By DaQuan Lawrence,
Special to the AFRO
The International Civil Society Working Group (ICSWG) for the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on People of African Descent (PFPAD) recently convened at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center in Harlem. The meeting took place prior to the second assembly of the new international forum.
The working group organized the event in partnership with the Shabazz Center, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Movement for Black Lives (MB4L). The meeting served as the official launch of the PFPAD in the U.S. and a celebration of Black internationalism.
The convening included cultural presentations , with a special performance by Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, and a screening of the award-winning documentary “Familiar Faces/Unexpected Places: A Global African Diaspora,” by Dr. Sheila Walker.
The second session of the PFPAD took place at the UN Headquarters in New York City from May 30 to June 2. The intergenerational convening included members from across the African diaspora who work in the multilateral, public, private, nonprofit and civil society sectors.
“We don’t know the global reach of the African diaspora,” Walker said, prior to the screening of her film at the Shabazz Center.
“We act like English is the first and only language, and we usually don’t operate from the point of us being the majority of the planet,” she continued, referencing misconceptions about the African diaspora.
Formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and ensuing global outcry for justice, members of the ICSWG for the PFPAD convened in person for the first time at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland during the inaugural session of the PFPAD between Dec. 5-8, 2022.
Long Island, NY native Sheldon Williams, who is president and founder of Edfu Foundation and The Conservancy Corp,elevated the invaluable and ceaseless efforts of women in the African diaspora.
“I would like to thank Dr. Betty Shabazz as well as every woman of African descent, because as a Black man, I can personally attest to the fact that none of us would be here without their efforts,” said Williams, who is also co-chair of the ICSWG.
Williams also thanked the event’s organizers, attendees and special guests, which included former Black Panther and member of the Black Liberation Army, Herman Bell.
Bell received parole after serving 45 years in prison for a case involving the shooting deaths of two police officers.
“We had a lot of legends attend our kick-off event in Harlem, and it’s important we continue to remain vigilant and to hold the UN and other institutions accountable,” Williams said.
The PFPAD convenings consisted of an international and intergenerational network of civil society, nongovernment, public sector representatives and social activists. Lawyers, economists, educators, artists, journalists, clergy members, political and cultural commentators and other human rights defenders from UN Member states were also present.
The civil society working group includes members from groups above in addition to others from the international community. 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,” Dr. Amara Enyia said.
Enyia, who serves as co-chair of the ICSWG, is also the president of transnational advocacy organization Global Black, and manager of Policy and Research for MB4L.
“The group includes people from all over the world who have been volunteering their time to push forward our international work,” said Enyia.
Established in August 2021, the PFPAD is an advisory body to the UN Human Rights Council, a “consultative mechanism for people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders,” and a “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.
Offering perspective on the momentum of the international working group and the significance of the evening, Montague Simmons, an organizer with MB4L told the AFRO, “everyone we’ve talked to has expressed a great amount of relief and appreciation.”
Sharing his thoughts and expectations of the second session of the Permanent Forum, Simmons mentioned he hopes the delegates “begin to cohere relationships with each other and the UN” and “push the UN to live up to the mechanism in terms of investment and staff.”
“What can’t we do together, that we can accomplish while we are apart?” said Simmons, during his remarks to the audience at the Shabazz center.
During the second session, over 900 members of civil society and representatives of UN Member states called for the reparations for slavery, colonialism, and centuries of illegitimate racial oppression of people of African descent.
Chevy Eugene is a Ph.D. student at York University in Toronto, Canada, and the Caribbean Ambassador for the Pan-African Council, who attended both the PFPAD sessions in Geneva and New York City.
“My expectations have always been around the people —not necessarily the institution,” said Eugene. “Before we have conversations about overt and institutional anti-Black racism or the legacies of colonialism, I think we need to discuss how to decolonize the UN itself.”
“To me, this forum is about the people connecting—not about having conversations without new practices and action. How can we support each other in the African diaspora and focus on decolonizing institutions?” quipped Eugene.
At each session delegates called for a second UN International Decade for people of African descent, and the removal of racial discrimination within the UN system as well as in developed nations, citing the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), the UN’s blueprint to combat racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia globally.
Dr. Vickie Casanova-Willis is a special consultant for the Office of HBCU Development and International Cooperation (OHBCUD) and the Communications co-chair for the ICSWG, who also spoke with the AFRO.
Sharing her thoughts on the event at the Shabazz Center and the PFPAD launch in the U.S., Dr. Casanova-Willis said “the ancestors are proud because this room was full, but the future will be challenging because this is about improving the world for the African diaspora.”
The working group for the PFPAD was brought to fruition by members of civil society and participants from public and private organizations that recognized the need for grassroots representation. Many of the participants helped advocate for the establishment of the forum to begin with.