Putting the World Within Reach
In addition to my scholarly pursuits and writing interests, I am the co-founder and co-director of The Wandering Scholar, a 501c3 nonprofit that makes international education opportunities accessible to low-income high-school students. The mission for this organization was born out of several formative experiences. For me, the first came during my childhood talks with my grandfather, John Walker, who had served in the US Army. There was so much about his life as a soldier that I could not fathom, but what always captured my attention were his stories about all the places in the world where he had traveled. Because he came of age during a very different time than I had been raised in, his opportunities as a young black man from Alabama were much more constrained than mine. I knew, and he made sure I knew, that I could see the world (and even serve my country, in a way) without putting my life on the line in the process.
When I was a scholarship student at a private high school that offered international excursions as an extracurricular activity, I persuaded my school to apply some of my financial aid towards my participation. Between that and my single mother's contributions, I was able to travel abroad twice, once to Mexico and, a year later, to France. Both experiences improved my language skills and cultivated my love of travel. By the time I got to college, I knew I wanted to pursue a major that allowed me to continue building those skills and nurturing that love.
As a junior majoring in History and Latin American Studies, I was able to draw upon my earlier travel experiences (and more scholarship support) to study abroad in Argentina, where I had the chance to conduct independent research as part of my program. From there, the decision to pursue graduate study in Latin American history was both a natural and easy choice, given my early international education experiences. I never doubted my ability to immerse myself in a foreign culture and conduct in-depth research, because I had already done so at such a young age.
When I was a PhD student conducting dissertation research in Peru, with the support of a Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Award, I attended a gathering of fellows based in the Andes. Looking around the room, I noticed a profound lack of racial diversity. When I shared my observation with a representative from the program, she mentioned the relative dearth of applications from scholars of color, and among those who did apply, the lack of prior international experience and familiarity with proposed host countries that would indicate an ability to carry out the kinds of ambitious projects the program funds. It was in that moment that I knew I wanted to help lead a movement for change.
This means changing the face of Americans abroad, as well as changing the range of educational and professional opportunities available to young Americans of color. Since founding the Wandering Scholar in 2009, our organization has provided 16 students with Global Skills Fellowships, which provide pre-departure programming and full scholarships for summer travel programs. Our alumni have gone on to such colleges as Brown, Tufts, and UC Berkeley, where they are majoring in international studies, foreign languages, and incorporating international perspectives into their STEM educations.