming Home


    Marieme Foote: Peace Corps is almost in my blood. My mother is Senegalese and grew up in Senegal, surrounded by Peace Corps Volunteers, where she learned English and then came to the U.S. to pursue her graduate degree. My father was a Volunteer. Before that, he had no understanding of Africa as a whole. His career has been shaped by it. This has transformed their lives, and other Black lives across the world, and has transformed my own. 

    I’m still reeling from the difficulty of being pulled suddenly from Benin. With the reality of COVID-19 in the U.S., I’ve seen Volunteers going through homelessness, unemployment, lack of health insurance. COVID exposed a wound that hadn’t really been addressed. As Volunteers, we were rapidly trying to adjust to the reality of Blackness within the U.S. Within weeks of getting back, after quarantine, I was on the streets, protesting in front of the White House.

     

    Peace Corps does have the capacity to transform lives, which is why it’s so important that we make sure that when Black Volunteers do return, they have support they need.

     

    African Americans are disproportionately impacted by socioeco-nomic issues in the U.S. For many Volunteers, what is provided in terms of support when returning is not enough. Evacuees are facing issues with paying for health insurance or paying for their Close of Service medical exam and not being reimbursed. If you don’t have the money in the first place, how do you even pay for it?

    Peace Corps does have the capacity to transform lives, which is why it’s so important that we make sure that when Black Volunteers do return, they have support they need.


    Marieme Foote, Advocacy & Administrative Support Associate, National Peace Corps Association (Benin 2018–20)

     

    Rahama Wright: In Mali I served at a community health center. I also started working on developing cooperatives and small and medium enterprises. I was so impacted by my experience — seeing many women in my community struggling to care for themselves and their children. And I became obsessed with learning about making shea butter. When I came back to the U.S., I launched Shea Yeleen with a goal of helping women who make this amazing product bring it to the U.S. market in a way that was sustainable.

    My parents met when my dad did the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso in the ’70s. I grew up in upstate New York in a family where I knew I would do Peace Corps. But I did not know the impact it would have: changing everything I thought about the continent of Africa, about people who lived in rural communities — experiencing what they were because of global social, economic, and political issues outside their control.

    We have been given tools and experiences as Volunteers that we can use to make sustained, longterm impact in communities we serve. We have the knowledge and cultural competencies that a lot of Americans don’t. Most Americans don’t have a passport.

     

    For Peace Corps, that means centering the role and contributions of Black and Brown people — not in a “we want to support diversity and inclusion by bringing more people to the table” — but really building an entirely new table.

     

    Now, what we’re dealing with in terms of Black Lives Matter and COVID: The humanity of Black and Brown people is under attack not only here in the U.S. but globally. We have to rise to the occasion and say, “We’re not going to allow the things that we’re seeing without taking a stand.” That is so important, especially when we’re thinking about the future of Peace Corps. Everyone wants to build back better. For Peace Corps, that means centering the role and contributions of Black and Brown people — not in a “we want to support diversity and inclusion by bringing more people to the table” — but really building an entirely new table. We need to reimagine Peace Corps. 


    Rahama Wright, Founder & CEO of Shea Yeleen Health & Beauty Company (Mali 2002–04)



     It’s About Ubuntu


    C.D. Glin: For me, this conversation is about Ubuntu: “I am, because we are” — because of this community. Because of Tony Pinder leading minority and national recruitment, because of Harris Bostic in San Francisco as regional recruitment director. From being in the first Peace Corps Volunteer group that showcased diversity as a strength to a new South Africa: 32 volunteers — four African Americans, four people identified as Latinx, five people over 55, five Asian Americans. Having an African American country director, being greeted by the Mission Director to South Africa and the ambassador being African American men — Aaron Williams and James Joseph.

    “Why are we still having this conversation?” We’re having this conversation again, and again. I went to South Africa in February 1997. It was a transformational time for our country but also for South Africa, with a democratically elected president who had battled back the racial oppression of apartheid. That historic moment was an opportunity to showcase the America that we all are — people of different backgrounds coming together for a cause.

    That entry point into Peace Corps opens up the world. But if we as people of color, as African Americans, are not part of that, the rest doesn’t happen. Looking at foreign assistance and national security and diversity in all its forms: 189 Americans are serving as U.S. ambassadors. Seven are people of color: three African Americans, four people who identify as Latinx. Many in the State Department and foreign service, where did they start their careers? Peace Corps. We’re not in the pipeline if we’re not being recruited by people like Dwayne, supported by people like Dr. Grant.

     

    That entry point into Peace Corps opens up the world. But if we as people of color, as African Americans, are not part of that, the rest doesn’t happen.

     

    There was a full court press at the agency from the mid ’90s to early 2000s to recruit diverse volunteers. This was beyond race and ethnicity; this was ability, people over 50. There was a real intentionality. We lost some initiatives because they were never institutionalized.  

