As a new era begins with the election of the 46th President of the United States, like many fellow Americans I reflect on this most challenging past half-year and the opportunities embedded within it. Given the changes I’ve experienced – and the changes in the world – flexibility seems to be a key attribute of leadership, particularly servant leadership. I believe that this is the type of leadership Biden will bring. This is also the sort of leadership I strive to bring to my spheres of influence.
In the past six months, my work supporting U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has moved from the national presidential campaign to having a Minnesota-focus, as our work also became more virtual in these Covid-19 times. I have learned that the world is at once more local and more global when much of the work is conducted via Zoom.
My personal leadership interests reflect that shift, as I continue to bring educational lessons from other states and countries to Minnesota. I have recently returned from a trip to East Africa to meet with educational and political leaders in Kenya and Rwanda. Rwanda provided the most notable lessons in conflict resolution and peacebuilding through forgiveness -- after their Belgian colonization. They are a country that has rebuilt after a genocide within a civil war that resulted in nearly a million deaths, ending in 1994. Shamefully, global leaders did not intervene – including those from the United Nations and United States.
It was one of my saddest, most painful, and educational experiences to visit the genocide memorial site there and hear from victims – adults who were children during the genocide. Perhaps the necessity of coming together after such tragedy has produced a country that is now one of the leading countries in Africa educationally, technologically, and economically. It has lessons for the United States.
Under President Paul Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has realized the importance of women’s contributions in business, leadership, and governance and has filled 63% of its parliament with 52% women cabinet members. As the Rwandan cabinet illustrates, women are always educated – whether formally or informally.
Among those I met were Dr. Valentine Uwamariya, who has been their Minister of Education for the past six months. I also met with Ms. Claudette Irere, the Minister of State for education in charge of ICT & TVET. Both are very knowledgeable people who not only know what is happening in Rwanda, but also around the globe. I was so impressed by their deep understanding of the American approaches to education. It was striking to be a part of meetings with women dominating the discussion, as men listened. I hope that other countries will follow their path – particularly the U.S. We need to ensure that we are raising a next generation of Kamala Harrises.
Among the strengths of their current educational system is Rwanda’s vocational training. I plan to facilitate coordination among some of their vocational education leaders and those in the U.S. to help increase their capacity for innovation in vocational education. I am very thankful to the Bush Fellowship for supporting this eye-opening and mind-expanding travel to East Africa.
As this travel indicates, I continue to enhance my leadership skills, participating in seminars and increasing my network nationally and globally despite the Covid challenges. One of the most significant achievements in the past quarter for Minneapolis Public Schools was passing the Comprehensive District Design, with the goal of closing the achievement gap. This builds on our work of increasing the graduation rates for children of color.
As a complement to that work, I continue to serve on the Child Rights Education committee of the Child Friendly Cities Initiative through the City of Minneapolis. (Incidentally, Kenyan governmental officials were very interested in this work.)
We are now meeting with representatives in the two other American cities pursuing this distinction: Houston and San Francisco. Minneapolis, and particularly the education committee on which I serve, is providing real leadership to these other cities as we conceive of ways to help garner more public support for child rights – beginning with education and awareness-raising.
Among the avenues we are pursuing is involving young people in developing books about child rights for other children, then working with the Reach Out and Read program to distribute the books in hospitals and clinics.
We also aim to work with the Minneapolis Youth Congress to develop a youth-led training cohort of child rights advocates who are available to provide training to schools and community groups.
One of the members of our committee, a pediatrician, recently wrote an op/ed about the condition of children separated from their parents living between nations on the U.S./Mexico border. Clearly this is not only a humanitarian tragedy, but also a violation of child rights.
With the new national administration, I am hopeful for our state and country – that women will increase in positions of leadership (as they have in Rwanda) and that children will soon have the rights that are legally supported in every other country in the United Nations. These are the causes that continue to fuel my work, both with the Minneapolis School District and with U.S. Senator Klobuchar’s office. Self-care is a very necessary in this difficult time, despite my busy life I need to take a break sometimes. My family and friends are always my sources of selfcare as their love, care, and motivations are the engine that drives me, and I do take care of my overall health, wellbeing and I am trying my best to stay positive.