Racial Equity and Justice: Learning, Unlearning

The AL for Governance Network turns ONE in November! For 12 months, AL for Governance has worked towards building a vibrant pan-African ecosystem of ethical public leaders, and continues to grow with your support.

The events hosted by the network this past year have been known to sensitively facilitate moving dialogue on current issues, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on governance, and gender representation in public leadership. Their most recent event on Race and Justice was yet another one for the books.

Kenyan alumna, Anuarite Gikonyo ’18 shares key insights from the virtual event:

The insightful panel consisted of Alisha Jean-Denis, an experienced educator, administrator and scholar dedicated to critical dialogue on diversity, equity, and inclusion; Kennedy Gachiri, founder of the Superstar Agenda, a project that aims at unlocking human potential through creative expression;  Obenewa Amponsah, a certified coach, facilitator and storyteller who specialises in necessary courageous conversations, and Thabang Maphothoane ‘11, a software engineer at Microsoft and mentor.

AL for Governance Webinar Panelists:
Alisha Jean-Denis, Kennedy Gachiri, Obenewa Amponsah and Thabang Maphothoane ‘11

With these representatives of diverse personal and professional experience, moderator Roda Mohamed, current student body president of Marist College, sought the exploration of racial injustice; a rather pertinent topic given the activity of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2020. Through personal anecdotes, collaborative inquiry, and theoretical frameworks, two key principles were discussed during the webinar: Learning about racial inequity and its manifestations, as well as the unlearning of deeply embedded biases that perpetuate injustice. 

As far as the aforementioned concept is concerned, the panel shared much to aid the understanding of racial injustice. A recurring theme of the discussion was prejudice, of which four levels were explored: Personal, interpersonal, cultural and structural. The panelists went on to call attention to the interdependence of biased systems. Rather than simply analyse racism in isolation, the panel drew various correlations between racism and classism. For instance, the history of racialisation and its ties to the birth of exploitative capitalism as elaborated by Obenewa Amponsah, and the striking similarities between classist bias in Kenya and racial bias in America as highlighted by Kennedy Gachiri.

Given the dehumanizing nature of systems built on exclusion, the panel shared two potential solutions: compassion and agency. They argued for the recognition of the extent to which our minds, too, have served as breeding grounds for bias, and the need to actively practice against this. In treating others with dignity and compassion, we practice a counterforce to systemic partiality – radical humanism. Furthermore, the panel spoke to the importance of creating space. In owning our voice, Alisha Jean-Denis argues, we no longer permit our pain narratives to define us. In reclaiming our narratives, we grant ourselves space for fuller human experience.

Towards the end of the event, various participants communicated awe, admiration and appreciation, and I was no exception. My sincerest gratitude goes out to the AL For Governance Network and the panelists for enabling such a rich discussion. The webinar proved to be an authentic balance of conversation and education, such that the audience was gently invited to knowledge. If such thorough, yet hearty, inquiry has been born from the network’s first year of operation, there is really no limitation on just how revolutionary it can (and will) become. 


This article was written by By Anuarite Gikonyo ’18.

Anu is a multi-disciplinary artist, activist, and educationist from Nairobi, Kenya. She is inspired by the role that creative, critical thinking plays in the reformation of systems, reclamation of identities and liberation of minds. She has been featured on Paragon Fellows South Africa, Ariana Diaries Sierra Leone, and Creative Connect Botswana, where she shared her thoughts on the power of storytelling, especially on the African continent. A short story of hers, A Letter To Akoth, is published on The Kalahari Review.