Arriving in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 16 2017 marked an important milestone in my life. It is the first time I landed in the United States of America (USA); honored that just a two hour drive away from Charlotte Airport, my new home, Boone, in the Appalachian frontier awaited me. It has taken me almost a week to settle and write my first of hopefully many stories to come out of Appalachian State University (ASU) where I am following the Civic Leadership Track for the next six weeks. I will resist the temptation to digress and tell you more about the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship that I am a part of by inviting you to read more about it here.
Back to my story about Boone. After settling into our apartments (shout out to team AppState hosting us) and getting over the jet-lag, the ethnographer in me (and of course the social being that some of you know) could not help but embark on a walk to discover my new world. The striking observation any first-time visitor will make is the intriguing mountainous terrain that is part of the Appalachian range and in Boone County where the university campus stands. Well, while I have had encounters with similar views from the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe, I was not prepared to see how nature can be so majestic and heartily magnetic.
It’s during my first campus walk that I came across the sculpture of Daniel Boone. He is among the early frontier pioneers who trekked and settled in the Appalachians. I will not go into the history, ambiguities and various perspectives of the process of settling as this is a narrative deserving specific focus. What I wish to share here are three words I found inscribed on the plaque beside the sculpture; words I believe fellow Fellows can draw a few pointers from as the institute tracks continue.
That inscription embodies three attributes that set leaders apart and continuously drive them. Any resident fellow of ASU can find an apt and inspiring connection expressed through Daniel Boone’s life. Indeed, it is also a statement that I hope every fellow in the 2017 cohort will identify with.
The Explorers: Surely, the view before Daniel Boone must have looked captivating yet daunting; waiting to be explored. The decision to set out, search out and discover marks the beginning of new possibilities. Among the Mandela Washington Fellows, the six weeks can signal the continuation of an exploratory journey that began in the respective home countries and fields of expertise. Yet, the same weeks also mark the beginning of a new level of traversing, probing and delving into the rich history, knowledge, skills and expertise that this opportunity offers. Across the institutes and among distinguished leaders in the United States, I am hoping not to be awestruck by the discovery but to be interactive, to actively listen (and not hear), learn, be inquisitive and let out my curiosity for new knowledge. It is a time of learning ‘the new’, familiarizing with approaches and taking on lessons that will be useful in strengthening existing efforts in Zimbabwe.
The Trailblazers: The Oxford Dictionary defines a trailblazer as a person who makes a new track through wild country or a person who is the first to do something; an innovator. As I scan through and gradually read the profiles of the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellows, it is evident that a recurrent trait is innovation. This could be an initiative to transform the lives and livelihoods of specific population segments (women, children, girls, farmers, emerging business persons). Others have broken new technological ground by creating hubs for business start-ups, delivery of affordable healthcare systems, breaking policy barriers, advocating for the rights of the disabled, marginalized and excluded….to cutting edge technologies, and so much more.
Trailblazers are bold enough, not just to set out, but to begin a new trail and track for others to follow and be guided easily through. Trailblazers, open up new opportunities, not just for themselves but for those around them. Today, I travel in an ‘unfamiliar’ country to learn about leadership. The question on my mind is whether, I will be able to have a footprint in the next couple of weeks that will define my passion to be among the trailblazers in my generation. My desire as a sojourner, joining my colleagues here, is to be more than me. I must contribute, within my means, and through the support system around me; to my family, my community and my country, Zimbabwe. I want to be able to say “hey, Daniel Boone’s legacy ignited the trailblazer in me!” In the coming weeks, I will knock on the doors of this wonderful community, and learn from the families and experts in civic leadership, rural development, agriculture and importantly, everyday life in the USA. I hope the people dearest to me will walk this journey with me.
The Visionaries: As a high school student, I used to think of a vision through the “eye of a needle”, until I realized later in life that it’s more than that. I began to understand that vision configures the future. That those who eloquently articulate and boldly step into certain futures are visionaries. Sadly, most visionaries are oft celebrated long after they have departed and just when their visions begin to manifest with precision. Today, visionaries are not static, they “envision” and take society through simple and complex models that tell of a better world ahead. Yet, often, we see more of a troubled world than what past visionaries like Boone defined and helped bring to reality. I have reflected on visioning as a life process. I am challenging myself and all fellows to give new meaning to visioning and being a visionary by determining that all initiatives outlive our generation and continue sustaining those coming after us. The support is there. Collaboration potential abounds. Daniel Boone has taught me that if you have belief and determination, then visions become reality, so long as those who come after share and take practical measures to continuously build on that vision.
We must not be discouraged by our individual shortcomings and episodic failings of nations. Rather, we fall, to rise again. Renewed. Stronger. Wiser. And of course, to embrace and move with the vision to serve and transform our communities and be part of the change we aspire. I know across all institutes and communities that have opened up their world to the 2017 Fellows, more names like Daniel Boone shall come up. Let these names and legacies inspire us to explore, to trailblaze and move forward with our vision for Africa and all of humanity. In true ASU Mountaineer spirit, I say, it’s time to “Define the Moment”.
Picture Credits: All S. Chikulo except ASU image from www.appstate.edu