Virtual reality police training provides new resource for rural Ohio

Deputy Jayson White, of the Athens County Sheriff's office, experiences the "Chet" training scenario at the Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative event hosted at the Ohio University Police Department on Aug. 21. The specific training simulation that White watched aims to train law enforcement officers to appropriately address someone with mental illness.

ATHENS — The future of policing may lie in the three-dimensional world of a virtual reality headset.

Or at least, that’s what the folks behind Ohio University’s Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative believe.

The program is a collaboration between OU’s Voinovich School, Athens law enforcement and OU’s Scripps College of Communication, and is designed to reinvigorate the way police officers think about training through two immersive scenarios.

Those simulations, filmed with CineVR technology, teach officers how to deescalate a mental health crisis and reckon with the compound effects of racial profiling of the Black community.

Max Semenczuk, an Ohio University student studying IT and journalism, attends the Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative event hosted by the Ohio University Police Department on Aug. 21.

“The impetus for this comes from the notion that even before some of the dramatic events that unfolded in the press and in the world around law enforcement, current police training is lacking in a number of ways,” David Malawista said.

Malawista, a reserve commander with Athens police and a clinical and forensic psychologist, hopes the VR training can reshape the way officers think about behaving within policy versus promoting the best outcome.

As a consultant on the project, he helped develop the scripts for the two scenarios featuring “Chet,” a veteran with PTSD, and “Dion,” an African American graduate student.

Malawista is confident this technology, which is being offered to local Athens County law enforcement through the end of the year before expanding to contiguous rural counties, will be the way of the future of police training.

Launching into (virtual) reality

A little over a year and a half ago OU Visiting Assistant Professor John Born turned the dream of virtual training into a reality when he secured $200,000 from the Voinovich School’s application grant program to invest in rural law enforcement.

“Appalachia is not normally at the forefront of these innovative tech programs, but that’s what the Voinovich School is all about,” said Born, an Athens native who served as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety for six years. 

The former colonel of the State Highway Patrol said he believes this initiative will provide police officers, particularly those in rural departments with scarce resources, a fresh perspective by reinforcing communication skills to deescalate high-pressure situations.

Jay Johnson, director of the Voinovich Academy at Ohio University, experiences the "Dion" training scenario at the Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative event hosted at the Ohio University Police Department on Aug. 21. This specific training simulation aims to train law enforcement officers on how to appropriately address someone who may identify themselves as African American

Born watched officers at the initiative’s informal launch last weekend express awe at each of the 20-minute scenarios, which also involve two props: a mangled lunchbox and backpack, that Born says will help officers establish a mnemonic connection when they pass by the props in the break room.

That’s because virtual reality is an incredibly powerful medium, Eric Williams explained.

Williams, a professor of New Media Storytelling at OU, also collaborated on the initiative and explained that this latest technology establishes a connection in your brain that sticks with you as if you have experienced the events you’ve witnessed in a headset.

“If you’re a police officer and you’re remembering your training like it’s a personal memory that’s much different than a two-dimensional video or lecture,” he said.

Steps for the future 

On Tuesday, the initiative will roll out the technology to law enforcement agencies throughout Athens County, where officers will be able to use headsets during shift breaks on a volunteer basis, Malawista said.

Tim Ryan with the Ohio University Police Department stands silhouetted against the main entrance of OUPD, which hosted the Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative event on Aug. 21.

 Then, in January, the program will expand to nearby contiguous counties, with the hopes of eventually branching out across the state, he added.

“This really provides officers with the opportunity to have a positive impact in their community,” Malawista said. “How do you manage a crisis? Well, the training teaches you how to put one’s personal emotions aside and control the situation with minimal force.”

The program will formally survey officers who’ve done the training to analyze how many people the initiative reached, what they think about the technology and if it affects real-life policing over the course of the next year and a half, Born said.

“After 32 years in this field I’ve never seen anything impact people in such an immersive way,” he added.

Céilí Doyle is a Report for America corps member and covers rural issues in Ohio for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at



Ray Rickman announces run for District 3 State Senate seat

Photo: Rickman website

Ray Rickman, longtime Civil Rights leader and child advocate has announced he will run for the District 3 Senate seat, being vacated as Sen. Gayle Goldin goes to Washington for a position with the federal government. In his announcement Friday afternoon, Rickman said he will focus on inequality in education as his primary issue.

Here is his announcement:

Ray Rickman, a longtime Civil Rights activist and nonprofit and cultural leader, announced his campaign for the District 3 State Senate seat being vacated by Gayle Goldin. He was inspired to run because of the continued inequity in the Providence Public School system, which the Rhode Island Supreme Court said can only be addressed by the state legislature. 

“When I was arrested in 1966 marching for Civil Rights in Mississippi, it never occurred to me that in 2021, the largest school system in Rhode Island would be failing thousands of students of color,” said Rickman. “We need to fix this injustice before we lose an entire generation to failure. That will be my highest priority as an East Side State Senator.” 

Rickman has had a long and impressive career as a public servant, an indefatigable activist and inventive nonprofit leader. As a teenager, he marched against segregation with James Meredith in the Jim Crow South. In his hometown of Detroit, he led multiple walkouts at Southeastern High School to force the city to address its segregated, unequal educational system. After working in Washington D.C. and Detroit, he moved to Providence where he served three terms as a State Representative for College Hill and two years as Deputy Secretary of State. He co-founded Shape Up RI, the nation’s first statewide wellness initiative, serving 100,000 Rhode Islanders. He is the co-founder of Stages of Freedom, an award-winning BIPOC nonprofit that provides free swimming lessons to low income youth and presents African American programming to the entire community. 

“This is a critical moment for the future of our youth,” said Rickman. “My work in the Rhode Island Senate will be laser focused on our educational problems, and the inequality that persists in our schools, businesses and government. As a child and health advocate, and champion of Civil Rights, I believe I have the most experience to address these issues in the state legislature during these turbulent times.” 

