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Sundiata, in Italy, lectures on peacemaking

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: Features


Brandeis students often hear about the value of experiential learning and putting knowledge and theory into action. Professor Ibrahim Sundiata (AAAS) embraced this idea when he found himself in a room full of diplomats, journalists and members of government in Lake Como, Italy on Oct. 10, applying his three decades of teaching experience to solving international problems in Africa.

The symposium, called “From Liberation Movement to Government,” focused on the state of African nations that rebuilt their governments after revolutions. It was sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Brenthurst Foundation, foreign policy organizations that promote democracy, stability and international understanding in the developing world.

Dialogue focused on “the transition from liberation movements and armed resistance” to democracy and “the multiplicity of ideas.”

Sundiata found it fascinating that the symposium emphasized that young people must learn how to organize nonviolently, so that they can play a role in social movements.

“Transition is about democracy and the triumph of ideas. Elders have wisdom, but young people must become leaders for the future,” he said.

He cited the evolution of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that fought apartheid against blacks in South Africa, as an example of social change. The ANC is now South Africa’s “multiracial and multicultural” governing body, and people of all races are represented.

At Brandeis, Sundiata is teaching “Introduction to African History” and the new course “History of Black-Jewish Relations in America” this semester, both courses that draw on the social movements of the past as a means of understanding the present and the future. He hopes to impart to his students the idea that “social change demands discussion, dialogue, speaking up, even in cases where it might cost jobs and liberties.”

He plans to retire from teaching at the end of this year, and will begin writing a book about the role of President Obama’s African-American identity.

“People need to know that [Obama’s election] is a step on the journey to equality, not the destination,” Sundiata said. “Now we need more class diversity. Getting rid of racism, sexism and classism should be the ultimate goal for our society.”