Churchill Fellows attend Spelman College Women of Color Conference in Atlanta, Georgia

This blog piece will also be included as an article in next month’s Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) newsletter.The Trust is now accepting applications from individuals for travel fellowships to be taken in 2014.

Full details can be foound on their website at http://www.wcmt.org

Each year a major travel and learning opportunity is offered to at least 100 people from across the UK. Individuals are drawn from diverse walks of life including those involved in initiatives that help develop stronger and more effective communities, those working with, young people in enterprise, leadership and community action, people involved in creative arts for aging people, the penal reform system and health and social care amongst others. They are encouraged to apply to the Winston Churchill Memorial Fund for a travel grant to travel to a country or countries of their choice to learn about best practice and innovation.

The main aim of the travel opportunity is to support the widening of an individuals’ personal and professional experience and understanding and to bring the learning back to the UK to share with others.

Winston Churchill Fellows are renown for trailblazing whilst on their travels as well as after they return to the UK. Three Fellows – Tracey Ford (2012), Yvonne Field (2012) and Yvonne Witter (2010) set another first by being invited to participate in the 9th Spelman College Women of Colour Leadership Conference, May 15-16th which had the theme: Strategic Leadership: Building Wealth , Entrepreneurship and Paying it Forward (which is an interesting and perhaps more appropriate shift in focus from the more commonly known term, ‘Paying it Back’!).

Yvonne Field and Tracy attended the conference during their respective travel fellowships to Atlanta. Yvonne Witter and another colleague Marigold Nunes (also from London), joined them at the conference.

Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia, was founded in 1881, as a Liberal Arts college for African American women. It offers four year degrees and has an impressive history of producing future generations of African American women leaders who go onto to have significant influence in business, the corporate sector, government, academia as well as in the Not for Profit sector. The college’s vision Spelman A Choice to Change the World, focuses our attention on the purpose of the educational opportunity and experience offered to its’ female students.

Whilst on their degree programme all students undertake leadership development and civic engagement activities which plants the seeds of a lifelong commitment to serve their community locally, nationally and globally.

Spelman is a member of a highly regarded White House group of historically black colleges which were established in the formally segregated South. Its’ male equivalent Morehouse, has famous alumnae including Martin Luther King, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. In recognition of the academic and other significant achievements of both these colleges, President Obama was the guest of honour and keynote speaker at Morehouse’s graduation ceremony which took place on 21st May, creating a great buzz in Atlanta whilst we were there. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, was the guest of honour at Spelman College’s graduation in 2012.

The Spelman conference attracted an intergenerational audience of more than 500 women of colour (African, Asian and Latin American heritage), drawn from all sectors of life. Individuals just starting out in their academic lives and /or careers were sharing and learning alongside women who had highly successful careers and are now in retirement. The theme was particularly pertinent as evidence of the growing wealth gap in the USA as presented by Spelman’s President Dr Beverley Daniel Tatum (we would call her a Vice Chancellor in the UK), suggests that the average white family builds US$600k of wealth compared with US$98k for African heritage families.

The keynote presentations, seminars, workshops and plenary sessions provided ample opportunity to hear personal stories and gain insight from women of colour of how they had built highly successful businesses (despite overwhelming odds) and then ‘gave forward’ often through establishing foundations and trusts to support programmes for young people and/or deprived communities. Many of the personal journeys were also supported by current empirical evidence which brought critical issues affecting communities of colour in American even more sharply in focus for conference delegates.

One of the skills our American cousins are particularly known for being good at is networking. The women we met at the conference were open to sharing and listening, full of creative ideas and actively seeking out women to co-create business opportunities and ventures which had a positive economic and social impact.   It was a huge privilege to be in the company of such highly talented, witty and engaging women of colour. Even at this early stage, it is clear that from the myriad of interesting connections and relationships forged at the conference, new business and social ventures will result.

 Three positive outcomes have already been realised from the conference.

Firstly, Dr Jane Smith, Director of the Spelman College Leadership Centre will come to London in July to have a roundtable discussion with women of colour about our leadership journeys and experiences. Apart from supporting our own learning and development and future actions, the conversation will also help inform Spelman’s 10th conference programme. 

Secondly, a much larger group of women of colour from the UK are invited to Spelman’s 10th anniversary conference in 2014. It is hoped that this life changing opportunity can be facilitated through the WCMT Fellows.

Thirdly, Gael Sylvia, Founder and Director of Sylvia Global Media Network (www.sylviaglobal.com) and Founder of Girls Fly (www.girlsfly.org) will be collaborating with Tracey Ford to organise a Girls Fly event in London in August. The Girls Fly! mission is to provide opportunities for girls and women to live healthy and empowered lives and encourage them to do the same for others. Girls Fly! host global events which offer girls and women the opportunity to turn individual dreams into reality. The Girls Fly! team is organising an event for girls in transition from primary to high school in Belize later this month.

Women of Colour who are interested in the Spelman College opportunities should contact Yvonne Field at Yve.Field@gmail.com for more information.

Those interested in supporting, participating in and/or sponsoring the Girls Fly event in London should contact Tracey Ford at Tracey@jagsfoundation.org

Yvonne Field went onto complete a range of organisational and individual visits where she explored African American Leadership and Social Innovation.

The Ubele blog will include further reflections on her travels and will be used to capture highlights from her trip towards the end of this year where she will spend time with Maori communities New Zealand deepening her awareness and understanding of how to create and sustain intergenerational connections.

Photo 1: Spelman College Mission

Photo 2: Yvonne Witter, Yvonne Field, Marigold Nunes and Tracey Ford at Spelman Conference

Photo 3: The Camille Cosby Academic Centre

Photo 4: The Sisters Chapel

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