To learn more, visit:


Ray Rickman is co-founder and executive director of the award-winning BIPOC non-profit, Stages of Freedom. The organization is dedicated to teaching Black Rhode Island youth how to swim and building bridges of racial understanding by promoting and celebrating Rhode Island African American life and culture through high-profile events for thousands of Rhode Islanders each year.

As president of his own consulting firm, Rickman Group, he raised funds and conducted management and diversity training for non-profits, colleges and businesses. He is a former State Representative from the Brown University area of Providence and served as Rhode Island Deputy Secretary of State from 2000 to 2002, the highest office held by an African American in the state’s history. Among his many pieces of successful legislation was a bill to create the position of Rhode Island State Poet Laureate, and to name a bridge at the foot of the Capitol Building in honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He co-chaired the commission to place sculptures of Black philanthropist Christiana Carteux Bannister and White abolitionist Elizabeth Buffum Chace in the RI State House. As chair of the Dexter Commission, he oversaw the disbursement of $3,000,000 to low-come Rhode Island groups which had never received funding.

For the past forty years he has advocated for civil rights in Rhode Island, helping hundreds on a voluntary-basis or through his various positions, to achieve simple justice.

Rickman has served as both Equal Opportunity Officer and Executive Director of the Human Relations Commission for the City of Providence.  In the 1980s, he was the Associate Director of the Compliance Office for the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency.  From 2004-2006, Rickman was the Assistant Director of the Diversity Office for Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest employer. 

Rickman was Senior Policy Advisor for Shape Up RI, the largest state-wide wellness program in the nation.  He was also strategic advisor to Shape Up the Nation, the for-profit arm of Shape Up RI. He was the lead consultant to the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, Opera Providence, and The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. He was appointed to the board of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts by Gov. Chafee, and was a member of the Rhode Island Parole Board.

Rickman hosted a minority affairs and cultural program on Rhode Island Public Television for twenty- one years. In the 1980s, Rickman was president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.

Rickman is past President of The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and was the Secretary of the Rhode Island Historical Society for seven years.  He was also the first Treasurer of the Heritage Harbor Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate.  In 2003, he founded Adopt A Doctor, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to 18 medical doctors in four of the world’s poorest nations: Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Malawi.

A rare book dealer, Rickman is the foremost authority on Rhode Island African American history, having edited seven publications on the topic. He lectures widely on African American history and American literature at such venues as Tulane, Harvard, Yale, Morehouse, Morgan State, Emory, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Brandeis, and University of Florida.  He conducts architectural and Black history tours of the Brown University area. He is a graduate of Wayne State University.

He led a successful ten-year campaign to prevent Brown University from demolishing the Edward Bannister (the nation’s foremost 19th century Black artist) house. During this same period, Rickman placed half a dozen plaques on historic Black sites, including those for Sissieretta Jones, America’s first Black opera diva, and Celebrity Club, New England’s first integrated jazz club.

Rickman is the recipient of many awards, including the 2018 Rhode Island Philanthropist of the Year Award; the  Frederick Douglass Award from the National Park Service; the 2018 Innovation Award from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities for his work at Stages of Freedom building bridges across cultural divides; the 2018 State of Rhode Island Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award; and the 2017 National Community Service Award from the National Association of Black Law Enforcement.

Ray Rickman, left, marching with James Meredith in Sunflower County, MS, June, 25, 1966 – March against Fear
  • In 1964, in his hometown of Detroit, Ray lead the celebrated massive student walk-out at Foch Junior High School protesting overcrowding and poor learning conditions, resulting in the building of new school which he dedicated. 
  • In 1965 Ray co-lead student walk-outs protesting racial segregation at Detroit’s Southeastern High School, leading to systemic improvements. 
  • As a teen in 1966, while walking with Civil Rights giant, James Meredith, (above) in The March Against Fear in Sunflower County, MS, Ray was brutally beaten by the sheriff and his deputies and became known as “The Civil Rights Kid” back in Detroit.
  • Ray was US Representative John Conyers’ chief of staff, working with secretary Rosa Parks in the Detroit headquarters.
  • As the Director of the Human Relations Commission for the City of Providence from 1979-1981, Ray was deeply involved in police reform. He also served as president of the ACLU.
  • Ray was Acting Director at the Boston Women’s Center in 1982.
  • In the late 1980s and early 90s, as a three-term State Representative for College Hill, Ray was a leading reformer and fought agaist mass incarceration. 
  • As Deputy Secretary of State from 2000-2002, Ray championed the  placement of two sculptures of leading RI female activists in the State House; chaired the committee to purchase the State’s first new voting machines in forty years; streamlined the State Archives, and oversaw the effort to display the  Declaration of Independence at the Providence Mall for thousands to see.
  • Ray was appointed to the 2000 and 2010 statewide Redistricting Commission. 
  • Appointed by Gov. Chafee, Ray served on the Rhode Island State Parole Board for two years.
  • Ray sat on the Providence Historic District Commission for five years, and on the Rhode Island Historical Society board of directors for seven years.
  • Ray devoted seven years of his life to financially supporting underpaid African doctors in west African nations with his landmark Adopt-a-Doctor program.
  • As co-founder and executive director of Shape Up RI, the nation’s first statewide wellness program, Ray enrolled over 100,000 participants.
  • Concerned with the high number of drownings of African American youth, Ray created Swim Empowerment to pay for hundreds free swimming lessons at nin partnering YMCAs.
  • In 2016, Ray co-founded the award-winning BIPOC non-profit, Stages of Freedom, which presents and celebrates the State’s rich African American heritage through high-profile events for the entire community.


Parliamentarians Determined to Reach ICPD 25 Goals

Africa, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, COVID-19, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Population, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics


Delegates from Asia and Africa met during a two-day conference to discuss ICPD25 programme of action. Credit: APDA

Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 23 2021 (IPS) – Politicians from Asia and Africa shared activism anecdotes demonstrating their determination to meet ICPD 25 commitments. They were speaking at a hybrid conference held simultaneously in Kampala, Uganda, and online.

