Professor David Donahue, Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Sankofa, the African word that means we need to know and understand our past to head intelligently into our future. Sankofa is usually symbolized by a bird whose feet are moving forward but whose head is looking back. Sankofa is an apt metaphor for the McCarthy Center as we head to the end of 2017. This year marks our 15th anniversary. It also marks a year of strategic planning to chart the course for the next five years.
As with Sankofa, there is much wisdom in the McCarthy Center’s past that can inform what we value: integrity, knowledge, and service. Recently, we have been conducting oral history interviews with some of the people who knew Leo McCarthy well. Over and over, we hear about Leo’s humanity, his compassion for those who were marginalized by society, and his commitment to doing what is right. At our 15th anniversary celebration on November 9, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described Leo as a person who could see the “divinity” in everyone. If only this generosity of spirit were the norm in politics now. In the meantime, it animates the kind of community we create in our programs at the Center.
Leo’s values speak to us as we look ahead. We began this new school year with a sense of heaviness and anxiety as racism and white supremacy, which have always been part of the history of this nation, became especially visible and were given permission to manifest by our nation’s president. That heaviness has as women have come forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment, including by our elected officials.
As 2017 ends, we are resolved to engage for racial, gender, and other forms of justice. Our strategic planning process will give us direction toward those goals as we support students eager to engage in their community and in political life. We are developing a new program for next year to connect USF students with community organizers and advocacy organizations. We hope to engage students in city government as we continue to recruit students for state and national government internships. Since the start of the fall, we have registered over 800 USF students as new voters who are ready to make their voices heard. Early in 2018, we will launch our gubernatorial speakers series, bringing candidates for the “second most important office in the nation” to campus so they can engage with students, staff, and faculty.
We are eager to hear your ideas about what you see as strategic directions for the McCarthy Center. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us any time. Our efforts are stronger when they reflect a collective vision.
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