African American History Month: Guest Speaker Sheldon Austin Discusses Organization of Civic Movements

U.S. speaker Sheldon Austin in front of the audience (Photo US Embassy)
U.S. speaker Sheldon Austin (right) with the Ambassador Jim Zumwalt and WARC Director Ousmane Sène (Photo US Embassy)
U.S. speaker Sheldon Austin (right) with the Ambassador Jim Zumwalt and WARC Director Ousmane Sène (Photo US Embassy)

The U.S. Embassy in Dakar organized an event on “Grass-Roots Organizing and Participation in the Political Process” on Friday, February 27 at the West African Research Center (WARC) in the Fann Résidence neighborhood of Dakar, as part of its observations of African-American History Month (celebrated during the entire month of February).

Visiting U.S. speaker Sheldon Austin looked at the importance of individual participation in the political process, with a focus on how the Obama campaign tapped into political interest on the local and regional levels to generate support and influence the outcome of the 2008 and 2012 elections.

After U. S. Ambassador Jim Zumwalt introduced Sheldon Austin, he explained that Americans arranged events during February to recognize African Americans’ achievements and contributions to the United States.  “We honor their role in making America better and stronger today but we also acknowledge the hardships they have faced.  The tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York show that this struggle is not over.”

This event concluded a series of roundtable discussions that Mr. Austin led in various institutions, notably FASTEF, Hiphop Akademy of Pikine, American Corner-Thiès, Malik Sy High School in Thiès, CEM Fadilou Diop in Dakar, Cheikh Anta Diop University, and Mariama Bâ school on Gorée Island.

Sheldon Austin is a former U.S. diplomat, who after serving his country for many years, has turned to teaching, writing and speaking drawn from his many years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, diplomat and educator.  A graduate of, Cornell University, Sheldon Austin has a master’s degree from the School for International Training in the U.S. and a “Maîtrise” from Université de Paris VII.  With that experience, he is uniquely qualified to teach courses on intercultural communications and marketing at two universities in Paris, where he lives.

Each February, African-American History Month honors the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens over the most devastating obstacles — slavery, prejudice, poverty — as well as their contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African-Americans make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population and comprise the second-largest minority group, after Hispanics.  The election of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, continues to lend African-American History Month a special significance.