Ugandan MP Kabahenda Flavia dramatically told the conference that women parliamentarians in her country “stampeded the budget process” to ensure there was potential to recruit midwives and nurses at health centres. Another told of a breastfeeding lawmaker who brought her child to parliament, forcing it to create inclusive facilities for new mothers.

Yet, despite these displays of determination, there was consensus at the meeting, organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development, that the COVID-19 pandemic had set the ICPD25 programme of action back, and it needed to be addressed.

In his opening remarks, former Prime Minister of Japan and chair of the APDA, Yasuo Fukuda, commented that the pandemic had “dramatically changed the world. It has exposed enormous challenges faced by African and Asian countries, which lack sufficient infrastructure in health and medical services.”

With only nine years until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Fukuda told parliamentarians they needed to respond to the swift pace of global change.

His sentiments were echoed by Ugandan MP Marie Rose Nguini Effa, who said in Africa, the pandemic had “affected the lives of many people, including the aged, youth and women. Many young people lost their jobs while girls’ and young women’s access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services have plunged.”

Addressing how parliamentarians can make a difference, Pakistani MP Romina Khurshid Alam intimated legislation was not the only route.

Other actions were needed to achieve SDGs, especially those relating to women. For example, the act of paying women the same as their male counterparts would more than compensate for the estimated $264 billion costs over ten years of achieving SDG 5 on gender equality.

Alam, who is also the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians forum, quoted figures from the World Economic Forum, which had looked at the benefits of pay equity. Each year the discrimination “takes $16 trillion off the table”.

“If we just started paying women the same amount of money that we pay men for the same job. Your country will generate that GDP. We will not have to beg anyone for that money,” she said.

The ‘shadow pandemic’ also threatens to destroy any progress made on agenda 2030, Alam said.
People were put into lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease – but not all people live in three-bedroom houses. Overcrowding in poor areas, the stress of lockdowns led to a 300 percent increase in violence.

Flavia said in Uganda, women’s issues were taken extremely seriously – their role, she said, should not be underestimated.

“Women don’t only give birth. They are the backbone of most economies,” she noted, adding that more than 80 percent of the informal sector is made up of women. She listed various laws created to ensure women are accorded full and equal dignity, including article 33 of the Ugandan constitution, which enshrined this.

Women parliamentarians saw their role as custodians of the ICPD 25 programme as action – and were prepared to act if their demands were not taken seriously, including holding up the budgeting process until critical health posts were funded.

Constatino Kanyasu, an MP from Tanzania, called for collective action.

“Developing countries should merge those efforts with other issues, by addressing Covid-19 together with ICPD+25 commitments horizontally,” she said.

In a presentation shared at the conference, Jyoti Tewari, UNFPA for East and South African regions, showed some progress indices since the ICPD conference, including a 49 percent decrease in maternal mortality before the pandemic.

However, he said there was still a long way to go, with 80 000 women dying from preventable deaths during pregnancy. However, the lockdowns during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had prolonged disruptions to SRHR services.

It was necessary to “sustain evidence-based advocacy to promptly
detect changes to service delivery and utilization, and support countries to implement mitigation strategies,” Tewari said.
Ugandan Deputy Speaker Anita Annet Among expressed concern that one in five adolescent girls falls pregnant in Africa – many of whom drop out of school. With schools closed, the situation had worsened.

She called on parliamentarians to be the voice of the voiceless and ensure “you make strong laws that protect the women and youth. Ensure the appropriation of monies that support these marginalized people.”

A declaration following the meeting included advocating for increased budgets to meet the ICPD 25 commitments, including sexual and reproductive health services for all and contributing to the three zeros – preventable maternal deaths, unmet family planning needs, and eliminating gender-based violence.

• The meeting was held under the auspices of the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) in partnership with The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and hosted by Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development (UPFFSP&D).


NDC Partnership: Supporting a Global Network of Youth Climate Advocates

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Environment, Featured, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Natural Resources, NDC Partnership, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation, Youth

Climate Change

Madrelle, Loubiere, Dominica 2017, a few days after Category 5 Hurricane Maria struck the island. Credit: Alison Kentish/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2021 (IPS) – Just over six months after launching its Youth Engagement Plan, the NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum.

NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions, refer to governments’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an integral part of the Paris Climate Agreement. NDCs are scheduled for revision every five years and are expected to be increasingly ambitious to tackle the climate crisis effectively.

Countries and the NDC Partnership want to ensure that, as agents of implementation, young people have platforms for engagement and a say in national climate action.

The Partnership recently brought youth together in 3 regional groupings: Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The young people engaged with representatives of partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) through sessions like ‘agriculture and climate change,’ and ‘equipping young people to engage in the NDC process.’

The NDC Partnership, the coalition assisting governments with their climate action plans, has brought together youth climate advocates for its inaugural NDC Global Youth Engagement Forum. Credit: NDC Partnership

The participants say the teaching element was bolstered by the opportunity to be heard, as the organizers asked for their input in areas that include NDC enhancement, structures needed to strengthen youth involvement, and ways young people are already impacting climate action.

For youth like Natalia Gómez Solano of Costa Rica, the forum provided a space to share experiences and ideas.

“Working for a more resilient and a more just, low-emissions world moves us, and that is why we are here today,” she told the virtual event.

“We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and they are worsening. We need increased adaptation and mitigation action, and the NDCs are the key instruments to achieve that. The NDCs are the roadmaps for climate ambition in which young people are key in bringing new climate solutions to the conversations and to raise action.”

Jamaica’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change, Dr Alwin Hales, told the Latin America and Caribbean forum that the virtual event and Youth Engagement Plan hope to leverage the ‘leadership and power’ of youth into NDC implementation and enhancement.

“Today’s children and young people are caught in the center of climate change, for it is they who have to live with and manage its consequences,” he said.

