The future is bright, the future is diverse.
If this conference in Copenhagen, about the next generation of minority political leadership, was a snap shot of the talent in the USA and Europe, then the future is bright, very bright.
One of the key aims of the conference was to build a self-sustaining, transatlantic network of young leaders who are dedicated to building more inclusive governments. Conference organisers stated that, ‘ in a globalised era, when many countries face an upswing in racism and xenophobia, both the USA and Europe can benefit from a visionary new generation of young leaders. Young leaders who are dedicated to creating more open and representative institutions.’
The event was supported at the highest level including the US Ambassador to Denmark, Laurie S Fulton, Congressman Alcee L Hastings, MEP Hannes Swaboda, and the US Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, Reta Jo Lewis.
Ambassador Fulton, not only invited all 70 delegates for a reception at the US Embassy Residence, but also chaired a breakfast meeting for nearly two hours on the importance of women, and particularly Black women in power.
As a founder member of the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference I was invited to be a trainer over the three days of the Young leaders Conference. The other two trainers: Karen Finney and Parag V Mehta are part of America’s elite electoral campaign strategists, both of whom have worked on President Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign teams.
But the real stars were the participants. Some were locally elected officials, others were advisors. All of them wanted to serve their communities and wider society.
At the age of 28, Mahinur Ozdemir recently became the youngest elected deputy in the Brussels Regional Parliament. With Islamaphobia on the rise right across Belgium, she was asked by many senior politicians and others to remove her hijab whilst campaigning. She told them, ‘No’. This is who I am. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem’. Her stance coupled with her vision for an inclusive anti-extremist parliament won the day with a landslide victory.
Jean-Daniel Colombani used his journalistic skills to write immigration papers that would help move the debate from abuse and paranoia to objective discussion. Mr Colombani now hopes to create an Islamic Cultural Centre in Athens.
England was represented by two young men: Waseem Zaffer a Labour councillor from Birmingham and Raza Anjuma,a former conservative councillor in Saffron Walden, and an international solicitor with the law firm Norton Rose. Both were very impressive. On many occasions, Anjum articulated his work in bringing different minority communities together, and also extolling the virtues of being a school governor. Anjum, who is currently President of the Conservative Youth Muslim Forum, informed delegates that his pro-bono work on Human Rights law and his day job would give him real life experience. This experience would help him decide whether or not to run for office.
Delegates gasped when they heard that the young Hawaiian Council member Stanley Chang had personally knocked on 19, 000 doors during his election campaign. ‘It wasn’t rocket science, just hard work’, said Chang. Incidentally Chang won his seat with a majority of 19,000 - definitely one to watch.
The Americans were there in force with many dynamic individuals such as Micah Ali a two- term District Board Governor; Jacque Robinson, who became one of the youngest elected officials in the history of Pasadena at the age of 28; Kacie Starr Triplett, radio host and popular elected representative, having graduated from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; and Angela Rye voted as one of the most influential under 35 list. Rye currently serves the Executive Director and General Counsel to the Congressional Black Caucus.
It was a special few days with ideas and commitment to globally work together and support one another. One idea that I think many will be taking to their own country was the campaign to confront Islamaphobia. Christian Kriznjak a member of the Danish Ethnic Youth Council showed delegates his model for tackling Islamaphobia. It was a box of fake pills – chewing gum - called Islamaphobia pills. On the packet it said,
‘Cure your bigotry by chewing these pills. You will be more tolerant, more open, you may even come to like a Muslim’.
Delegates roared with laughter. After the global furore of the Danish Islamic cartoon storms, the young Muslim Danes showed you can tackle prejudice and bigotry with wonderful humour which makes almost everyone smile.
The delegates pledged to consolidate the groups and to invite others to join it too.
The future is bright, the future is diverse.
Youth Leadership is a nonpartisan foundation whose primary goal is to serve as a catalyst for introducing rising political and policy professionals