Over 10 months ago, I was told about a program that was investing time into the future of young black men through leadership and international experience. Being a Black male myself and in my first year at college I felt this was something I needed to do. At first I was discouraged, since the program was only looking young men residing in the Northeast, but I reminded myself, that attempting to apply wouldn’t hurt.
Once I got accepted, I was determined to do my best to be a part of the program. I knew I would gain so much from traveling to Ghana and being forced to develop a new sense of awareness and coming to terms with my own self-identity and understanding who I am and wanted to be as a Black man in a country and professional field where I practically felt neglected. I felt that reclaiming and understanding one’s history is crucial in moving forward. Developing the ability push through road blacks in order to succeed is essential for anyone, especially for the Black man who is often told he is nothing.
This was my first trip abroad. And I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people and experience to have shared it with. Apart of the program, we had conversations every night with our mentor/coach, Lavar Thomas. Our program focused on 10 different themes that focused on becoming the kind of people we wanted to be, when we returned to the states. These sessions were beneficial because it created a safe space for reflection, projecting fears, and setting goals.
Developing the ability push through road blocks in order to succeed is essential for anyone, especially for the Black man who is often told he is nothing.
Apart of the trip, we visited several business and organizations within Accra. Two of the most inspirational places, for me, were the Human Rights Centre and a law firm. Walking into the Human Rights Center, I expected it to be a great experience, but the effect it had on me was incredible! Having the conversation with the HRC staff, and getting to hear their passion for equality for all human beings in Ghana was extremely inspiring! I related to it so much because it’s the work that I want to do as an Artivist (artist/activist). Alternatively when we visited the law firm, I saw a different side of things. While we listened to a lawyer express his own personal views about the LGBT community, I understood that while groups like HRC existed, there were also people who felt differently about members of the LGBT community in Ghana....even those who practiced the law.
But this sparked a fire and a passion in me. Like HRC, I wanted to do more in the fight against inequality and Gay rights.
These experiences, fused with the nightly conversations, and all the other great organizations we visited inspired me to come back to the U.S., and begin working on a dream of mine that I’ve been postponing until I graduated from college. After taking this journey with LFW, I learned so much about myself, goal setting, achieving success, creating a support system, and so many other things that it was time to begin work on creating my theatre company geared towards bridging gaps among racial, economical, and educational barriers by providing a space for innovative work, workshops, and educational programming to be voiced and discussed among audiences. In doing this work, my goal is to make it a global company and partner with organizations around the world like the Human Rights Centre to bring an awareness to the work these organizations do and create a sense of equality and justice for EVERYONE! I believe that without Leaders of the Free World. I would have never realized who I was and who I wanted to be and my purpose for a long time my participation in the program was truly a life changing experience.
Shemar Wheeler, 18:
Shemar Wheeler is currently studying acting at California Institute of the Arts. In high school Shemar was the House Manager for various school productions and events.