“The NDC Partnership launched the Youth Engagement Plan (YEP). It aims is to build young people’s capacity on climate change matters and engage the youth in global NDC partnership activities. This is in direct support of our mission to increase alignment, coordination, and access to resources to link needs with solutions.”

The forum was proposed by the NDC Partnership’s Youth Task Force but is a priority of the NDC Partnership’s Steering Committee and Co-Chairs, Jamaican Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment, and Climate Change Pearnel Charles Jr. and U.K. Minister Alok Sharma, who also serves as President of COP 26.

Noting that young people are vital to effective action on climate change, NDC Partnership Global Director Pablo Vieira Samper reminded them that their input also ensures that action is inclusive.

“We want to hear about what capacity or technical support is still needed and what learning you are eager to share with your peers,” he said.

“The Youth Engagement Plan was the starting point for greater action for youth engagement in NDCs. Today the NDC Partnership is thrilled to be turning this plan into concrete steps for more meaningful engagement and bringing new ideas to this framework to inspire action. We look forward to your insights as we collaborate across the Partnership to build a low carbon, climate-resilient future by supporting sustainable development.”

The youth attending the forum have described it as an important platform for highlighting the challenges faced by young climate activists.

“It is important to increase climate finance to support projects that are led by children and youth and integrate a rights-focused education curriculum in schools and universities,” said Xiomara Acevedo, the Founder and Chief Executive of Barranquilla+20, an NGO run by young people who empower their peers to tackle issues of biodiversity, sustainability, policy inclusion, and climate change.

Acevedo’s NGO has reached over 2,000 young people. She says it is clear that youth have a unique role to play in climate activism.

“We have seen that involving young people at the local and subnational level has also helped to ensure that a lot of citizens are seeing that climate action is not something beyond their territories, or is not only a topic that is managed at the national level. They can relate our message to their narrative, to their realities. We engage climate action as an important topic in the local agendas,” she said.

According to UNICEF, including youth in climate change action is important to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 13,2 which urges urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; 16,3 which calls for the promotion of peaceful, inclusive societies for sustainable development and 17,4 with its target of assistance to developing countries in attaining debt sustainability.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released its NDCs scorecard in February. It applauded countries for strengthening their commitments to the Paris Agreement but encouraged them to further step up their mitigation pledges, adding that greenhouse gas emissions targets were falling ‘far short’ of what is required to achieve the Agreement’s goals.

Young people like Natalia Gómez Solano say as custodians of the planet, youth must be mobilized, and their voices amplified to arrive at the deep emissions reductions needed in the NDCs.

“We need to integrate more voices and reach more places. As the Latin America and Caribbean Region, we need to keep working, keep asking, keep demanding, and doing more. Not all youth know how to be involved in climate action, and we need to work with more young people, for example, in the rural areas,” she said.

The delegates at the NDC Partnership’s inaugural Youth Engagement Forum say they are hoping for more opportunities at the table.

They say it takes persistence, organization, time, and passion to achieve climate goals. It also takes an empowered, well-connected, and financed global network of youth.


Ghana welcomes survivors of 1921 Tulsa race massacre

Ghana welcomed survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre Viola Ford Fletcher who is 107 years old and her brother Hughes Van Ellis, 100 years old.

The two are the last known living survivors of the 1921 racist massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

This is the first time they step on African soil for a tour in Ghana. The visit is part of a “homecoming” campaign organized by the social media platform Our Black Truth.

“I think this one of the biggest historic African diasporas that has come back to us. When the president made the announcement on Beyond the Return, 2018 in DC and celebrating the Beyond the Return in 2019, we never thought that one of our siblings who was taken away generation from that, 107 years old and have the passion and interest to visit Ghana. Not only by herself but also bringing along the younger brother along who is 100 years old,” Nadia Adongo Musah, deputy director of Diaspora Office, Office of the President said.

On May 31, 1921, a group of Black men went to the Tulsa courthouse to defend a young African American man accused of assaulting a white woman. They found themselves facing a mob of hundreds of furious white people.

Tensions spiked and shots were fired, and the African Americans retreated to their neighborhood, Greenwood.

The next day, at dawn, white men looted and burned the neighborhood, at the time so prosperous it was called Black Wall Street.

In 2001, a commission created to study the tragedy concluded that Tulsa authorities themselves had armed some of the white rioters.

Historians say that as many as 300 African American residents lost their lives, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless in the 1921 incident that drew the white against the black.

Source: Africanews

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This final piece marks Zeleza’s end of term as Vice Chancellor of United States International University in Kenya.




(Unedited Transcript)

What other roles have you played in promoting African higher education that you’re proud of?

I am most proud of four things. First, my scholarship on higher education, which I believe has had some influence. My interest in higher education started when I was at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, as part of my burgeoning interest in intellectual history—the history of ideas and of knowledge producing institutions. This interest was sparked and sharpened by my efforts to understand the epistemic dynamics and discourses of African studies when I became center director.

The first part of my foray into intellectual history culminated in my participation in a huge project, as Associate Editor of the six-volume encyclopedia, New Dictionary of the History of Ideas published in New York in 2005, in which we looked at the evolution of major ideas and intellectual trends and their different iterations around the world. The institutional dimension received considerable boost from a conference the center organized jointly with CODESRIA in April, 2002 on “African Universities in the Twenty-First Century.” The conference was held simultaneously at UIUC and in Dakar, and the two sites were connected by video for about three hours a day, which was quite a novelty in those pre-Zoom days.

The result was a two volume collection that Adebayo Olukoshi, CODESRIA’s Executive Secretary, and I co-edited, African Universities in the 21st Century. Volume 1: Liberalization and Internationalization, and Volume 2: Knowledge and Society. In 2015, I had the privilege of being contracted to produce the framing paper for the 1st African Higher Education Summit held in Dakar, March 10-12, as well as the draft of the Summit Declaration and Action Plan. My knowledge of the state of African higher education was an asset when I became Vice Chancellor.

