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"Rooting for Success:" The President Hosts a Town Hall with Young African Leaders

A behind-the-scenes look at the President's town hall with 115 young African delegates.

Yesterday morning, 115 young African delegates arrived at the State Department for the opening of the President’s Forum for Young African Leaders, a three-day event in which the delegates had the opportunity to share their insights on and visions for the future of Africa.  The participants were leaders in their respective countries who demonstrated a desire to change the face of Africa over the next 50 years through ingenuity, perseverance, and a dedication to empowering individuals and communities across the continent.

Along with my colleagues Michael Blake and William Jawando, I arrived at the State Department to welcome the delegates at the opening plenary session. As we walked into the Loy Henderson Auditorium, one could immediately sense the focused and enthusiastic energy of the delegates.  Despite the fact that they had traveled 4,000 miles or more, in some cases leaving behind young children and families, they were up at the crack of dawn to begin their day with us. While we discussed their impending arrival at the White House and fielded questions from them about the town hall, there was no question that they were fired up and ready to go. 

When the delegates arrived in three buses, they were ushered into the halls of the East Wing, where a row of approximately 46 African flags lined the corridor leading to the East Room.  Many of their faces lit up as they found their flag in the line-up and rushed over to take pictures in front of it.  It was a festive occasion: the row of colorful flags, combined with the vibrant and ornate national outfits worn by the delegates, filled the East Wing with an atmosphere of celebration, and reinforced the pride of the delegates coming to express their views to and hear from the United States President.

As the President welcomed the delegates to the White House and to the United States, he shared his hopes for the continent’s future, discussed the heartbreaks the continent faces now and has faced in the past, and reinforced the commitment of the United States to strengthening our partnership with African nations.  He also emphasized that he wanted to use their time together to hear the delegate’s ideas as to how our nations can partner more effectively in the years ahead.

The delegates arrived well-prepared, asking the President one important question after another.  Every time the President called for a new question, nearly every hand in the room shot up.  The confidence and sophistication with which the delegates asked their questions revealed that the room was full of the next generation of leaders who had extraordinary futures ahead of them.  

As the forum came to an end, the President reminded the delegates that “we are rooting for your success, and we want to work with you to achieve that success, but ultimately success is going to be in your hands.  And being a partner means that we can be there by your side, but we can’t do it for you.”  The delegates exited the East Room inspired and emboldened by the President’s call to action.  As one woman exited the East Portico of the White House, she made clear that she would continue to work on the behalf freedom and justice at home.  She turned to her American counterparts saying, “We are the ones on the ground, who will continue to work for our nations.  Don’t forget us when we leave.” 

The historic town hall of which she was a part of yesterday will never be forgotten.  America will continue to listen and to work on the behalf of the phenomenal young people who are heralding a new generation of progress for the African continent.

Karen Richardson is the Associate Director for International Affairs in the White House Office of Public Engagement.