racial justice

  • 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 2 posted an article
    A perspective from Kenya. July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future. see more

    A host country perspective from Kenya. Remarks from the July 18, 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future.

    By Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said

     

    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 Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said  — volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. 

    Below is an edited version of his remarks.

     

    Hi everybody, I’m happy to be given this chance to share with you some experiences. I’ll talk about three episodes regarding the Peace Corps. Peace Corps came at the correct time when many countries just gained their independence; the young people who came as Volunteers were disciplined and they really interacted with the community.

    People in Kenya knew very little about the United States. With the coming of the Peace Corps Volunteers, who worked mainly in rural areas, people came to know more. And that was during during the Cold War. Discussions took place, and people felt at home with the Volunteers — and the Volunteers themselves felt at home. Thus that aim of the Peace Corps was achieved immediately. 

    The majority of the Volunteers were teachers, and I'm happy to say that most of the people who went through those schools — special high schools — and because of the Peace Corps, they did well in school and they have really served the community. That's the main aim of the Peace Corps: to empower the people. 

     

    Watch: Remarks by Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said from July 18

     


    As the years went on, especially in other fields, what Peace Corps Volunteers did was marvelous. In technical terms, whether in agriculture or in otherwise empowering people, they did a good job. The policy of the American government was seen on the ground; to see and talk to people and exchange ideas is when you learn more about the country. And it came as a cultural exchange: We learned technical fields, and we learned more about American culture and American people. 

    After the Cold War came another era — the era of terrorism, which really affected the work done by Volunteers in several countries. In some countries, the Volunteers couldn't go too deep in some areas. And as things change, especially in Kenya, they had to be pulled out; that was very sad. That also interfered with the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers. 

    And now there is a reckoning because of this pandemic. I think this a big a big blow to the Peace Corps itself — especially in Kenya, because we were just planning to bring in new Peace Corps Volunteers. We were ready to receive them, after they were pulled out about seven years ago. They were coming back. And unfortunately, all of a sudden this pandemic came. 

    Now is a very difficult time, especially for the work of the Peace Corps — because the Peace Corps Volunteers work with communities and interact with communities. With this pandemic, we don't know how long it will take. So unfortunately, that interaction is no longer there. Because when people are living together and working together, they learn from each other — and they learn each other's culture, even how to prepare traditional dishes. We shall miss all that. 

    How can the Peace Corps change and work from outside the country they're supposed to be in? How can the Volunteers work? It's a big challenge. And I think this we have to look at very critically. I don't see Volunteers coming back to the countries in the near future. So I think the best thing is to plan and see how we can interact. What we are doing now through Zoom most these days — people have learned to communicate. People are working from home; is it possible to give some technical advice from home? That's one thing we should look at.

     

    I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected. 

    How can we revive or continue with the work that Peace Corps Volunteers were doing? They have left, and I'm sure that local people that are trying to contact them to do some work; it's a continuous train which goes on. 

    How can we survive during this pandemic? We need to look at ourselves and bring our heads together and see how the work can be done. We have seen it at the national conference taking place. And is it possible, at least to some extent, to carry on with the work we are doing in the stations we were through Zoom?

    The other issue is the American situation. Just recently people were really shocked when the [government] said that international students who are there had to come back. I'm very happy that decision was revised. Such decisions sometimes, unfortunately, affect ordinary people who have children there and who are starting their own family; they hope that they will get the education they need in America and then come back. So if all of a sudden they said that "No, because of this pandemic, you have to go back," it becomes difficult. 

    But also, if I can mention what has happened recently in the States — especially the brutality which is going on: That really affected so many people all over the world. I'm glad that things are being worked out, and I hope things which would have changed a long time ago should change now, and people should be respected. 

    People are very sensitive, especially in terms of human rights; people are saying that especially that America, this democracy, is usually the first to talk about and harass other countries when there is abuse of human rights. And here people are looking at especially the security guys and themselves doing such things. As human beings, we should all learn to live with each other and respect each other — and work together.


    Dr. Mohamud Sheikh Nurein Said of Kenya is a volunteer, philanthropist, and humanitarian engaged in a wide range of medical service and human rights activities on the local, national, and international levels. He is the 2013 recipient of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    In a time of global crisis, Lex Rieffel explores new ways forward for Peace Corps. see more

    COVID-19 upended systems. Now we’re focused on structural racism like never before. So how can Peace Corps help this nation live up to its ideals?

     
    By Lex Rieffel

    Illustration by Sandra Dionsi / Theispot

     

    The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted at the beginning of this year massively disrupted behavior that has for a long time been taken for granted — between people and between nations. Then in May the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis under the knee of a policeman sparked unprecedented demonstrations around the world to end systemic racial discrimination and improve social justice.

    Years will pass before new patterns of home life and work life become normal and before international relations achieve new forms of openness and interaction. Policies, programs, projects, and institutions will have to be adapted to meet this new reality. It will not be easy. It will require political will not seen since World War II, and a reckoning with racism that precedes the founding of the United States.

    As it prepares to celebrate in 2021 its 60th year of working to make the world a better place, the Peace Corps, too, will have to change. Even the three goals announced at its founding will need to be reconsidered:

    1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.

    2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

    3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.


    Perhaps the focus should be less on training and more on meeting global challenges like climate change and conflict.

     

    MY PEACE CORPS GROUP, India XVI, served in the mid-1960s. This was the heyday of the Peace Corps. It had blossomed to become a vibrant agency in less than ten years, with almost 16,000 Volunteers serving in scores of countries. Then the Vietnam War and President Nixon crippled both the supply of volunteers and the demand from host countries, reducing the number of serving Volunteers to under 5,000 in the early 1980s.

    A passionate campaign in that decade produced enough bipartisan support in the Congress to stop the decline in the number of Volunteers and begin a slow buildup. However, three successive presidents — Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama — failed to achieve their election campaign pledges to double the number of serving Volunteers from the levels they had inherited; Clinton inherited some 5,400, Obama just over 7,000 — about the number now. There was insufficient support in the Congress for a bigger Peace Corps budget to overcome the opposition of a vocal minority. Voters seemed convinced that U.S. national security depended more on putting boots on the ground overseas than sneakers on the ground.

    Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress has strengthened during the Trump Presidency. A bill was introduced in the House last year to defund the Peace Corps and attracted more than 100 votes. It’s easy to imagine the Peace Corps being defunded in a second Trump Administration. But it’s also possible to imagine a stronger Peace Corps emerging under a new president.
     

    Revolutionary and Inclusive

    Wearing my economist hat, here is my best guess about the supply and demand for Peace Corps Volunteers, regardless of who is elected in November.

    It seems likely that more American men and women will be interested in joining the Peace Corps in the coming years because higher education and the job market in the USA have been so greatly disrupted. Even before the pandemic arrived, the job market was being reshaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, and other factors. The “normal” pattern of getting a full-time job with benefits was no longer the default option for many graduates. The gig economy was expanding visibly.