Second, I’m proud of the Carnegie African Diaspora Program. It has been gratifying to see one of my research projects turn into a transformative program. To date, CADFP has funded 465 fellowships hosted by more than 150 universities in nine African countries. Altogether, the program has received 1,100 project requests from 206 accredited African universities. Data shows that the program has helped to build the capacities of African higher education institutions by increasing curriculum offerings, graduate programming, and research production. Surveys completed show that the average fellowship contributed two to three courses to host institutions. After participating in the CADFP, alumni continued to co-develop curricula with African institutions, collaborate in research and joint applications for funding. Many inter-institutional partnerships have also been set up between the home and host institutions of the fellows.

Third, I am proud of my membership of various higher education boards, on which I try to make contributions. Besides CADFP whose Advisory Council I chair, I currently serve on the Administrative Board of the International Association of Universities (IAU) as one of two representatives for Africa; the Advisory Board of the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP); I chair the Board of Trustees of the Kenya Education Network (KENET); and I am a member of the University of Ghana Council.

The IAU represents and serves the full spectrum of higher education institutions and their associations and works to enhance the higher education community’s role and actions in advancing societies worldwide. Its hub of resources include the World Higher Education Database, the most comprehensive database on higher education, reference publications including a journal, an international handbook of universities, a global survey of Internationalization, a magazine, and specialized reports.

The AAP was launched in 2016 as a consortium of Michigan State University and nine African universities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria, and Senegal. It provides funding for research some of which targets women and early career scholars, as well as strategic funding for institutional transformation.

KENET promotes the use of ICT in teaching, learning and research in higher education institutions in Kenya and interconnects universities, tertiary and research institutions, facilitates electronic communication in member institutions, and promotes the sharing of learning and teaching resources. The University of Ghana, one of Africa’s premier universities, allows for one Vice Chancellor from an African university to sit on its Council.

Finally, I’m proud of my fundraising efforts especially for student scholarships. Most recently, in July 2020, USIU-Africa signed a $63.2 million partnership with the Mastercard Foundation for 1,000 talented, yet economically disadvantaged young people at our university to receive quality education and leadership development over the next 10 years. It targets 70 percent young women, 25 percent displaced youth, and 10 percent young people living with disabilities. When I imagine the transformative future that awaits these young people, for themselves, their families and communities, and for the continent, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude that I made a small contribution to that future.

You have published extensively, how would you characterize the scope of your work?

As evident from what we have discussed thus far my scholarship, like anyone’s scholarship, has been framed by the itineraries of my historical geography, that is, the changing locations in time and space for me as a person and a professional. Clearly, the places and institutions and temporal contexts of each have framed the broad contours and shifts in my academic work. As I know from my studies in intellectual history, there are four crucial dynamics of knowledge production: first, intellectual, which refers to the prevailing paradigms in one’s field, space and time; second, ideological, in terms of the dominant ideologies; third, institutional, as far as the nature of institutions one is affiliated with is concerned; and finally, individual, one’s social biography with reference to gender, race, nationality, class, religion, etc.

Looking back, I think there are four key academic and social contexts that have shaped my scholarly work. First, is the fact that I was educated in three countries on three continents in different fields—Malawi where I received my undergraduate education majoring in English and history; the United Kingdom where I studied for my masters degree in history and international relations; and Canada where I concentrated on economic history. I have worked in five countries: two in Africa—Malawi and Kenya; two in North America—Canada and the United States; and one in the Caribbean—Jamaica.

Second, I’ve worked in a diversity of institutions in terms of their relative size, research intensity, in both public and private, secular and religious affiliated. Also important is the fact that I’ve had appointments in disciplinary and interdisciplinary units. When I started my academic career at the University of the West Indies I was simply a historian with an appointment in the history department. It was the same at Kenyatta University. It was at Trent that I began to straddle more than one unit. While my appointment remained in the history department, I also taught in the department of development studies, an interdisciplinary unit. When I relocated to the United States all my appointments were joint.

At UIUC, I was Professor of History and African Studies; at Penn State Professor of African and African American Studies and History; at UIC Professor of African American Studies and History; at LMU Professor of African American Studies and History; at Quinnipiac University I returned to being Professor of History; and at USIU-Africa I was appointed Professor of the Humanities and Social Sciences, perhaps because there’s no department of history or African studies! My transnational appointments have similarly been interdisciplinary. I was appointed Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town in 2006 and affiliated with the department of history, the African Gender Institute, and the Center for African Studies. In 2019 I was appointed Honorary Professor, Chair for Critical Studies Higher Education Transformation at Nelson Mandela University.

Third, my career has spanned the immediate post-colonial era, the Cold War era, and the first two decades of the 21st century. Each of these periods had its dominant political economies, ecologies and discourses; they were conjunctures that conditioned the parameters of research and the rhythms of my intellectual life. Finally, it is clear my academic trajectories emerged out of the changing intellectual influences, ideological proclivities, institutional locations, and individual circumstances including aging! There were of course some enduring key drivers throughout, most critically an abiding curiosity and a deep sense of ignorance that generated lasting voracious reading habits. My scholarship has also been propelled by enduring passion for social justice and transformation.

These, I believe, are contexts that explain my main intellectual preoccupations since the 1970s. If I were to summarize them, eight thematic areas would stand out. Altogether, I have published more than 300 journal articles, book chapters, reviews, short stories and online essays, and authored or edited 28 books, several of which have won international awards.  I have presented nearly 250 keynote addresses, papers, and public lectures at leading universities and international conferences in 32 countries. I have also served on the editorial boards of more than two dozen journals and book series, and currently serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Bibliographies Online in African Studies.

