What does thinking together look like?
For Alice Lesnick, co-director of the Laɣim Tehi Tuma (LTT) program and chair of the Bi-Co Education Department, it means reimagining what education is with the help of community-based educators and thought leaders from Ghana.
On Oct. 10 and 11, Lesnick hosted a conference on Black-centered education and Black-centered pedagogy, bringing together professors, students, and community members to answer the question. Hosted at Haverford and Bryn Mawr as well as virtually, the conference utilized a mix of participatory methods to accommodate people in the U.S. and Ghana.
“We couldn’t imagine it could’ve gone any better,” Lesnick says. “There was an incredible cross-section across colleagues in Ghana and the U.S. The flow was good and we had open conversation and a celebration of being together.” Particularly meaningful to Lesnick was the in-person participation of three longtime colleagues from Ghana, who traveled to the U.S. for two weeks.
The conference was part of the LTT program and is the first to be held in the United States. Previous iterations were held in Ghana. The program, whose name means “thinking together” in Dagbani, a regional language in Ghana, is an eight-week immersive summer program where students from the Bi-Co and Lincoln University travel to northern Ghana to learn about Black praxis, pedagogy, and study through internships, intercultural immersion, and personal and group research. A partnership with a Ghanaian university, the University for Development Studies, enables the U.S.-based students to collaborate directly with Ghanaian counterparts as all are mentored by leaders of community-powered education projects.
In the past, LTT hosted stakeholder summits and events online and in Ghana. In 2020, LTT hosted an event as part of the 20th anniversary of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC), where two LTT fellows shared their experiences in Ghana and facilitated conversations around Black education. And in 2017, there was an Education stakeholders summit held in Ghana.
The program, now entering its 12th year, was held online/hybrid over COVID but returned to fully in-person last summer. Last summer, the CPGC sponsored two fellows: one student from Haverford and one from Bryn Mawr. As it stands, LTT is the GPGC partner that enables students to travel to Africa.
LTT grew out of the 360 Program at Bryn Mawr, in which students take a cluster of three classes and engage in experiential learning to complement them. Lesnick led one such cluster to Ghana, her first trip to the country, and this initial connection was aided by a Haverford alum. Andrew Garza ’08 was a founding member of the NGO Titagya Schools and served as an integral part of establishing an internship between the schools and the Bi-Co Education Department.
In Ghana, LTT fellows not only learn Dagbani but also use the language in their internships. Fellows can co-create content for Simli Radio, a local community-based radio station, help teach children at a local Information and Communications Technology (ICT) center, or aid teachers at Titagya Schools. Additionally, fellows work with students from the Ghanaian University of Development Studies on committees related to the Black is Beautiful movement and pan-Africanism, as well as communication and wellness.
The Thinking Together conference continued the conversations started in Ghana around pan-Africanism, centering praxis, community-based power, and organizing. Former LTT fellows also shared how they’ve integrated what they’ve learned in Ghana into their academic interests and careers, such as Mia Rybeck ’16, who is currently studying to be an art therapist at the Pratt Institute, and Sabea Evans ’18, who explored language ideologies in her senior thesis, and now serves on the LTT leadership team.
This semester, Lesnick teaches “Inquiry into Black Study, Language Justice, and Education,” a course co-designed by her and Evans to extend the mission and goals of LTT into the classroom and engage more students interested in the topic. The class explores what Black-centered education is and the importance of centering Black thought and language in academia. The class is currently the only Bi-Co offering that teaches an African language.
Three people central to the LTT mission traveled from Ghana to attend the conference: Alhassan Sumaila, the program’s co-director; Mahama Safianu, who runs the Dalun ICT center; and Issah Rajaa-u, a former LTT Fellow, the current Dagbani language teacher and an LTT leadership team member. LTT has been working for many years to send people from Ghana to America, and now that they’ve successfully done it, it feels like “a dream come true” to Mr. Safianu.
The conference concluded with thinking together about the future of the program. “We’re past the end of the beginning. Now we’re at the beginning of the middle,” says Lesnick.
For her, the conference left her hopeful, she says. “It’s true that chance favors the bold. But now we’re beyond chance, so what else will favor the bold?”