    People who are not traditional Volunteers — they’re not looking for adventure, they’re looking for a way to enhance their professional portfolio: the Foreign Service exam; universities looking for returning vol-unteers in the Peace Corps Fellows Program, in the master’s international program; a leg up in international development work. These are critical to tell people who are nontraditional recruits, predominantly African Americans, who come from places that represent and sort of look like some places where we are sending Volunteers.

    When I arrived in my community in South Africa, there was a welcome: majorettes and a band at the school where I was going to serve. I had studied U.S. foreign policy toward Africa at Howard University, I’d been a Foreign Service intern in Ghana. I got to South Africa and knew this community was waiting for me. The Land Cruiser pulled up and I hopped out, and everyone was still looking around and looking over me and almost through me — because I wasn’t the American that they were waiting for. I didn’t look like the volunteer they were told they were going to get. Just by showing up, I knew I was going to transform the way that they thought about the U.S. I took it as a challenge. This is an opportunity for us as people of color, as African Americans, to show up, to represent.

    I saw examples of what Peace Corps could do for careers by those who mentored me. I’m grateful to be “a success story” because of all those who’ve come before me — and to have reached back as I climbed. When I see Curtis Valentine on the chat, I remember a call from the country director in South Africa, Yvonne Hubbard, saying there’s a young brother here who’s a Morehouse man who wants to talk to you. Curtis Valentine has gone on to Harvard and become a leader in education throughout the state of Maryland.

    I lead the U.S. African Development Foundation. Almost half of our staff are former Peace Corps Volunteers. The foundation, second to Peace Corps, is probably the government’s best kept secret. 

     

    It’s our duty to use our experiences to make young African Americans more aware of opportunities Peace Corps can provide. It’s incumbent upon the agency to ask us to do more.

     

    The realities of today are not unlike the past. But what got us here, where we have so many success stories — they need to be leveraged. When I was a Peace Corps diversity recruitment specialist, it was my job to think about successful African Americans who had done Peace Corps. I got to know Ambassador Johnnie Carson, returned Volunteer, three-time ambassador, and an icon in the Foreign Service, now a mentor to me. After volunteering on the Obama campaign and leading the transition team at Peace Corps, to join the staff of Aaron Williams as the second African American, first African American male, to lead the Peace Corps—to focus on global partnerships and intergovernmental affairs — this was a true honor.

    It’s our duty to use our experiences to make young African Americans more aware of opportunities Peace Corps can provide. It’s incumbent upon the agency to ask us to do more — give back in new ways, such as Adopt a Black RPCV. There is a recruitment issue, a pipeline issue, a retention issue. We also want to focus on advancement and leadership. It is about the intentionality that we need to bring. Let’s be innovative — and institutionalize the initiatives — so 10 years later, we aren’t having the same conversations again. 


    C.D. Glin, President of US African Development Foundation (USADF) (South Africa 1997–99)

     


    Q&A


    Skip Gilbert: What policies would you implement to increase African American presence in this new Peace Corps?

     

    Dwayne Matthews: I was looking at an old Ebony magazine from 1978, with Mohammed Ali on the cover. It had Peace Corps Director Carolyn Payton inside — talking about the same thing we’re talking about today. But she had a three- or four-page ad about African Americans and the need for them in Peace Corps.

    I don’t know where that money is being allocated to. I do know that if they’re trying to target us, the budget needs to be bolstered.

     

    Skip Gilbert: We have a marvelous opportunity to engage in a new dialogue, which will allow us to help create that new Peace Corps.

     

    Anthony Pinder: It’s not about creating safe spaces, but brave spaces. I had some really courageous supervisors; if you’re going to empower me to do something, I need you to advocate for me, even if I do something wrong.

    There needs to be a holistic strategy — people empowered to be great, and hired because of their innovation, genius, courageousness. When you have directors and all levels throughout the organization empowered, so we are not in isolated roles, we don’t have to have major conferences about inclusive excellence; it’s gonna happen.

    I am now at a predominantly white institution as a vice president. We are having the same kinds of conversations. This is not peculiar for Peace Corps; this is a national dialogue, some systemic things we need to fix. The agency has to be braver than it has been.

     

    Harris Bostic: I like to ask hyperbolic questions in situations like this: What if the goal of Peace Corps was to have 90 percent of Volunteers be people of color? What would be done differently? How would recruitment and benefits be explained? How would the application process be different? Reentry?

    Take it further: What if, in 1961, when they were designing the Peace Corps, they were designing it for people of color and people from the lower socioeconomic 90 percent? How would the Peace Corps have been developed?

     

    What if, in 1961, when they were designing the Peace Corps, they were designing it for people of color and people from the lower socioeconomic 90 percent? How would the Peace Corps have been developed?