    The pandemic has delivered a body blow to higher education that will almost certainly lead to dramatic changes. Already we see far more high school graduates exploring gap year options. More fundamentally, financial constraints are likely to reduce residential enrollment substantially for several years. College dropouts and people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, regardless of their age, may find the Peace Corps and other forms of public service to be appealing options.

    The biggest unknown on the supply side is how the current debate on national service will play out. Too few Americans are aware of the existence of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Mandated by the Congress in the authorizing legislation for FY2017, the Commission issued its final report in March 2020, and held its public rollout on June 25. Its recommendations represent “a revolutionary and inclusive approach to service for Americans.”

    The National Commission found compelling reasons “to cultivate a widespread culture of service” in the United States. Its report states that bold action is required, not incremental change. Its recommendations begin with “comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten” and extend to making service-year opportunities so ubiquitous that “service becomes a rite of passage for millions of young adults.” If acted upon, the result will enhance national security and strengthen our democratic system.
     

    The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031.


    The Commission proposes an ambitious goal of having 5 million Americans every year begin participating in military, national, or public service by 2031. Among these, it calls for one million to be supported by federal funding, ten times the number currently supported. The Peace Corps is explicitly included in this vision, though the Commission does not recommend a specific number of Peace Corps Volunteers. It does explicitly call for an expansion of Peace Corps Response, making the program more accessible to older Americans and people with disabilities, with increased opportunities for “virtual” volunteering.

    The pandemic could actually accelerate the idea of creating a voluntary national service norm, for women as well as men. Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced to scale up AmeriCorps and other domestic service programs. Experts and activists have called for establishing new programs for rapid employment of contact tracers and health workers to stop the pandemic in the USA. The ongoing demonstrations against racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have brought forth proposals for new community-based service initiatives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) created in the Great Depression of the 1930s has been cited as a model for a form of service program that could emerge to reduce the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in the past 75 years: 14.7 percent at the end of April and 13.3 percent at the end of May.

    The Peace Corps budget is a tiny part of the federal budget. For example, its appropriation of $410.5 million for FY2020 was less than two-tenths of one percent of the Defense Department’s budget request for weapons procurement. It shouldn’t take much political will in the Congress to double or triple the Peace Corps’ budget if there is growing voter support for national service. The crucial question will then become how many of the men and women seeking a service opportunity will be attracted to living in a foreign country. A big part of the answer will depend on evolving perceptions of the health and security risks of working outside the USA. Quite possibly, fewer Americans will want to spend two years in some remote village in a country they couldn’t find on a map, even with a promise of reliable internet access. On the other hand, some of the recently repatriated Peace Corps volunteers are continuing their service online, and forms of virtual service internationally may become more feasible and attractive.

    In short, the supply could conceivably be sufficient to produce a Peace Corps with as many as 100,000 volunteers serving abroad by 2031, but that must be considered a best-case outcome.

    The demand from host countries, by contrast, may be insufficient to even maintain the pre-pandemic level of 7,000 volunteers in the field. There will be an early test of this demand: how many of the 60-odd countries hosting volunteers before the pandemic erupted will welcome them back. The process of renegotiating programs with these countries will undoubtedly be challenging.

     


    Who needs the Peace Corps?

    In the 1960s, the whole world — even countries in the Communist Bloc — looked up to the USA with envy because of its high standard of living, its rich culture (movies, theaters, museums, etc.), its outstanding universities, its technological advances (putting men on the moon), its fight for civil rights, its enduring democratic political system, its international leadership. Few countries still look up to the USA in this comprehensive way. Over the past two decades or more, we have squandered our position of preeminence. 
     

    It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration.


    That’s just the beginning of the problem. The process of globalization led by the United States started slowing down with the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2001 and halted with the Global Financial Crisis emanating from the USA in 2007–08. By 2015, globalization was unwinding. That was the year the refugee exodus from the Middle East quickly led most European countries to restrict immigration severely. Another big setback came with the Brexit vote in June 2016, followed a few months later by the election of President Trump on an anti-globalization platform. It seems extremely unlikely that the world will revert to the openness that existed a decade ago. There will be less trade, less tourism, less migration. Climate change is likely to produce more border closing than border opening.

    In short, in a world where most governments are preoccupied with addressing internal problems and in which internet access is penetrating into the far corners of the globe, few countries are likely to need Peace Corps volunteers or want them.

    At the same time, the rise of China and other countries forces us to reconsider our national security in a world where the U.S. population of 330 million represents barely 4 percent of Earth’s total population of 7.7 billion. Military power cannot possibly be enough to maintain the respect of the rest of the world. To some extent, this power seems to have made the rest fear the USA more than admire it. In this case, America’s national security may depend greatly on how well the rest of the world understands the positive features of our country. Promoting that understanding just happens to be the second goal of the Peace Corps. 

     

    FROM A DEEPER DIVE into the risk of border-related conflict in the coming decades emerges an argument that a “whole world peace corps” is needed more than lots of separate national Peace Corps-like programs. Thus, the most ambitious approach to reinventing the Peace Corps might be to transform the existing UN Volunteer program into a World Peace Corps, with every country establishing an affiliate. The U.S. Peace Corps, for example, would be rebranded as “World Peace Corps - USA.”

    By contrast, the least ambitious vision for the post-pandemic Peace Corps would be to re-establish its recent level of 7,000 serving volunteers, making the adjustments necessary to restore programs with previous host countries and find some new ones. This should be doable — though it’s important not to underestimate the complexities that will arise.

    So, what is the most impactful and politically feasible approach that the large “Peace Corps family” should pursue? A time of crisis like today’s provides an ideal opportunity to assess and debate alternatives. For this reason, the National Peace Corps Association is convening a summit on July 18 to explore the future of Peace Corps — and the broader Peace Corps community.
     

    Among options worth considering: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them.


    There are a number of options worth considering between a World Peace Corps and reverting to the barely visible program of the past 40 years. Most important among them may be two-way service programs: programs that bring to the USA as many volunteers from countries hosting Peace Corps volunteers as we send to them. This was part of Sargent Shriver’s vision back in the 1960s, but it was a nonstarter with the U.S. Congress. Now we have to ask ourselves why any country negotiating with the Peace Corps would fail to insist on a two-way program.

    The resistance, sadly, will be within the USA, despite the fact that there is an abundance of service work that men and women from foreign countries could usefully do here. Disaster relief is just one obvious area. Few Americans know that thousands of individuals in Ireland raised more than $3 million for the Navajo nation to help fight the pandemic. Firefighters have come from as far away as Australia to battle wildfires in California and other states.

    Teaching is probably the most interesting area for two-way service. Think of the benefits of having at least one foreign teacher in every middle school and high school in the USA. They could teach foreign languages, geography, music, sports, and more. Their counterparts, Americans serving as volunteer teachers abroad, would do the same.