The first thematic area is literature. As noted earlier, I started creative writing as an undergraduate student. I have published two collections of short stories and a novel. Several of my short stories have appeared in literary magazines and collections of African and African Canadian short stories. My interest in literature later extended to literary criticism in which I have published several essays including some on the works of specific writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nurrudin Farah, Ben Okri, Buchi Emecheta, Mariama Ba, and Yvonne Vera, to mention a few, as well literary critics such as Edward Said. My interest in literature later morphed into cultural studies. An example includes a co-edited book, Leisure in Urban Africa, in addition to several articles.

The second area for which I became known is economic history, especially for the book A Modern Economic History of Africa, Vol. I: The Nineteenth Century that in 1994 won the Noma Award.. I am still working on Volume II on the twentieth century! Out of this grew my work in development studies in which I have published numerous essays and three books, Sacred Spaces and Public Quarrels: African Cultural and Economic Landscapes; Rethinking Africa’s Globalization, Volume1: The Intellectual Challenges, and Africa’s Resurgence: Domestic, Global and Diaspora Transformations.

The third area is gender studies, which was inspired by my fascination with the matrilineal cultural underpinnings of the communities my parents hailed from and the patriarchal realities of the colonial and postcolonial society I grew up in. In fact, my first published academic book was on Women in the Kenyan Economy and Labor Movement, and later I co-wrote a book on Women in African Studies Scholarly Publishing. In addition, I wrote a series of essays on gender. Perhaps one of the most well is “Gender Biases in African Historiography,” in a landmark volume published by CODESRIA, Engendering the Social Sciences in Africa. In all my scholarly work I try to integrate a gendered analysis. Perhaps because of this work in 2003 I was invited to join a nine-member Gender Advisory Group, as one of two men, formed by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, to produce a report on the implementation of gender reforms and mainstreaming agreed at the 1995 UN Women’s Conference held in Beijing. Out of the project came Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World, which was launched at the UN headquarters in 2005.

Fourth, I became quite prolific in publications on intellectual history. Besides numerous essays, I have published six books dealing with various aspects of the history of ideas, universities, and the development of the disciplines and interdisciplinary fields and the construction of knowledges on Africa.  My first book in this endeavor was Manufacturing African Studies and Crises which received the Special Commendation of the Noma Award in 1998. This was followed by 2 volumes of African Universities in the 21st Century. In 2016, I published The Transformation of Global Higher Education, 1945-2015, the first book I’m aware of by a single scholar looking at the development of higher education on every continent over 70 years after World War II. On a more global level, I mentioned earlier that I served as one of the associate editors of the six-volume New Dictionary of the History of Ideas.

The fifth area of my scholarship informed by my political activism is human rights studies. Again, in addition to several essays, I’ve published several books dealing with human rights directly and related issues of conflicts. This includes the co-edited collection, Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Development in Africa, and two connected volumes, The Roots of African Conflicts and The Resolution of African Conflicts.

The sixth area that has fascinated me focuses on trying to understand African modernities and transformation due to globalization, and most recently the rise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as well as the unfolding impact of COVID-19 on the digitilization of various spheres of economic and social life. My first book length publication in this field was, In Search of Modernity: Science and Technology in Africa. Two years ago I made a plenary presentation at the inaugural conference of Universities South Africa on African Universities and the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is included in my recently published and wide ranging essay collection, Africa and the Disruptions of the Twenty-First Century. Last December, 2020 I co-authored a paper that I mentioned earlier on “Enhancing the Digital Transformation of African Universities: COVID-19 as Accelerator” that will be published in the Journal of African Higher Education.

The seventh area that I’ve focused my scholarly work on is diaspora studies. I discussed earlier the personal, family, and  social contexts that drove me to this exciting field. In preparation for and during my global diaspora project I wrote a series of theoretical essays on the diaspora paradigm, such as “Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic,” “Africa and Its Diasporas: Remembering South America,”  “Reconceptualizing African Diasporas: Notes from an Historian,” “Dancing to the Beat of the Diaspora: Musical Exchanges between Africa and its Diasporas,” and “African Diasporas: Towards a Global History,” which I gave as my presidential address at the ASA Annual Meeting in 2010. As noted earlier, my research travels resulted in the book, In Search of African Diasporas: Testimonies and Encounters. Prior to that I had published a book, Barack Obama and African Diasporas: Dialogues and Dissensions, which examined the meaning of the Obama candidacy and presidential victory for the Pan-African world. The comprehensive study from the research project is yet to be written.

Capping all this is, finally, the production of what I would call academic service work and public intellectual work. The first refers to such work as encyclopedias and school textbooks or adolescent texts, of which I’ve done about five. At the turn of the new century, I edited the Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century African History by Routledge. My public intellectual work consists of essays I write for public audiences and publish as blogs, newspaper articles, and essays in popular magazines. Some of my blogs  have ended up being published in my essay collections. Since I returned to the continent in December 2015, Kenyan and Malawian newspapers have carried several of my commentaries and interviews on national and global events. Over the years University World News has published several of my essays on higher education. And more recently, I’ve discovered the world of podcasts!

I see these outlets as a critical part of my role as a public intellectual, to translate research and share ideas in the public realm; to participate in ongoing popular conversations outside the often convoluted and self-referential confines of the academy, with their incomprehensible and cultish discourses to disciplinary or theoretical outsiders.





The Economy of Transnational Teaching and Publishing (9 & 10)


 Teaching is a natural assignment where everyone is tasked with the responsibility of defeating their ignorance so that they could become valuable to themselves and their society. However, that is the concept of teaching in the most innocent and basic form. Teaching requires something more. It demands that teachers first be identified as incurably curious and must show insatiable interest in the things of the world to develop appropriate skills and methodologies to hand their knowledge to the succeeding generations. Nevertheless, the quality of teaching lies in the intellectual coverage of expansive educational fields that determine what one can give to people at a particular moment. Therefore, people who would be considered teachers must be versatile and programmatically eclectic as this would influence what and how they teach. In contemporary times, however, there is a need to understand the changing dynamics of knowledge production. Globalization has necessitated that people improve their understanding of the world around them, which continues to be expansive and complex because this is the prerequisite to expose learners to the diverse sociocultural identities of the world and, therefore, imbue them on ways to navigate the complex politics of the world.