     

    Like I said, hyperbolic questions. But think about Peace Corps in 1960–61: Who did it appeal to? A young, white, usually female, from middle or upper class. It has grown from there.

    To the structure over 60 years — how do we rebuild? We can’t forget that equality is different from equity. We don’t have to treat everyone the same. If people coming in are people of color, Black, lower socioeconomic levels — they should be given different benefits and opportunities, a different return. There’d be pushback. But ask those bold questions — if we really want to get high numbers of people of color in the Peace Corps — what we have to do, or what we have to stop doing.

     


    This Coalition


    Melvin Foote: This is just the tip of the iceberg. Before I joined Peace Corps out of Gunnison, Colorado, I had a column in a newspaper called “The Back of the Bus.” I wrote about the experience of Black people. My audience were cowboys, folks up in the mountains. A guy wrote me a note — white guy from Michigan — and we met over coffee. He told me that he went to Ghana as a Peace Corps Volunteer, fell in love with a Ghanaian woman, and what is my opinion about interracial marriage?

    “You love who you love. I can’t tell you about that. But, ”I said, “what is this Peace Corps?” I wanted to go to Africa. I put in my application.

    A few months later, they wrote: You're going to Ethiopia. I thought: Ethiopia—the Middle East, because of the Bible stories. I went to the library, found an atlas — Ethiopia, right in the heart of Africa. When we flew over, I thought that Tarzan would be at the airport to take us to the village. That's the level of knowledge we had about Africa. I was shocked when I got to the airport and people were in suits and ties and carrying luggage and doing the things that people do at airports.

     

    My message is: Don't agonize, organize. You could get mad all the time; here in Washington you’re always mad.

     

    How far we have come — and how far we have to go. I’m an advocate. My message is: Don't agonize, organize. You could get mad all the time; here in Washington you’re always mad. Figure out what constructively you can do to shape policy.

    I’ve had my hand on just about every U.S. policy toward Africa — everything from PEPFAR to the Rwanda intervention to President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. We have to find constructive ways to add our voices, educate people about the Peace Corps, raise the issue with members of Congress who ought to be more supportive of the Peace Corps. We’re a coalition of the willing who want to help continue the legacy of the Peace Corps.

     

    WATCH MORE: The full conversation

     

     


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    Darlene Grant on her task to help shape “a more just and equitable Peace Corps” see more

    Darlene Grant on her task to help shape “a more just and equitable Peace Corps”

    Illustration by Edward Rooks

     

    At a time of national reckoning with racial injustice — and the Peace Corps has heard calls from Volunteers to do better in confronting systemic racism as it affects the agency — a new top level advisor has come on board to lead work to create “a more just and equitable Peace Corps.” Darlene Grant’s official title is senior advisor to Director Jody Olsen. The excerpted Q&A below gives a sense of the scope of her work. You can read the full version on the Peace Corps website.

    Some background on Dr. Grant: 18 years as a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in social justice, clinical practice, research methodology, and working with at-risk youth. Named 2006 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers. Took a leave of absence to serve in Cambodia’s third Peace Corps Volunteer cohort as a teacher and teacher trainer. Then country director in Mongolia and Kosovo.

     

    On volunteering in Cambodia

    It challenged everything I had learned from living life as an African American woman whose parents were a part of the great migration of the 1950s — when they traveled from the South to northern cities for opportunities. It challenged everything from my academic pursuits to what I taught as a professor about empathy, resilience, social justice, diversity, power, privilege, and oppression.

     

    It challenged everything from my academic pursuits to what I taught as a professor about empathy, resilience, social justice, diversity, power, privilege, and oppression.

     

    The people-to-people work of a Peace Corps Volunteer — living at the level of the community in which you serve, building relationships in the face of daily cross-cultural misunderstanding (that, in my case, included helping others overcome stereotypes related to the package that I come in) affirmed my commitment to my profession as it intersects with the mission of the Peace Corps. It solidified my passion for this work.

     

    As a country director

    It is from my own personal experience as a Volunteer and my professional framework that I have encouraged Volunteers — when they feel their work or presence is not valued — to get back to their why. Why do you want to do meaningful work? Why did you join the Peace Corps? It is my firm belief that if you can get back to your why, and if you use the staff and peer resources around you, you will tap into your core resilience. 

     

    As senior advisor

    My primary role is to listen to and advise through the filter of my experience as a clinical social work practitioner; professor-researcher focused on anti-violence, anti-poverty, anti-racism, and oppression; Returned Peace Corps Volunteer; and former country director. I want to create a space where I can truly listen to people’s stories and recommendations on behalf of the agency. I aim to collaborate with the Peace Corps’ Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion to connect the dots in terms of attitudes, policies, and practices that deliberately or inadvertently put up barriers toward attaining the richest possible diversity of applicants, Volunteers, and staff from underrepresented groups.