    This could be the easiest way to build on the Third Goal of the Peace Corps in the post-pandemic world: helping Americans to better understand people in the rest of the world. It would also represent a strong step to counter allegations that the Peace Corps is a manifestation of “white saviorism.”

    Such a two-way teaching program could be established within the State Department (like the Fulbright and the Humphrey programs) or under the Corporation for National and Community Service. But there is one glaring problem here.

    Anti-Peace Corps sentiment in the Congress won’t go away in a post-Trump administration. A bigger, better, bolder Peace Corps in its current form as a federal agency may well be a political nonstarter even under a Democratic administration. If so, converting the Peace Corps from a U.S. government agency to an independent, private sector NGO might represent the best chance to build an international service program that continues to be “the best face of America overseas.”

    With a nonpartisan board of trustees composed of eminent personalities, this NGO could be generously funded by individual donors, foundations, and corporations, as well as receiving core grants from the federal budget. Largely freed from government fetters, it could iterate toward an array of programs of international service that contribute materially to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Operating within this organization, the Peace Corps could remain the gold standard of international service.

    Yet now we have a fresh challenge — which is also coming to terms with a very old problem. To remain the gold standard, the Peace Corps will have to become more diverse, more inclusive. The report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has noted that our existing federal service programs have primarily benefited people from better educated and higher income families. This is true about the Peace Corps as much as other programs.

    I hope readers will not simply “stay tuned” for a report from the National Peace Corps Association following the July 18 summit. I hope they will weigh in with constructive comments. For sure, there will be no consensus on how the Peace Corps should evolve, but I believe that the members of the Peace Corps family — more than 200,000 strong — are in the best position to understand the challenges and find a sensible way forward. 
     


    Lex Rieffel (India 1965–67) is a nonresident fellow with the Stimson Center. He served two years of active duty in the U.S. Navy before joining the Peace Corps. He has been an economist with the Treasury Department and USAID, a senior advisor for the Institute of International Finance, and a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Reasons why. And some serious advice. It’s a matter of life and death. see more

    Reasons why. And some serious advice. It’s a matter of life and death.

    By Missi Smith

     

    ON MEMORIAL DAY a Black man named George Floyd was senselessly murdered in broad daylight on a Minneapolis street corner by a now former police officer. In the immediate wake of this completely avoidable tragedy, Minneapolis was rocked by protests, looting, and riots — exacerbated by ineffective leadership from all levels of our government, including detrimental interference from the White House. Yet Floyd’s killing has also launched a global movement in some 50 countries.

    I’m a Minnesota native. As a child, I attended my first preschool just blocks from where George Floyd cried out for his mother as he took his last breath. Prior to joining Peace Corps in 2017, I lived in that neighborhood. In the days following his lynching by law enforcement, I’ve had concerned and well-meaning friends (particularly white friends) calling and messaging to check on me and ask if I’m OK. They have literally been asking if they can give me some form of compensation for the educational and emotional labor I’ve done for them, in order to help them make sense of recent and past events. Now they are seeking ways to help me. Needless to say, it has been an exhausting time as a resident — particularly a Black resident — of this state. 

    I am tired.

    If I’m being honest, I was tired long before the George Floyd murder. 

     

    George Floyd, memorialized. When Missi Smith sat down to write about him, she noted: “I was raised to respect the rule of law and order (for God’s sake, my brother is a cop in the northern suburbs of our metro area). I was also raised to suss out injustice and seek change.”


    LET ME OUTLINE the ways in which I am tired, in no particular order, including, but not limited to: 

    I’m tired of living in a state which through education and economic policy consistently fails its most vulnerable residents. According to a 2020 report from WalletHub, Minnesota ranks 45th for racial integration. Census Bureau data from 2018 tells us that the median income for a Black family was $36,000 compared to $83,000 for a white family. What about the education achievement gap? The graduation rate for Black students is 65 percent, compared to 77.8 percent nationally. That puts us dead last in the country. If Minneapolis alone put as much effort, time, and money into the school system as they do in their nationally rated park systems, our children might have better outcomes. 

    In Minneapolis and in other parts of the United States, I’m tired of watching, as one friend put it, “snuff films” justifying, even glorifying ending lives of Black men and women with reckless disregard, simply because police and vigilantes “fear for their lives” — or because they didn’t do a modicum of due diligence.
I’m tired of hashtagging another Black life in memoriam. 

    I’m tired of the fact that a majority of Minneapolis police officers vote for Police Federation head Bob Kroll, who has been, as former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recently put it, “toxic” to the police force. (Rybak was being extraordinarily charitable.)

    In the face of the myriad historical and ongoing injustices Black men, women, and children face from housing to employment to education in this country, I’m tired of my anger as a Black woman (albeit righteous) being derided, ignored, and stereotyped.

    I’m tired of the behavior of Amy Coopers, BBQ Beckys, and all of the Karens, injurious to Black freedom and liberty, going unchecked and unpunished. 

    I’m tired of having to revisit the same battles my grandparents and parents fought during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. 

    I am tired of having this conversation and the added expectation the societal ills of racism and white supremacy are solely up to the Black community to fix.

    I’m so flipping tired that I want to take a nap — but I can’t, because I’m Black in America. The best I can hope for is some semblance of self-care, but it’s hard to maintain when you’re constantly attacked from every angle simply because you exist.

     

    I AM SO VERY TIRED. Black people all across this country are so very tired. My question: Why aren’t you?

     

    THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION says that the chronic and sustained stress of racism and discrimination has a direct link to the overall health outcomes of Black people. This means Black folks put their lives on the line every day in this country, in every way possible — literally just by being Black and living in America. Why don’t you? 

    While Black people are not a monolith, we do have a shared experience in our diaspora, so I feel pretty safe in speaking for all of us when I say: WE. ARE. TIRED. So, my well-meaning and well-intentioned white allies and friends who keep asking if I’m OK, if you want to help, this is what you need to do. Again, in no particular order, including, but not limited to: 

    Stop asking us if we’re OK, because we’re not. We haven’t been for a long damned time — 400+ years since being forced here long, to be exact. (If you haven’t yet, read the Pulitzer Prize–winning 1619 Project from The New York Times.) Know that we are perpetually grieving because we are treated as less than second-class citizens in a country wherein so much of what you touch and to which you so proudly pledge allegiance was built with the literal blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors — yet, we haven’t ever been given proper credit for it. We keep watching the lives of our husbands, sons, and daughters taken from us. Our transgender brothers and sisters are dying at an astronomical rate. In the same week Floyd was lynched at the hands of law enforcement, we lost Tony McDade to police violence in Florida with barely a mention of him in the press.

