BCC Brings Students to 2024 UNA-USA Global Engagement Summit 

Courtesy of Dean Karima Bouchenafa

On Feb. 16, students sponsored by the Black Cultural Center (BCC) visited New York City for the 2024 Global Engagement Summit, hosted by the United Nations Association (UNA-USA) in the General Assembly Hall. 

The Global Engagement Summit is an annual full-day event where students across the nation learn from government officials, young professionals, and experts. This year, the theme was, “Pushing Forward >>> For People & Planet.” During the summit, students heard opening remarks from UNA-USA Executive Director Rachel Bowen Pittman, and attended panels such as the “Intersection of Human Rights & Emerging Technologies,” “Gender Apartheid: Women’s Rights under Attack,” and “Nourishing Peace for People & Planet: Democratic Republic of Congo.” 

Ayla Gordon-Mandel ’27, an attendee of the summit, discussed how her interest in policymaking motivated her to attend. 

“I decided to go because I’ve been interested in policymaking, and specifically how youth can get engaged in policymaking for a long time now,” Gordon-Mandel said. “I think when you’re younger you don’t understand what policymaking means. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to become more engaged in the process of policy.”

Gordon-Mandel added that the summit aligned with her passion in political activism. “My prospective major is actually political science. It’s been quite a long process [to choose], but I think that attending the UNA-USA conference was part of that process.”

Pedro Ennes ’27 attended the summit mainly to visit the United Nations (U.N.) Headquarters in New York City but explained that the day of the trip coincided with an anniversary of his arrival in the U.S. 

“I’ve always wanted to go to the U.N. So I was like, ‘Why not?’,” he said. “It’s a full circle moment for me because in 2018, I came to the U.S., and I didn’t know English. Six years later, for me to be at the General Assembly Room of the United Nations, feels amazing. I was very proud of myself.”

BCC Director and Assistant Dean Karima Bouchenafa, who accompanied students to the summit, emphasized a conversation between her and Ennes about their shared backgrounds and Ennes’ move to the United States. 

“Pedro and I started chatting, and he told me that Feb. 16 was his sixth anniversary of immigrating to the United States. We got to share a little bit of cultural background. His origin is in Brazil, and I shared with him that one of my great-grandfathers immigrated to the U.S. in 1912 from Cape Verde – we have this shared Portuguese language connection,” Bouchenafa said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is really great.’ I just felt honored to take students on this trip and have a student have this extra special experience.” 

Bouchenafa holds a long-term connection with the UNA-USA, which she became a delegate for through its partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

“At one point I was a UNA-USA delegate to the 61st Commission on the Status of Women,” she said. “It was amazing. It was nice to see many people from all walks of life with this shared interest in globalism and working together.”

Gordon-Mandel emphasized the relationships she fostered with other student participants, as well as her positive experience being in a predominantly Black space. 

“I left the event feeling such great energy, just very restored. There’s an amazing wealth of energy that comes from being in one’s community,” Gordon-Mandel said. “The event was a show of the strength of youth interest in policymaking. I found that to be a great inspiration for our future, and it’s comforting to know that so many people are engaged and are trying to make the world a better place, especially in my generation.”

Bouchenafa noted that the events did not offer as many opportunities for engagement as pre-pandemic versions of the event did. “The UNA-USA has been getting back to that level of engagement, because, of course, during the pandemic, we couldn’t do the summit,” she said. “They did virtual summits once or twice, and so they have been slowly moving back into the space.”

Bouchenafa detailed her future plans for the summit, such as possibly transforming this trip into an overnight trip.

“I would love to do the trip again. If I have more time to plan, I could possibly turn it into an overnight trip and combine the trip with something called the Great Hostel Give Back, which is where you do community service.”

Gordon-Mandel shared insights for future summit attendees, underscoring that students with an earnest interest in policymaking should seek to attend the event.

“If students are interested, go for it. There’s something quite sacred about the space where what people say really matters. That’s an important and impactful experience for anyone but specifically those who are already engaged or interested in engaging in policymaking.”

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