Between Africa and the world is an umbilical cord facilitated by two different experiences– the phenomenon of slavery and enslavement and the expediency of migration. A careful observation of these two factors would reveal that they belong to the same origin. Irrespective of the flexibility of human relationships in recent times, it is not easy to talk about the history or prospect of transnational knowledge production and sharing without touching on the different histories that brought about the sociopolitical and sociocultural miscegenation of the current time. People are mixed despite their varying cultural and religious philosophies. The politics of association bring about the economy of teaching in a globalized world to reinforce the place of human identity and or complexity in sharing knowledge. In essence, human experiences are the accumulated materials that inform the nature of human knowledge. In it lies the information needed to structure their civilization that would protect their said identity and mark them as different from others, despite being in the galaxies of human identities. There are Africans in the Americas and European countries whose sociopolitical experiences have informed expanded sites or research, all of which become the background for improving one’s knowledge about self and the environment.

Undisputedly, Paul Zeleza is one of the most shining icons that transnational knowledge generation and production domain have produced recently. It is not principally ironic that his overseas and offshore experiences have increased his intellectual brilliance and enriched his knowledge about international politics. It is equally amazing that he has made extensive contributions in building a worthwhile image for the African diaspora in numerous ways. There is the paucity of information or knowledge of Africans by the external cultures and civilizations, and their knowledge gap about the said people have always been substituted with arrogant generalizations and many unfounded conclusions that have always demanded deconstruction from intelligent individuals who would come with a strong evidentiary foundation to counter different assumptions against Africans. We are aware that the West is steps ahead in their documentation of human experience, and they have always leveraged this to make newfangled projections about Africans.

Being well-bred in historical scholarship, Zeleza has been a committed member of the intellectual community who offer their knowledge to construct an encyclopedia of history for the people. This would serve different important purposes–the revaluation of African identity and the revitalization of their cultural traditions in contemporary times. Without knowing any more about a people, making unreal projections about them cannot be helped. Zeleza did not only teach in diaspora communities, his teaching also facilitated the rebirth of African identity. He has been an important voice in the topics of African identity in the diaspora, and this is observed in his participation and contribution to papers and writings that have anything to do with knowledge productions about Africa.

Precisely because there has been a misconception of the African people circulated unduly to external cultures and civilizations, there has been the desire for erudite scholars, who are familiar with the African epistemological terrain and who also consciously improve themselves as a commitment to advance human knowledge, to offer their perspective to the issues of identity and human relationships. While they uplift their continent of birth in the process of this self-discovery, they simultaneously improve their educational competence needed in different areas of human existence.

The age-long transnational teaching experience propelled Zeleza into writing a book that serves as the material for developing a course of study. For example, the Carnegie African Diaspora Program has appropriated one of his research projects as the bedrock of creating a transformative program. Due to the existence of this program, numerous scholars have been funded by the same group, each of them expected to expand the horizon of international knowledge productions. In this regard, Zeleza has comfortably added to the school of academics in the art of teaching and researching. He has been introduced to a mélange of opportunities to represent Africa by coordinating many of the joint knowledge generation and production.

Serving as an administrative board member in the International Association of Universities (IAU) means his services as an impressive academic have been noticed. He is equally serving on the Advisory Board of the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) as a representative of the continent and as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Kenya Education Network (KENET). These are the results of having transnational teaching experience because his expertise and informed knowledge won him the opportunity to represent at these levels. Meanwhile, the essence of being a member or representing in these capacities is to draw from their academic experience and the knowledge gathered in the process of teaching, as this is very valuable in enhancing the progress of the people and the society generally. Teaching in America, Canada, and also Africa has given him the necessary foundation for diagnosing the educational problems facing the people and the corresponding ways they can be surmounted. The fruit of this is very outstanding.

One of the innovations that the exposure to diaspora knowledge systems and its generation brings is the introduction of ICT as a medium of academic development in modern time, and Zeleza is exploring this in relation to growth in African knowledge production. The benefits of transnational teaching are immense because apart from animating the values of the teachers involved in the exercise, it also opens a door of opportunity to various individuals. His impact in the international space has given several students in Africa access to funds and collaboration that would improve their situations and make them valuable to their immediate society. One such occasion was the award of $63.2 million by USIU-Africa, in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, that would benefit exactly 1000 students, most of whom are females and socially disadvantaged. This is one important significance of continued dedication to the academic struggles on the home front and the international environment.

A teacher of such status and caliber belongs to the research community, digging ferociously deeply into their sociopolitical and socioeconomic affairs to educate the world about areas that need utmost intellectual and political attention to enhance collective advancement. The world is educated daily on why there should be expediency to extend help and concerns to people collectively considered disadvantaged. This is because they are not only important in the process of securing an environment habitable for all, but their lack of access to economic and political opportunities is also a threat to the well-being of others who have it.

The crucible of Paul Zeleza’s academic adventure is the accumulation of socio-educational and trans-Atlantic experiences that are acquired in the continuously changing world. He is unfixed, and this progressive mobility has informed his knowledge generation and provided the materials around which his academic brilliance hovers. Whereas being in the state of flux can be generally seen as psychologically disturbing because it keeps moving and changing the perception of the individual and makes them entirely unfixed, for people who exude that great level of human sagacity such as Zeleza, they usually make the best use of the experience to build something impressive. This is what describes Zeleza as a scholar and a progressive individual. In tasting and testing different cultural traditions and being exposed to multivariate ideas, he built a knowledge identity and systems that are constantly sought out today in human academic endeavors. We are driven to the wide range of research engagements that scholars have undertaken about transnational studies, and we are, therefore, educated about how cross-country trade and trans-Atlantic experience has changed the course of different people, including Africans who were victims of enslavement and races like India with a similar fate.

