The Obama administration’s signature Young African Leaders Initiative got underway at the University of Virginia on Monday with a stirring welcome address from Johnnetta Cole, the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.
Speaking to 25 of Africa’s emerging leaders in the Great Hall at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Cole quoted former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said, “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”
The members of her audience are among 500 Africans selected to be Mandela Washington Fellows. The White House program taps the most promising women and men from across the continent to come to the United States for six weeks of leadership training at 20 U.S universities.
More than 30,000 people applied to the program this year and Cole congratulated the fellows for being selected. “Many, many applied,” she said. “You are among the chosen.”
Listening in the audience were men and women from disparate nations on a continent where 50 percent of the population is below the age of 25. Cole said Africa’s youth is its strength and the possibilities are endless.
For the next six weeks, the Mandela Fellows will be hosted by the Presidential Precinct, a consortium comprising U.Va, Morven, the College of William & Mary, Monticello, Montpelier and Ash Lawn-Highland.
Charles Kajoloweka, a human rights activist from Malawi, said he was overjoyed to have been named to the program. “It was major news for me considering the competitive process through which we went as candidates,” he said. “In my country, there were more than 700 applicants and only eight were picked.”
Kajoloweka said he plans to use what he learns during his fellowship to establish an institute for civil leadership in his country.
During their time in Virginia, the fellows will visit the sites of all of the Precinct members. On Friday, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan will share her thoughts on effective leadership, based on her three-plus decades of work in higher education.
The fellows will attend the July 4 naturalization ceremony at Monticello. Former Virginia First Lady Lynda Robb, philanthropist John Kluge Jr., U.S. Rep. David Brat and Mitchell Reiss, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, are among the leaders who will meet with the group while they are in Virginia.
The program culminates in August when the various fellow groups converge in Washington for a summit with Obama.
This is the second year the Presidential Precinct is hosting a group of Mandela Fellows. In all, the Precinct will host five classes of fellows over five years.