BOSTON, USA– Four Liberians residing in the Boston area recently graduated from the Commonwealth Seminar, a program run by the Massachusetts State House to help diverse leaders gain legislative skills and networking opportunities in order to aid and advocate for their communities.
The Commonwealth Seminar was founded in 2003 by Senator Jarrett Barrios in order to increase advocacy on Beacon Hill, and open the doors of the State House to groups that have historically been marginalized from the governmental process. Over the course of six weeks, participants engage with important administrative officials, lobbyists, and legislators in seminar-style discussions aimed at fostering inspiration for change, and understanding of the legislative process.
The graduation ceremony featured an opening address by Shannon Erwin, co-founder of the Muslim Justice League, an organization that aims to protect the civil liberties of Muslims in a time when Islamaphobia runs rampant in the United States. Erwin, a 2010 graduate of Harvard Law School provides legal counsel to Muslims unjustly targeted as terror-suspects.
The keynote address was delivered by Alejandra St. Guillen, the Director of the Boston Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement. Given the recent shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, St. Guillen spoke of the necessity to show kindness in the face of hate. The child of an American mother and Venezuelan father, St. Guillen recounted her own struggles navigating racism against Latinos in the U.S., as well as prejudice against her sexuality.
The Liberian graduates included Torli Krua, Torwan Krua, Frederlyn Eva Johnson, and Bishop Lawrence M. Jackson.
Torli Krua said he will use his education with the State House to train community organizers at the Pan Africa Democracy Institute, a project of the Universal Human Rights International (UHRI) that aims to inspire a new generation of African leaders committed to public service and citizens’ initiative, a process of participatory democracy that affords citizens the right to directly propose laws without the approval or permission of the president or the national legislature. Krua said he hopes more of the Liberian state budget will be afforded to education, health care and basic services in the future.
UHRI is conducting civic education on citizens’ initiatives across Liberia through an Agreement for Mutual Sustainability with Liberian Community Radio Stations in Grand Bassa and Nimba counties. The stations include Radio Saclepia, Nimba, Magic 99.3 FM Buchanan, Grand Bassa County and Voice of Tappita Radio-98.0mhz, Nimba County.
Frederlyn Eva Johnson lived in Boston for 25 years before moving back to Liberia. Johnson said she feels government is not responsive to citizens in Liberia. She is impressed with the fact that citizens in Boston elect their own mayors and city counselors who engage Boston’s citizens to determine policies.
Torwon D. Krua is a healthcare activist focusing on prevention of unnecessary deaths and illnesses caused by tobacco products; Torwon has launched a campaign, “Clean Air For All” on World No Tobacco Day, May 31, 2016, to make all bus stops in Boston designated smoke free areas within 100 days. Torwon hopes to use his skills to push for tougher tobacco laws and implementation in Liberia. Krua is currently in touch with local state officials and health agencies to promote his campaign.