     

    Listen to us. It’s literally that easy. Stop claiming ignorance, dismissing it, or sitting on the fence. Do something about it! 

     

    Believe us when we tell you about our lived experience of racism and discrimination. Listen to us. It’s literally that easy. Stop claiming ignorance, dismissing it, or sitting on the fence. Do something about it! 

    If you want to learn and do better, you’re going to have to start doing some heavy lifting. Librarians and historians can show you where to get the information and answer questions. Start thinking of your Black friends like librarians or historians rather than expecting them to coddle white feelings of defensiveness, anger, and shame.

    Black history is more than the 28 days of February and far deeper than Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. — who are so often quoted out of context. Learn about it and value it the same way you learn about and value the traditional historical narrative of the white male American founding fathers. 

    Stop co-opting Black leaders. MLK wasn’t as non-confrontational as you want to believe. He was the quintessential agitator. He was the original highway blocker.

    Stop with the “I’m not racist. I don’t see color!” Seriously, it’s embarrassing and it doesn’t make you “woke.” It’s not only lazy, it’s also infuriating to people of color — and it further dehumanizes us and devalues our many-generations-long struggles. And in this day and age, not being racist isn’t good enough. You must be anti-racist! Read from Robin DiAngelo and Tim Wise. They will help you in your quest. 

    Earlier I alluded to reparations. Journalist Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic a compelling argument for why Black folks deserve reparations. Some Black people are comfortable with receiving reparations on an individual level; personally, I am not. So, to my friends: Please, stop asking if you can compensate me or buy me stuff. (Though I will always accept Irish whiskey. That is never off the table!) I’d rather you take that money and donate it to your local NAACP chapter, a school classroom to help bridge achievement gaps, scholarship funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and other minority scholarship funds. Better yet, write your legislators and compel them to push an actual bill for reparations to give Black people economic parity. If the United States government can find $1.5 trillion in capital to inject into the casino of Wall Street after the 2008 financial meltdown, they can also fund long overdue payment of back wages. There are so many ways to give back to our community!

    Stop passive-aggressively cringing at family get-togethers and call your racist family members out! Uncle Bob doesn’t get any mashed potatoes at this year’s holiday celebration and neither do you, until you call him out him just like you call out other public acts of racism and discrimination. This also goes for your co-workers and your bosses! (HR is there to support you with this.) Learn the difference between “micro-aggressions” and overt acts of racism. Telling Black people they’re “articulate” may not be a call to violence the way a cross burning is. But casual and veiled racism is what sustains racism on a systemic scale.

     

    Telling Black people they’re “articulate” may not be a call to violence the way a cross burning is. But casual and veiled racism is what sustains racism on a systemic scale.

     

    If you champion the men who threw tea into Boston Harbor to liberate us from England, don’t ever tell Black people how they should feel, protest, or otherwise process the atrocities they’re living through. It’s not cool and it’s not helpful, and it just upholds the status quo. 

    Check your privilege and use it for good.

    Check your bias and eliminate it.

    Say Black Lives Matter. Say it unequivocally. Say it with your full chest and scream it from the rooftops. Say it. Then act like it! 

    Be mindful of cultural appropriation. Despite what any fashion magazine tells you, Kylie Jenner didn’t invent cornrows and head wraps aren’t a new trend. In fact, do us all a favor and look into the historical significance of these in our cultures. You’ll quickly realize it is not a fashion statement but something much deeper and meaningful.

    Stop praising Black people for being “resilient” and “strong.” In the eyes of American society, we don’t have any other choice but to be. Any other reaction to acts of racism are viewed as “angry,” “uppity,” “violent,” or “having an attitude.” 

     

    THIS LIST ISN’T EXHAUSTIVE, but if you care about me or Black people or Black culture at all, you’ll show up and show out for Black folks. 


    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m tired. I’m going to pour myself a whiskey and try to relax. 

     

    #BlackLivesMatter 
    #GeorgeFloyd
    #WeAreTired
    #Minneapolis
    #Minnesota
    #IAmTired
    #WhiteAllies
    #Allyship 

     


    Missi Smith served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyz Republic from 2017 until she was evacuated in 2020. She taught English and developed projects with students, teachers, law enforcement, and national television. This essay originally appeared on Medium and was also published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 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.

    • Peter Szydlowski Incredibly 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 you to move our society toward racial equality.
      3 months ago
  • 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

    Find all the stories mentioned here in the Summer 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 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

     

     


    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
    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.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Black Lives Matter: Voices and Scenes from Protests with the Peace Corps Community see more

    George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Elijah McClain. A fraction of a terrible litany of Black lives taken by police. Since Memorial Day Returned Volunteers have been on the streets to join protests—and lead them.


     

    “Racism cannot be cured solely by attacking some of the results it produces, like discrimination in housing or in education ... We must also treat the disease of racism itself.”

    —Sargent Shriver  |  Founder of the Peace Corps, in a speech at the First National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, 1958


    Elizabeth Smith went to Myanmar in January to serve as a Volunteer. When she was evacuated, she wrote, “I never thought I would meet a group of such motivated and genuine people.” In Palm Beach, Florida, her motivation has taken her to the streets. And she writes, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”

      

    “This isn’t about just George Floyd. This is about what happens if there wasn’t a video of George Floyd’s execution.”

    —Nathaniel Sawyer   He served as a Volunteer in Ecuador, has worked as a corrections official, and has been leading protests in Monterey County, California.

     

    Nathaniel Sawyer served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador. He is helping lead peaceful protests in California against racial injustice.

     

    “It is so heartbreaking that in a moment of pandemic, so much racialized violence is happening that we will die in order to prevent our deaths. We will die in order to prevent our deaths. And I don’t know if that has sunk in for the broader community yet. But that is the difficult nonchoice at this moment. If not now, when? Our black and brown community is risking their lives.”

    —Jocelyn Jackson  |  She served as Volunteer in Mali 2005-06 and cofounded People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland, California to serve the community.

     

    Jocelyn Jackson cofounded the People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland, California to serve the community and to spark discussion, connection, and long-term change.
     

    “People are looking for what is the solution right now. The main source of solution is expression. We’re coming in to make sure that that expression in Little Rock is as healthy as it can possibly be.”

    —Tim Campbell  |  Campbell served as a Volunteer in The Gambia 2017–19 and has been leading protests in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

     

    Tim Campbell has been leading protests in Little Rock, Arkansas, as part of a group called The Movement. He served in The Gambia 2017–19 and is a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service. In June he was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement.

      

    “By living out Peace Corps values here at home, we’ll have a better society, one that honors and celebrates our differences.”

    —Corey Arnez Griffin  |  NPCA Board Member and former Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships for Peace Corps, Griffin is CEO of Global Government and Industry Partners.

      

    J’Ana Diamond was teaching in China when it was announced in January that the program would close—and then all Volunteers were evacuated. For her birthday in May she raised money in memory of Ahmaud Arbery and to stop gun violence. In June she has been  protesting in San Diego.

