Explore the Work of African Americans in the Peace Corps Since the 1960s

Uploaded by peacecorps on 04.06.2009

Well, grew up in Greensborough, North Carolina, where the sit-in demonstrations began at the lunch counter.
So yes, I was very much a part of the congress of racial equality; I was on the negotiating team,
and I was very much engaged in various activities around civil rights movement in Greensborough, North Carolina
and other places in North Carolina. But without hesitation, I made the decision to, to join the Peace Corps,
because it was really consistent with my interests professionally, the opportunity to travel overseas,
and in Peace Corps training, out of 66 men who trained for India Nine at Oregon State University in 1964,
I was the only one of color. More often than not, I was mistaken for an Indian.
I can recall one evening, my Peace Corps partner and I went to the American Embassy in New Delhi.
And in those days you had to carry an identification card, identifying the fact that you were a Peace Corps Volunteer.
And my partner and I, we had a tendency to, to identify with Sikhs. And this particular night, we were both wearing turbans.
So my head—my head was completely covered. And we walked up to the entrance of the auditorium in the American Embassy,
in the main chancery, and the Marine guard standing there said, “Sorry, but Indians are not allowed here.”
And I smiled and I whipped out my Peace Corps identification card, and he looked at me and says, “ok,”
‘cause there’s a photograph on there. He says, “You look just like an Indian, you know, with that turban on.”
Joining the Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to sort of be a part of something bigger than myself.
You know, I thought, what was going on in America and the world at that time? And really, in an international sense,
it was apartheid, and Peace Corps opening everything up in South Africa, and going to South Africa literally,
you know, two years after the fall of apartheid, and being part of that group, I got to be a part of history in the making.
It is more of a curiosity being - coming here as a black woman, because they—they’ve only really seen black people on TV,
so it’s like, bringing to reality something that they’ve never seen before.
I can definitely see my — everything changing about me.
I try to keep a journal, so you can definitely see, when you look back on the past entries,
you can definitely see yourself changing.
Here in Ecuador, the poorest class are Afro-Ecuadoreans and indigenous people. And since I’m also African-American,
they see me and they think that I’m from here. So that has been a great obstacle for me to overcome a lot of these prejudices.
But I think by me working in the areas where Afro-Ecuadoreans live, I’ve been able to help these people realize
that they can do whatever that they desire.
For me to be able to work in these communities and kind of help these people,
like, motivate them, increase their self esteem, has been a great deal for me.
I feel honored to be a representative of the African-American community here in, not only in Benin, West Africa,
but just in Peace Corps in general, and to educate people on my life in the States as an African-American.
My first assumption was, “wow, I’m gonna go back to the quote-unquote motherland and see, you know, where I came from,
and so on and so forth,” and it’s a complete shock when many times they don’t believe that I’m a black American
because of the fact that I might have a lighter complexion than what they have imagined most black Americans to have.
They expect them to maybe look like Africans here in Africa in general or Benin.
If I say that I’m African-American, I’ll be asked which one of my parents is African and which one is American.
Most of the Beninese people that I’ve run into have just wanted to learn more about me, my culture, where I come from.
I’ve found that they’ve been wonderful people, try to be very accommodating, very — they’re very understanding.
There’s no question that the Peace Corps, both in terms of overseas and in terms of Peace Corps opportunities
here in the United States offer minority Americans more opportunities. The Peace Corps has a long-standing history
of commitment to a diverse Peace Corps, commitment to an open and inclusive Peace Corps,
commitment to attracting as many Americans of color as possible