African-American mayors from across the United States left their tight-knit communities, some with as few as 855 citizens, and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean for a historic dialogue in Dakar, Senegal. The 2011 World Summit of Mayors Leadership Conference was held just days before Christmas and also featured mayors and ambassadors from across Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean along with scholars and a number of other activists.
The goal: to build alliances with local leaders from across the planet and exchange a world of ideas and information that they hope will impact communities both on a local, national and international level. "All politics really is local..." insists Omar Neal who is mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama -- a notable city that boasts a population of about 11,000. And that was the general consensus of the delegation which convened in the glitzy Hotel Meridien President Conference Hall faintly resembles the United Nations, save for its rich wooden structures and distinct architecture which pays homage to the African continent.
The event held special meaning for its chief organizer, the distinguished Dr. Djibril Diallo, who is the coordinator of the U.S. African Renaissance and Diaspora Network and Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of UNAIDS. A native of Senegal, Dr. Diallo passionately explained to nearly one-thousand attendees that that his goal was to improve the welfare of all citizens in urban areas around the world. Dakar is certainly one of those neighborhoods -- where the government is desperately trying to eradicate abject poverty and create affordable housing but it's no easy task. There are numerous unfinished developments where construction has been halted apparently due to a lack of funding. It's a problem that is a blight all over the world as the global economy continues its sluggish pace.
The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade was eager share his country's successes with the audience -- it's one of the most stable countries in West Africa and has one of the lowest HIV infection rates on the continent. The president, who warmly greeted politicians from countries near and far, encouraged leaders to use his nation as a template for building infrastructures and welcomed new ideas about how to move Senegal forward. The U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Lewis Lukens, reminded the American press that Senegal is a very democratic country and his office's primary concern is to keep the country peaceful as national elections begin in early 2012. It's widely believed that 85-year-old President Wade, who assumed office in 2000, is going to seek another term.
A thirty-something-year-old stunning African-American woman from Atlanta was the unifying force behind the American delegation. As executive director of the National Conference of Black Mayors, she says she's committed to giving small-town mayors a global perspective that can help them think outside of the box. And some, like Mayor Heather McTeer of Greenville, Mississippi (population 42,000) and Mayor Antonio Blue of Dobbin Heights, North Carolina (population under 1,000) have immediate plans to run for Congress -- and they believe they have an advantage, in part, because of their international travels and their strategic meetings with foreign dignitaries.
Some mayors of larger northern American cities like Robert Bowser who runs East Orange, New Jersey (population 64,000) believe the impact of the world summit will be felt almost immediately because mayors are eager to report back to their constituents and get busy implementing new policies and strategies. "Now is the time to improve the lives of our people ... with an urgency to make things happen..." Bowser said to a thunderous applause during the Summit. And the politicians gathered agreed that "Now" is a word that needs no translation when the world is in the throes of a global recession.