     

     “We want to make sure any matters involving police are as transparent as possible. We want to get the correct data collected so we can shape the policy, and we want to be able to have a hand in seeing to it that these officers are held accountable whenever they step out of line.”

    —Garrison Davis  |  Davis served as a Volunteer in Moldova 2019–20 and has led protests in Delaware.

     

    Earlier this year, Garrison Davis appeared on Moldovan television, speaking Moldovan. Back in Wilmington, Delaware, he co-led the march We Still Can’t Breathe (March for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor) and a meeting with the governor of Delaware as well as the mayor and attorney general of Wilmington.

     

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

    —Martin Luther King, Jr.

     

    “Every damn day,” Sara Gilbert says about her protests at home. “Momentum won’t cease.” Gilbert served as a Volunteer in Benin 2018–20. Back home after being evacuated, she’s protesting in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. 

     

    “You will have an identity that will be more Peace Corps than Special Forces.”

    —John Scott Thomson  |  Camden County Police Chief, to new recruits. The New Jersey city dismantled its police force and restructured it in 2015. A drastic reduction in violent crime has followed.

     

    Jeremy Cutler served as a Volunteer in Tanzania before he was evacuated. A graduate of Howard University, he has joined protests in Washington, D.C. On June 6 he wrote: “We marched for our ancestors … We marched so future generations won’t have to, and for a change to come.”

     

    The same racism that kills Black people also separates families at the border.

    —Sign carried by Chanel Jimenez  |  Jimenez served as a Volunteer in Panama 2019–20 and has taken part in protests in Texas.

     
     

    On May 27 the Instagram channel @blackpcv posted: “Those that have/had the drive to serve abroad should also be bothered by what is going on at home and motivated to help.” On June 5 came this image, along with the reminder that Black volunteers deal with  racism at home—and in service abroad.

     

    Justice or Violence: You Choose.

    —Sign held by Langston Thomas  |  Thomas is 22, just graduated from Grinnell College, and planned to begin serving in Peace Corps in the fall before the pandemic hit. He was tear-gassed and hit with a rubber bullet in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.


     

    Ashley Behnke was working on literacy initiatives in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean before she was evacuated. Currently in the Washington, D.C. area. Her hashtags: #protest #inequality #blacklivesmatter #racism #love

     

    “The vast majority of Americans are demanding that we take on this national challenge to confront institutional racism ... U.S. international and foreign affairs organizations should rise to this challenge, and seize this moment to demonstrate leadership in pursuing broadbased policies and programs that will promote diversity and social justice in both their U.S. and overseas offices.”

    —Aaron Williams  |  Director of Peace Corps 2009–12 and Volunteer in the Dominican Republic 1967–70. From an essay he wrote for Devex.


     

    Photographer Zen Lael took this shot. He was training to serve as a Volunteer in Nepal when he was evacuated in March. Back in the New York area, he says: “I am staying under the oath to both the Peace Corps and my humanity to uplift, empower, and help change what I feel  is wrong.”

     


    Check out NPCA's racial justice home page for more. This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 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.

    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.

  • Ana Victoria Cruz posted an article
    Women of Peace Corps Legacy see more

    On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech that has become a defining moment in American History. Women of Peace Corps Legacy interview founding member Betty Currie about her experience there.

    by Katie McSheffrey

     

    Betty Currie‘s long career with Peace Corps began in 1969, after her job at USAID ended. She was initially recruited to work in the Africa Region as the secretary for the regional director. When the newly appointed Peace Corps Director, Joseph Blatchford, needed a secretary, Betty’s talents were already known at the agency. “The job was a crucial one. It had 10,000 people spread out over sixty-eight countries, and I needed a reliable, efficient person,” Blatchford recalls. “I didn't ask if she was a Republican or Democrat. I wasn't interested because she was so good." Betty remained with Director Blatchford when he moved to ACTION, the federal agency that ran the Peace Corps, and she subsequently moved up to work for two other agency directors — Michael Balzano and Sam Brown. In 2006, she resumed her relationship with Peace Corps as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Peace Corps Association. 

    Betty had met John Podesta, who also worked at ACTION, and in the early 1980s he invited her to run the offices of the Mondale and Dukakis Presidential campaigns and to later join the Clinton campaign. After Clinton became president, Betty served as his personal secretary during both of his terms. Betty has remained involved in Democratic politics. An Obama supporter, she is close to the former president's mother-inlaw, and in a recent conversation told her friend that everyone Betty knew applauded Michelle’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. 

    A summary of the Women of Peace Corps Legacy interview with Betty Currie follows. It has been edited for clarity and concision. 

     

     

    Q: First, let's talk about your experiences at the March on Washington 57 years ago. How did you get involved in the march?

    I’d gone to work that day at the Post Office at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, professionally dressed, ready for a day of hard work, and when I got there, my supervisor said, “What are doing here?” I said, “I have my job to do.” And he said, “You need to join the march so others will get a job!” So, I put on my tennis shoes and quickly ran down Connecticut Avenue to join the thousands of people gathering on the National Mall. 

    I found a place to sit under a tree between the stage and the end of reflection pool. Others joined me, and I met and talked to strangers who I felt I had a connection with. Together we listened to the most wonderful music by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, singing “How I Got Over.” Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome,” and Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “If I Had a Hammer.” Then we quietly listened to the speeches that began under the statue of Abraham Lincoln.    

     

    Q: What are the most memorable things that happened at the March? How would you describe the participants in the March?

    I remembering it being a joyful experience, fun even, full of people who were smiling and being kind to one another. The group was very diverse — there were people of all ages and races, gathered together in solidarity. Because it was a workday, people were dressed up in coats and ties and nice dresses. The atmosphere was peaceful, calm, and friendly; I felt safe. It felt like a time of change, and we were all inspired about future possibilities. 

    The speakers, including Martin Luther King and John Lewis, gave rousing speeches, but we had no idea at the time that their words would go down in history. After hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech, I remember thinking, “Well, that was a pretty good speech.” He said we should not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. I thought that was very powerful.

    When it was over, thousands of people peacefully left the area and returned to work. 

     

    Q: How would you compare this year's march with the one in 1963?

    Fifty-seven years ago, there was a lot of advance publicity about the march. I am not aware of that kind of publicity for today’s march. Ours was very organized with strong leadership, as one would expect with MLK’s people. And it wasn’t during a time of COVID, which will definitely affect turnout this week.

      

    Q: During the march, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech calling for an end to racism.  How well do you feel America has achieved that dream?

    We still have a way to go. We were on a good path to racial equality, but we’ve strayed from it in recent years. I hope that we’re back on the path to progress. I feel hopeful.

     

     

    Q: Now let's talk about your time with Peace Corps. What brought you to Peace Corps?

