A cohort of youth leaders spread across continents are bringing attention to the importance of African diaspora youth to the United Nations (UN) next week.
The second session of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) will take place May 30 – June 2, 2023 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
The United Nations (UN) held the inaugural session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) in Geneva, Switzerland between Dec. 5-8, 2022. Jadayah Spencer, Qadira Muhammad and Miles Henderson are international youth leaders who attended the inaugural PFPAD sessions.
In an interview with The Hilltop, the trio discussed the importance of African diaspora youth being engaged in international and local politics and the significance of African diaspora youth having opportunities to work alongside elder generations.
Spencer, Henderson, and Muhammad are delegates of the International Civil Society Working Group (ICSWG) for the PFPAD who lead its youth division. The ICSWG consists of people around the world who are dedicated to making the Permanent Forum impactful, raising local and international awareness of the Forum’s progress and creating opportunities to engage civil society and have grassroots stakeholders provide their input.
Established in August 2021, the PFPAD will act as an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council and serve as “a consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders” and “platform for improving the safety and quality of life and livelihoods of people of African descent” according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
OHCHR worked to create the Forum since November 2014, when it was mandated by UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/69/16. The young delegates highlighted the importance of future initiatives and greater involvement across the diaspora.
“Blackness really means universal,” Muhammad said. “People might not understand that we are literally everywhere in this world. When we talk about inclusion, we must be more intentional in reaching out to those spaces. We want to have a network of youth and youth groups that we can be in contact with as the PFPAD progresses.”
In addition to intercontinental mobilization of youth across the African diaspora, the delegates are focused on catalyzing generational and institutional changes within the UN.
“It was a great first step to get an African country on the UN Security Council and to garner African nations and African populations more political power on the global level,” Henderson said.
The first session of the PFPAD included an international and multigenerational network of grassroots, nongovernment, public sector representatives, social activists and other human rights defenders from UN Member states.
“I am encouraged to make the space live up to its potential, as sometimes individuals, organizations and companies can go further than the government,” Spencer said.
Attendees raised significant issues such as global reparations, recourse for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial era and the protection of human rights for the African diaspora.
“It’s important to consider the marginalized or forgotten people who are not in the room and ensure that we are truly representative of what we claim to be,” Spencer continued.
“If nothing else, bringing Black people from around the world into one space, to have the discussions that we need to have was a positive” Muhammad said, describing the assembly. “There were people that I was speaking with at the forum who said they’d never been to something to this extent for our people.”
At the December session, delegates from Norway, Hatem Ben Mansour and Mohamud A. Hersi, of the Norwegian Center Against Racism, drafted a petition for youth representation in the PFPAD, which was supported by the ICSWG’s Youth branch and other civil society representatives and Member states.
The petition obtained 180 signatories who recommended the formation of a Youth Forum on People of African Descent comprised by the youth organizations and youth activists present at the session. In a joint statement to The Hilltop, Mansour and Hersi mentioned their motivation behind the petition and thoughts on the role of African diaspora youth in global politics.
“Youth constitute a large portion of the population of people of African descent and have had a leading role in the Black Lives Matters movement, and the global fight against all forms of injustice” the statement said.“ To establish connections among generations of the human rights struggle, youth must be represented in institutions, not only at the grassroot level.”
Spencer and Henderson lead the youth division of the ICSWG of the PFPAD and are focused on ensuring the issues African diaspora youth endure daily are considered by UN Member States, the delegates of the PFPAD, as well as the larger UN system and its partner institutions.
“The convening was very powerful, but we’re focused on utilizing this mechanism to serve the interests of African youth and populations globally,” Henderson said.
“The UN passed a resolution late last year agreeing to the establishment of the UN youth office” Spencer said. “Whereas before there was just a UN Youth envoy, now there’s going to be a UN youth office which should serve to consolidate the efforts for young people across the UN system.”
With the upcoming UN PFPAD second session in New York, the trio addressed the critical role of African diaspora youth in international affairs and public policy now and in the future.
“I consider this as undoing white supremacist structure and thinking that pits younger generations against elders. It’s evident in policies and requirements that have age restrictions in voting yet lack limitations around tenure,” Muhammad said.
“Elders dominating in institutional spaces is not going to change anything if young people who are tired of those spaces want to do something different,” she concluded.
Henderson elevated the significance of Black youth seeking out international opportunities and sources of information. “I think we localize our perspectives to a detriment. Part of it is being open and seeking out global perspectives of information so you can apply your skill set,” he said.
“Now that I have an awareness about what’s going on at the world stage, here’s my view of what policy can look like at the global level,” Henderson added.
“There’s much room for us to work together, but it comes down to our mindset and how we use what we’ve been given,” Spencer said.
“Often when adults say, ‘youth are the future’, it implies young people must wait to be heard and elder generations don’t have to consider our input now, but I believe our current generations are the best that our peoples have produced” she concluded.
To view the list of virtual, hybrid, closed and open UN PFPAD forums and events, see here.
Copy edited by Jasper Smith