To arrive at the respectful state of knowledge production that Zeleza is known for in contemporary times requires more than being an intellectually informed individual; it demands that one is conscious about self-growth. Zeleza’s growth has been such an amazing one because he determined that he would be exceptional in his endeavor. He chose eclecticism from time immemorial, and while striving to make himself relevant in academic matters, his social history keeps bringing complex experiences into his adventure, and fortunately, he has satisfactorily brought everything under his control. He got his academic dexterity from tasting different cultural traditions and varying fields, recording success in them beyond what could be attained by ordinary individuals.

As an undergraduate, he majored in English and History, and it was exceptional that he became one of the most credible candidates to have graduated from his alma mater. After this, he went to the United Kingdom for a different course of study, which complemented and sharpened his undergraduate and formative education a little more. The study of History and International Studies prepared him for a bigger academic responsibility in the diaspora as he served not only as an instrument to bring about or facilitate stronger relationships between African countries and the international world, but he is also a deciding force on the production of knowledge for the people within his academic space. His Ph.D. in Canada was in the area of economic history, which assisted him to better understand the sidelined history of African people, especially before and during colonization and the eventual consequences.

The promiscuity of his academic engagement has facilitated a constantly evolving teaching and researching career that he developed as an individual and a scholar. He has worked as a dignified researcher in three continents—Africa, Europe, and America. Functioning as professor of History and African Studies at UIUC, Professor of African and African American Studies and History at Penn State University, Professor of African American Studies and History at LMU, and a figure of coordinate significance in very many other important schools and academic societies indicate that Zeleza is a man of diverse identities. The attainment of these feats is ascribed to his insatiable quest for knowledge.

Zeleza is a man who is not tired of breaking boundaries, and irrespective of how demanding a new pursuit seems, he always gives his commitment to the extent that he achieved something invaluable from his embarkation. He is not a rigid human, and he has always opened his arms to knowledge, challenging himself whenever he realized that there are grounds to cover. He would always bring out fresh perspective to even over-flogged or over-researched academic fields. On a certain occasion, he was drawn to consider a field he has not covered because a curious student innocently asked about the economic history of Africa before the ascension of Europeans. While he gave an unsatisfactory response to the question, he took the challenge and delved into the virgin academic territory, producing something worthwhile years later.

As the African world continues to change because of the consequences of colonial structures imposed by Europeans that still linger on in postcolonial time, the academic engagement of intellectuals also changes to accommodate the rhythms. After the various agitations of various state nationalists that birthed African independence in the 1960s, African countries immediately entered into an economic surplus that came as a relief and gave the impression of a beautiful future. However, the relief was short-lived and was immediately replaced by a cloud of uncertainties after the euphoria of feigned economic buoyance died a natural death. Succeeding decades are unveiling in their exposure to the accumulated misfortunes waiting to greet the Africa future earlier believed to be well-secured. Therefore, the unfolding events suggest that the consequences would not only be felt on the people’s economy, but it would also indefinitely spread to their knowledge generation and production. This is where the academic community understand that they have an important role to play in examining and evaluating African sociopolitical ecologies, so that appropriate philosophy and ideology would be constructed for the enhancement of collective success. People like Zeleza have touched this aspect in their concentration on diagnosing African problems.

All of these have been the context of his preoccupation for approximately fifty years, and results show in the complexion of his academic engagement and knowledge productions altogether. Zeleza has authored books, published journal articles, and contributed to book chapters. He has delivered many keynote addresses and contributed immensely to online and offline academic engagements within this relatively short period of his involvement and engagements. Perhaps his academic dexterity and knowledge diversity are products of his constantly evolving teaching experience; nonetheless, it is outstanding that the man whose academic background was found on history would grow up to challenge himself in different fields and make impressive additions and contributions to these areas of intellectual engagements. Of course, he is successful in his forage into economic history, and he remains a renowned egghead in international history and politics, including but not limited to African-American sociocultural and sociopolitical conditions and experiences in the past and contemporary time. However, he added another feather to his cap by venturing into literary engagement, which eventually morphed into cultural studies.

It would be comforting to know that Paul Zeleza did not refuse to cover gender topics in discursive engagement to represent the experiences of women who are confronted with the challenges of marginalization and suppression of their identity in a world that is affected by the complex politics of neoliberal economy. Meanwhile, the African society from where he was raised is usually identified as being essentially patriarchal, but despite this, he was able to interrogate the matrilineal cultural underpinnings associated with the same society. It, therefore, makes enough sense to consider the said society as a good scope of research that would enrich the academic culture of the international community, especially in areas of social structuration along patriarchal and matriarchal lines. African societies that are expressly patriarchal have social configurations that ensure that women have a reasonable level of influence in their configuration. Family members relate with their matrilineal background than they do to the other end. All these are key issues that inform Paul Zeleza’s research and also his academic publications.

Despite all of these involvements, he remains a committed activist who dedicates himself to the course of justice. By constantly giving his voice to the rampaging topic of rights abuses that have almost become synonymous with the African political system, Zeleza has also singled himself out as an outstanding individual and an instrument of social renegotiation. Like most scholars of his time and age, he understands that conflicts are inevitable in a fledging continent like Africa, as they are incubated by the various actions and inactions of colonial structures and the ascension of the elite class who are more vindictive than productive. They have seized the opportunity to amass common wealth at their rise into power in post-independence and without making sufficient efforts on the ways to set the people free from the impending economic doom to greet the life after colonialism. As such, conflicts are not avertible but the most important thing to do in this situation is to ensure that efforts are made to facilitate resolution in the case of erupting controversies. Zeleza has done this by leveraging his academic engagement and teaching experience, as a teacher and an administrator, to offer informed solutions to the countless challenges facing people in the society. We cannot pretend that Paul Zeleza is immensely valuable to Africa’s academic and political stewardship, for he has offered contributions that continue to speak volumes of his intellectual brilliance.

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