    Well, I would say it was the grace of God that brought me there. I had worked for USAID and when that time was over, I was asked to interview with the head of the Africa Region of Peace Corps, Walter Carrington. I remember waiting for an interview when a young woman walked in and said, “We need to send this letter to Mauritius,” and I remember thinking, “Is there actually a country Mauritius? Even so, I got the job!”

    I was lucky to attend a regional conference in Africa where I was asked to take notes. I guess I did a good job because I was recommended to be the new Peace Corps Director Joseph Blatchford’s special assistant/secretary. I remember after the interview I was told that if I got the job, I would have to either get rid of the afro or the pants suit — I couldn’t keep both. I chose to keep the pants suit.

     

     

    Q: How did your time at Peace Corps affect your life?

    I learned that working in the Peace Corps office could bring great joy. Volunteers returned after two difficult years, full of happiness and hope for their future. It was as if they had gained the knowledge that you could be happy with very few creatures comforts and understood the oneness of mankind. They also came home with a deep appreciation for their life in America and the democracy they enjoyed in the U.S. Meeting them was truly inspirational.

    I remember one time when I was asked to host local Peace Corps staff who were visiting from Mauritius, and I was asked us to host them at our home for a real American meal and experience. “What am I going to do?” I thought because I wasn’t much of a cook. So, I called my daughter and told her to cook some spaghetti for our new guests that I would be bringing home.  It was quite evident that they couldn’t figure out what we were serving — I guess they’d never had spaghetti before — so we took them to a nearby restaurant that featured good old Southern cooking with ribs and collard greens, and they loved it! 

     

    "That was the Peace Corps way. An organization were people care and they let you know. They care about you, what you’re doing and how you’re doing. And that feeling stays with me.

     

    Q: You were at Peace Corps at a time when Nixon wanted to do away with it. What is your memory of that experience?

    It’s true — Nixon wanted to do away with Peace Corps. I remember that at one point some Volunteers took over the building in protest. I was on the front lines when Peace Corps was folded into ACTION, something Director Blatchford reluctantly agreed to so that President Nixon would not dissolve the Peace Corps. I know that Blatchford is still criticized for that, but I thought it was a brilliant move because it kept Peace Corps alive.

     

    Q: Finally, let's talk about the current Black Lives Matter movement. As you know, Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the DMV, a new group affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association, is actively involved in the August 28th march. What advice would you give to young people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement?

    First, let me say how much I appreciate the work of Women of Peace Corps Legacy. Your support of women’s empowerment around the world is very admirable. 

    The Black Lives Matter movement is relatively new, and I wholeheartedly support their efforts. I would say to all young people — and to people of all ages: “Join them, support their efforts, and enjoy every minute!”

     

     

    To learn more about the March on Washington and the Black Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organization please visit the Black PCV in the DMV website.

  • Communications Intern posted an article
    Welcoming remarks for the July 2020 global ideas summit: Peace Corps Connect to the Future see more

    We’ve reached the summit. But this is not the end of the journey. Welcoming remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future.

    By Glenn Blumhorst

    On July 18, 2020, National Peace Corps Association hosted Peace Corps Connect to the Future, a global ideas summit. Here is the introduction from NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst.

     

     

    Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Glenn Blumhorst. I'm President of National Peace Corps Association. And I was a Volunteer in Guatemala from 1988 to '91. And I've chosen today to represent my bio — what we're doing is a six-word bio for myself today — it is: "Serving you, the Peace Corps community." And I chose that six-word bio, because really, that's what this role here is all about for me at Peace Corps. We are about serving the community as an organization. And I have the honor and the privilege of being your servant as well and serving you as a member of this community. So I'm so very grateful for that opportunity. 

    I’m very pleased to welcome all of you to Peace Corps Connect to the Future, an ideas summit we're calling it. This is our first — and hopefully our last — virtual summit. This was a lot of hard work. And I just want to thank all the board directors, the members of our staff, volunteers, and family and friends and others who really contributed to making this all possible. It's a lot of work compared to an actual physical gathering, and it's a quite a different type of work that we had to undertake to make this happen. 

     

    Watch: Glenn Blumhorst’s welcoming remarks for Peace Corps Connect to the Future

     

    Today, we would have been, normally, celebrating and “festivating,” I guess is the word, at our annual national conference in Seattle. Today would have been Peace Corps Connect in Seattle. But, as many of us know, things sometimes change. 

     

    Global Evacuation

    And this year, what happened on March 15, 2020: We heard the Peace Corps announce that they were making the unprecedented decision to suspend all Volunteer programs and activities due to the COVID. And 7,300 or more Peace Corps Volunteers were brought home, and programs were suspended at that time. Lives were really turned upside down by the COVID pandemic. And that was just the beginning. 

    We responded to the returning Peace Corps Volunteers by launching the Global Reentry Program. You'll hear a little bit more about that later this afternoon. But it was intended to throw out the welcome mat to those 7,000 evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers and give them a long virtual embrace in welcoming them home from their service in what was very much a traumatic and abrupted situation for them — many of them who were not expecting to be where they are today after that transition. 

    We mobilized to help advocate for benefits to be enhanced for the evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers, and worked to support them as an organization with their jobs and academics and finding opportunities, connecting with the community after their return. 

    We also were concerned about the future of the Peace Corps. We found it in an unprecedented state: an uncertainty in our country, but also an uncertainty with the Peace Corps and its future, with no Volunteers serving overseas. We ramped up our advocacy efforts on behalf of the Peace Corps, just to ensure that it secured its additional funding for the evacuation, and that the prior process of advocating for future-year funding was also in place to ensure that there was going to be continuity for Peace Corps' funding. 

    But ultimately, we had to decide to cancel Peace Corps Connect. And when we did, we were looking at a really grim situation here in the United States in terms of the pandemic, where the death toll had reached over 100,000 from COVID-19. And more than 40 million individuals had filed for unemployment since mid-March, many of them — and most of them, actually — in communities of people of color. 

     

    Time of Reckoning

    And then on May 25th, we witnessed the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man at the hands of a white police officer. And his last words that we all heard: "I can't breathe." This sparked nationwide protests and the beginning of a reckoning with systemic racism. And I know personally, this struck me very deeply. 

    A few days after that, and just watching the news and absorbing what was happening, it really struck me that National Peace Corps Association as an organization needed to come out clear and articulate in what our position was, and what our reaction was to the situation. And we took a stand against racial injustice. We issued a May 31st statement. One of the things that we said was: "We condemn the actions that led to George Floyd's death, just as we condemn discrimination and violence against all Black people, and that includes members of the Peace Corps community." 

    Since then, a nationwide movement has opened our eyes and opened our hearts and minds. It's also sparked community-wide conversation on racism right here in our own Peace Corps community. And so, July 18, 2020, here we are now. After all of this — on what would have normally been a festive occasion for Peace Corps Connect up in Seattle, we're here virtually gathered all with all of you.

