Leadership Africa, the African Leadership Group’s new professional and civic leadership program, held its first graduation ceremony during a high-spirited celebration on the evening of October 23 at the Doubletree Hotel in Aurora.
In attendance at the event were the 24 graduates and their families, as well as dignitaries and community well-wishers. And if the graduation felt like it was a long time coming, that’s because launching Leadership Africa has been a priority for several years, but until recently, funding it proved a challenge.
“For six years we’ve been trying to start this program and nobody wanted to fund it,” said ALG Founder and Executive Director Papa Dia, one of the graduates. “We’ve been always asked to go to Leadership Aurora or Leadership Denver (programs run by local chambers of commerce.
“But the reality is we have our own culture, our own reality, and it was extremely important to us to have our own leadership program. Our program is designed by us, for us, to us and we hope to make it the pathway for the next generation. So that the seat we want at the table is at the head of the table.”
State Senator Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat, started off the evening with a moving address about her evolving perspective on leadership. A former businesswoman who was driven to enter politics by the murder of her son in 2005, Fields said that part of leadership is learning to tell our stories.
“Because in our stories, there are lessons. There are lessons of grief. There are lessons of pain. There are also lessons of glory. And there are also lessons of joy. So never be ashamed to tell your story. I’ve been empowered by my story.”
When she decided to run for office, Fields said, she did so “with no roadmap. But I surrounded myself around people that helped me navigate it.”
As aspiring leaders, Fields advised the graduates to “adapt, have courage, and always stay true to your boundaries. Because that’s what leadership is about. It’s about your integrity.”
Next, Leadership Africa’s co-facilitators, Emilie Gettliffe and Effley Brooks, discussed their experiences with the program. Gettliffe called her experience with the inaugural class “absolutely incredible,” and added that “today comes from a lot of effort, a lot of love and passion from a whole team of folks who have been building this together, and from the participants themselves who made this program.”
Brooks said he has been running leadership programs for more than 20 years, and that Leadership Africa stood apart from the others. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most unbelievable people around the world, and when Emily invited me to join her to lead on this project. I was excited,” he said.
“There is one aspect that made this different from all the other leadership programs I’ve had their hearts, their souls. They got so deep, on the very first day, I talk all the time about how incredible this has been. I’ve done a lot of leadership growth. This is special.”
The four groups of participants who took on special projects then presented their experiences working on issues of homlessness, mental health, voter participation, and breaking barriers between African Immigrants and African Americans. You can read details about the four projects here.
Several graduates also gave moving talks about the impact Leadership Africa has had on their lives and their perceptions of themselves as leaders. We will be publishing some of those talks on the ALG website soon. Check back to read them.
After the graduates received their certificates, the celebration concluded in classic ALG style: with joyous dancing.
Here are the members of Leadership Africa’s first graduating class:
John K. Abum
Fesehaye Ghezae Abrhaley
James Macford Macauley
Anne Attouah Nda-Koffi
Congratulations to all!