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Reflections on the Humphrey Fellowship

Simone Young poses for a picture

Simone Young is 2016-2017 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow studying Public Policy Analysis and Public Administration at Syracuse University. She is from Trinidad and Tobago. Young shares a reflection of her Humphrey year thus far.

Hubert H. Humphrey delivered a speech in July 1948 at the Democratic National Convention. It was a landmark speech and a pivotal turning point in Humphrey’s career. Critically, it also represented a watershed moment in terms of the trajectory the U.S. Government would take in its approach to the Civil Rights Movement. On that occasion Humphrey memorably said, in what constituted a call to arms of sorts,

“….there are some matters which I think must be stated clearly and without qualification. There can be no hedging -- the newspaper headlines are wrong. There will be no hedging, and there will be no watering down -- if you please -- of the instruments and the principles of the Civil Rights program.”

In preparing for my journey to Syracuse, these words resonated with me. Not only because they were clearly inspirational with its trenchant vocalization of what the US was obligated to do in creating a more perfect union but also because it personally impacted me and each Humphrey Fellow who had been the fortunate recipient of this Fellowship since 1978.

Standing on the cusp of this great adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I felt then, as I do now, especially after the Global Leadership Forum, that I could see this clear line connecting Humphrey and his riveting speech in 1948 to us, to me, in 2016, nearly 70 years later in two ways. First, had he not delivered that speech and gone on to become Vice-President, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program would not have been created. I would not have been at Syracuse with colleagues who are now friends - from Russia, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Chile or Pakistan - to name a few, and thousands of lives would not have been impacted in the visceral way they have in the nearly 40 years since the program’s inception.

Second, his challenge to [establishment politicians] and to the American people in the aftermath of World War II, to not dilute the Civil Rights program, was one of the catalysts of the Civil Rights era that saw its full realization in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This also was one of the inspirations for an era of reform in the English-speaking Caribbean. This led to changes that further expanded the upward educational, economic and social mobility of former working class Caribbean people.

My mother is a product of that progress and I - along with my sisters - am an inheritor of that legacy through her. For this, I am beyond thankful, humbled and inspired. For it does not escape me, that until very recently, women could not have accessed the education and enjoyed the experiences that would have facilitated their ability to qualify for a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship.

This to me, is one of the singularly outstanding lessons and key takeaways of the Humphrey experience: that when we seek changes that expand people’s potential and their capacity to think, to see, to grow and to do, we create a tide that lifts all boats, not just the more seaworthy ones.

Far and beyond this, as we approach the mid-point of the Fellowship, one other inescapable reality looms large, much as it did when President Carter inaugurated the program: that one of, if not the best way, to achieve lasting peace and progress, is to foster understanding. Simply put, the more we know each other, the more we understand each other.

This is the endless and enormous dividend the Humphrey Fellowship has kept paying forward. The program has stood the test of time as one of the most impactful examples of international cooperation, capacity building and most importantly, of investment in human development.

As I write this, I am reminded then, of the words and the philosophy of one of the most prolific and renowned American thinkers, Henry David Thoreau, who captured the ethos of the Humphrey Fellowship program perfectly, when he reminded us that,

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."