     

    We want to ensure the future of the Peace Corps — that it not just survives, but that it emerges transformed — recreated, as many people have said, dramatically changed.

     

    And this event, we decided to hold because we really felt that we needed to hear the collective voice of our community on the issues that are most important to you: first and foremost that of systemic racism, and how we are going to deal with it in our own community and our own institutions, including National Peace Corps Association. We heard from you also about concern about the Peace Corps and its future as well. And when Volunteers may someday, hopefully soon, be able to return back to their service, or new Volunteers will be able to be recruited and placed in their countries of service, just like we were. 

    So we held a number of town halls throughout the last two weeks, eight of them in total. And those town halls hosted conversations on a variety of different topics. And these topics then feed into this annual summit, and you're going to hear the report-outs from those town halls and you're going to hear the most salient issues that were identified, and even some really great ideas that came out of those. But I want to say that while we've reached the summit here after eight town halls, this is only the first step of many, in a very long journey. We have much more work to do. Beyond this summit, we have to now put words into action, ideas into action. It's not going to be downhill from the summit. It's not going to be downhill from here. We have hard work to do. And we have commitment to show. 

    We first, of course, want to ensure the future of the Peace Corps; we want to ensure that it not just survives, but that it emerges transformed — recreated, as many people have said, dramatically changed. It needs to be a new Peace Corps. I think we have all come to that understanding. We're going to hear a little bit later from the Peace Corps director herself, and she's going to share some of her thoughts about where Peace Corps is headed as it reemerges from this crisis situation. 

    But also, we want to achieve that vision that we have of a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. And that's our vision statement. But you know what? We need to include in our own vision statement that this is a community that needs to be one that is diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. And that is a powerful force for the change that we want to see. That, my friends, is our utmost priority going forward. And you have my commitment that I will do all I can and work hard for you and with you to make sure that happens. 

    So, while this weekend, we would have had a nice festive gathering up in Seattle, and we would have enjoyed connecting with each other and hugging — and real hugs, and catching up on telling stories to each other, enjoying the Seattle weather and all the fun up there — it really is an entirely different weekend than what we had anticipated just a few months ago. 

     

    A Moment of Reflection

    But there's reason also today to have pause. Today, we're marking this today as Nelson Mandela International Day. We must remember that in all that we're facing right now, he represents our north star toward justice. So we're pleased to have our conference on his day and remember him and all that he stood for, and follow his commitment and his example. 

    Sadly, though, yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the killing of Eric Garner; that remains such a reality in our minds. Guess what? His dying words as well, six years ago: "I can't breathe," repeated 11 times. Though it helped spark a movement in protest of police treatment of minorities, six years later, that happened again, those words echoed in the last minutes of George Floyd's life. It's a moment of sadness for Eric, for George, and for so many other Black Americans who have endured this violence for hundreds of years as a result of systemic racism. 

    And just last night, as we were making the final preparations for this event, we learned of Congressman John Lewis's passing. He was an icon of the justice movement. Martin Luther King spoke about the nation's bend toward justice. And that complicated bend was personified by Congressman John Lewis: as a radical, fighter, public servant, and friend. He was, of course, a wonderful supporter to all of the Peace Corps. And that came as no surprise, because in 1968, he married Lillian Miles, who would become his wife of nearly half a century. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving for two years in Nigeria, and passed away just a few years ago. So in these most challenging times, and at this time of John Lewis's death, these challenging times for our nation, we have lost an icon in the struggle for racial justice in America.

    I'd like to then take a moment and give a few minutes, a few moments of silence in reflection and remembering, mourning, and hope, as we reflect on all of these events that have struck our community and mean so much to us, if you'll join me, please, in just a moment of silence.


    Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Food for thought — and life — in a time of crisis see more

    Food for thought — and for life — in a time of crisis

    By NPCA Staff
    Photo: Ackeem Evans, left, with a volunteer for World Central Kitchen. Courtesy Ackeem Evans. 

     

    Here are two stories that inspired us in the past two days: Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have carried their sense of community and commitment to the critical work they’re doing at a time of a global pandemic, and when people across the United States and around the world have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice.

     

     

     

    Ackeem Evans was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania when an earthquake struck, killing scores and injuring thousands. In the aftermath, he worked with World Central Kitchen (WCK) to provide meals to those affected by the earthquake. When he was evacuated in March, he connected with WCK in his home town of Atlanta. He’s now leading operations for WCK in Georgia, ensuring tens of thousands of free meals get to the needy and underserved.
     

    Thanks to Henri Hollis with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for this story.

     




    Jocelyn Jackson served as a natural resources Volunteer in Mali 2005-06. “To spend two years in a small village, with less than 500 people, in the Sahel area was all the sadness and it was all the beauty, it was all the joy and it was all the sorrow,” she writes. “And being able to hold those things simultaneously was one of the biggest gifts of that experience.”

    She has written an essay for Eater of her remarkable journey to this point in time. One moment: Her parents’ families came from the South. “In my mom’s case, it was a three o’clock in the morning train escaping Mississippi in order to survive, in the face of family members and friends of the family being lynched.”

    She also earned an M.S. in environmental education and cofounded People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland, California to serve the community. And that’s what makes her story so powerful now. Amid the pandemic and protests against racial injustice she asks:
     

    “It is so heartbreaking that in a moment of pandemic, so much racialized violence is happening that we will die in order to prevent our deaths. We will die in order to prevent our deaths. And I don’t know if that has sunk in for the broader community yet. But that is the difficult non-choice at this moment. If not now, when? Our black and brown community is risking their lives.”

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    The Peace Corps community mourns the loss of Congressman John Lewis, who died today. see more

    In these most challenging times for our nation, we have lost an icon in the struggle for racial justice in America.

    By Jonathan Pearson

    Photo of John Lewis in 1965 by Stanley Wolfson, World Telegram staff photographer / Public domain

     

    The Peace Corps community mourns the loss of Congressman John Lewis, who died today.

    As a very young man in the early 1960s, Lewis pushed the boundaries and fought against power used unjustly. He never, ever stepped away from speaking truth to power.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how the “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Indeed, John Lewis tried to hold America accountable to its proclaimed ideals; he helped our nation bend toward justice. Radical, fighter, public servant, and friend — he was a wonderful supporter of the Peace Corps. And that comes as no small surprise. In 1968, Lewis married Lillian Miles, who would become his wife of nearly half a century. Lillian was a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving for two years as a volunteer in Nigeria. 

    What Lewis said of another man he admired is a truth he lived: “He helped hasten the day when we will live in a world finally at peace with itself.”