     

    Why do this?

    My unique skills make me sensitive to the desire everyone has to be seen, heard, and respected for who they are, their fears, what they have overcome, and their hopes and dreams. Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life and career to be one focused on meaningful cross-cultural work which, through an agency embedded within our U.S. government, enables me (and us) to work for a better America and a better world. After hearing the sad news of the passing of Representative John Lewis, I have been framing the dozens of calls for Peace Corps leadership to address organizational racial inequities in terms of his life, his fearless commitment, and his devotion to this work. The challenges and importance of anti-oppression, anti-racism, cannot be overstated.

     

    Peace Corps changed the trajectory of my life and career to be one focused on meaningful cross-cultural work which, through an agency embedded within our U.S. government, enables me (and us) to work for a better America and a better world.

     

    As I emphasize the importance of pressing on, no matter how tired, no matter how skeptical that this effort will lead to real change, one quote by Rep. John Lewis particularly resonates: “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even fairer, more just society.”

    As everyone who reads this response has undoubtedly done, I have ruminated on the meaning of the intersection of the pandemic, the evacuation, and the horrendous killings of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others. These events have catapulted our society — and this agency — to a tipping point with a feeling of real possibilities for change.

     

     

    This story appears in the Fall 2020 edition of WorldView magazine. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    A message from NPCA President Glenn Blumhorst see more

    President’s Letter: Now is a time to commit to building a legacy of inclusive peace.

    By Glenn Blumhorst
    Photo by Summer Gardner / Black RPCV in the DMV


     

    What a year this has been! What began as what many of us hoped might be a year of “perfect” 20/20 vision to achieve our new year’s resolutions, business plans, and interpersonal goals turned out to be one of the most challenging years of our lifetime — profoundly so for the Peace Corps community. Though shortly after the beginning of the year, we were concerned by legislation that proposed ending the independence of Peace Corps. Pandemic led to a global evacuation of Volunteers in the spring. And by the time many of you read this message, our country will be turning yet another important page in this chapter of life we are all experiencing together. It is our goal at National Peace Corps Association that, no matter what the outcome of our 2020 elections, our leaders in the White House, House of Representatives, and U.S. Senate collectively support a better and stronger Peace Corps. So let us all lend a hand in transforming the Peace Corps so that we can once again pick up the torch and build peace and friendship abroad — and work together to do the same thing right here at home. 

    Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis wrote: “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.” While we cannot control what we face in the future, we can and should prepare for the problems we might face in this changed world. And while we certainly cannot undo the perils of the past year, I would be remiss if I did not address what we are doing at NPCA now to help heal old wounds from the past, as well as work to create new possibilities in the future that awaits us.

     

    The skills we learned, backed by our core values, are what we need to be of service at home in the United States.


    This past year has, for many of us, opened our hearts and minds to what is happening in our country like never before. When we serve as Peace Corps Volunteers, we venture into unfamiliar territory; we may witness strife or enforced gender roles that we find unsettling. While we adapt to our new environments, learn new languages, and forge new relationships, we may do so amidst wrenching change in the communities where we serve. The skills we learned, backed by our core values, are what we need to be of service at home in the United States — particularly while we have no Volunteers serving anywhere abroad. 
     

    August 28, 2020: New affiliate group Black RPCV in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) brought together other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers for the commemorative March on Washington. Photo by Summer Gardner / Black RPCV in the DMV

     

    Peace Corps Volunteers are leaders in all walks of life. Being a leader means standing up for what is right, not just walking the walk only when it is comfortable to do so. At NPCA, we have humbly taken a stand in the fight against racial injustice after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others this year alone. We have held town halls, worked with affiliate groups, participated in marches, and advocated for legislative reform: for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act as well as police reform. And many of us have taken small steps with family members and friends to deepen an understanding of the gravity of what is happening in communities across the country. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we stand for human rights; as peacemakers we also work for justice and to ensure our valuable skill sets are being brought to bear where they are needed most.

     

    August 28, 1963: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Photo by Warren K.Leffler / Library of Congress.


    Standing up for the safety of our fellow American citizens is patriotic and exemplifies the leadership that each and every one of us gained during service. We have already done the same for the people in the communities that hosted us as Volunteers. So as this year draws to a close, let’s focus on making it a cornerstone for the good of humanity. Let us continue to have uncomfortable conversations that lead to lifelong connections and hearts that are full: of peace, justice, and understanding. We are only as good as our legacy will allow us to be years from when we all are no longer here. Let’s commit to building a legacy of inclusive peace and justice all around the world.

     


    Glenn Blumhorst is President & CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He welcomes your comments: president@peacecorpsconnect.org
     

    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Fall 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.