    Just last year, Lewis spoke of those early Volunteers, of their admiration for the leadership of President John F. Kennedy and Harris Wofford, and how “the inspirational mission of the corps led hundreds and thousands of Americans to believe that they had something meaningful to share with rest of the world, while they received a deeper understanding of humanity in return.” He spoke admiringly of how love, peace, and non-violence underpinned that work — “helping our world community to fulfill the vision of a Beloved Community, and he helped hasten the day when we will live in a world finally at peace with itself.” That was a truth that Lewis lived as well.

    We mourn the passing of a great man. And we honor his legacy through our commitment to carrying on the work of a man of peace and justice.

     

    Lewis meeting with Atlanta RPCVs at his district office in 2014

     

  • Steven Saum posted an article
    We must stand with Black Americans and acknowledge the role racism plays in our institutions. see more

    From someone who has worked in international development: We must stand with Black Americans and acknowledge the role racism plays in our institutions — and the work itself.

     
    By Tasha Prados

    Photo of Stockholm protests by Frankie Fouganthin / CC

     

    As the granddaughter of immigrants, I grew up knowing how privileged I was simply by the sheer luck of having been born in the United States. Being multicultural and Latinx, I spent most of my formative years between two worlds, never quite fitting in either, eager to connect more deeply with my Latin American roots.

    I went to El Salvador with a nonprofit organization for the first time when I was 16 years old to build schools and water systems. It was life-changing, though not entirely in a way I might have expected. On one hand, I recognized that my presence and very unskilled labor were wholly unneeded. Yet I felt that by bringing money to fulfill locally-expressed needs, managed by local leaders, we were useful; the connections I made with Salvadorans felt genuine, valuable, and educational on both sides. 

    In college I realized the world was much bigger than Latin America, and I wanted to know all of it. I took Arabic and learned about Islam. I did a fellowship in the Maldives and took courses on Africa and Asia. I studied abroad in Spain. These experiences reaffirmed my commitment to working to alleviate poverty and inequality. 

    So I joined the Peace Corps — because I wanted to “help people” and “make a difference.” I also wanted to atone for the sins of my country: the U.S. legacy of slavery, colonialism, looting other countries, interfering in their politics, and pillaging their people and resources.

    People sometimes asked why I didn’t want to work on solving the problems we have here at home. I thought, well, it’s a big world with a lot of problems that need to be solved. We all have issues we are passionate about — there’s room for each of us to do what calls to us.

    At the same time, it’s been clear to me for a long time that racism is alive and well in America. But I thought that the big battles were behind us. That most Americans believed we are all created equal and that all human lives have equal value. That we had largely won the civil rights movement.

    I was mistaken.

     

    Photo of protests in Washington, D.C., on June 2 by Yash Mori

     

    A spark

    George Floyd’s murder was the spark that ignited protests across our nation — again. But this is about far more than one murder or the many before it — of Black men, women, and children. These lynchings, police brutality so startlingly displayed, are just the most visible element of structural and systemic racism and oppression that Black Americans have been fighting against and dying from for centuries. Now is the time for all of us — especially those of us engaged in international work — to stand with Black Americans.

    The truth is, I no longer work in international development. I saw too many cases of failed foreign aid projects that didn’t treat locals as leaders and partners, took jobs from locals, reduced the accountability of local governments, contributed to a lack of local ownership, and weren’t sustainable. In other words, I saw an imperialistic power dynamic at play. But the problem isn’t just projects or systems. It’s us — the people who do the work.
     

    Racism is deeply embedded in our society. And international development is deeply intertwined with race, socioeconomic, and power dynamics that fuel what has been defined as the white savior industrial complex.


    Racism is deeply embedded in our society. And international development is deeply intertwined with race, socioeconomic, and power dynamics that fuel what has been defined as the white savior industrial complex. We need a paradigm shift in international development work. As Aaron Williams, former director of the Peace Corps, said: “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.”

     

    What I’d like to see change in Peace Corps

    When Americans work abroad, we bring our biases with us — as well as our privilege and entitlement. Peace Corps Volunteers are no exception. Volunteers of Color face additional and unique challenges during service — much as they do every day in America. But abroad they are more isolated and have less support than at home. 

    I run the Instagram account @peopleofpeacecorps, where many returned Volunteers have shared stories of dealing with subtle and blatant racism from fellow Volunteers, Peace Corps staff, and host country nationals: everything from a Volunteer being called the N-word by fellow Volunteers, to staff placing the burden on Volunteers of Color to conduct diversity trainings that their fellow Volunteers complained about.

    So it’s understandable that Volunteers felt betrayed by the Peace Corps’ initial statement — it was so vague, we could not even be sure it was about the murder of George Floyd. Returned Volunteers were not quiet in our criticism. Sixteen days later, the Peace Corps issued a new statement in which the agency committed to addressing racial injustice and outlined some steps for putting people and groups in place to examine the issue and educate leadership. That’s a start. But the proof will be in the actions that follow.

    As someone who advises purpose-driven organizations on strategic shifts, there are three broad areas I would advise the Peace Corps to focus reform efforts.

    1. Address racism within the Peace Corps. Racism is prevalent in America and around the world. Volunteers and staff bring implicit biases with them, as do locals where the Peace Corps works.

    2. Address the race and power dynamics inherent in international development. Ensure that host country nationals and governments are given the space to lead and own anything implemented by outsiders. Ensure that Volunteers are qualified for the positions they are filling, that they are not taking jobs away from locals, and that they are not causing unintentional harm.

    3. Reduce barriers to entry and access to serving in (and staying in) the Peace Corps and working for the agency. Ensure all staff and Volunteers are adequately supported.

    If the Peace Corps is serious about reform, we’ll see a roadmap laying out concrete actions and specific goals with measurable results toward progress. For us who are part of the Peace Corps community, if we care about the future of the agency and the ideals that it purports to uphold, we’ll insist on this. 

    It’s important that National Peace Corps Association is cosponsoring a conversation on racial equity in international service on June 30 and, on July 18, hosting a summit on the future of Peace Corps. Ideas and concrete, specific recommendations will come from these conversations. We’re very aware that with no Volunteers in the field, the future of the Peace Corps is very much in doubt. But with no Volunteers in the field, this is also a unique opportunity to make profound and systemic changes.

    Peace Corps is supposed to represent what’s best about America. If we as individuals cannot stand up against systemic racism and oppression at home, we are not qualified to work alongside nonwhite people anywhere in the world. And if we don’t demand that same commitment from Peace Corps, what future will it have?

     

    This story was updated June 30 1:30 pm.

     


    TASHA PRADOS is the founder of Duraca Strategic, which helps purpose-driven organizations maximize their impact through branding, business, and marketing strategy consulting. She has 10 years of project management and communications experience with the world's leading brands, agencies, and organizations. Prados is also a freelance writer, digital nomad, and returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Peru 2011–13, and was featured on the National Peace Corps Association’s inaugural “40 Under 40” list. Keep up with her on Instagram at @t.prad.