Given recent events, I have decided to reflect on and share my experiences as a young, black woman and a black National Council member.
My name is Ruthann Tesfaye, and I am a UNICEF USA National Council member, part of both the Internal Communications and the Recruitment teams.
Being a child of Ethiopian immigrants, I heard a lot about UNICEF growing up. To me, UNICEF has proven to be an organization that is truly about changing the lives of children. My position on the National Council has given me the opportunity to advocate for all children regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, age, and gender identity.
Before joining the National Council, I was faced with challenges at my school's club. I wanted to be more than a general body member because I felt I had so many relevant ideas that could benefit both youth at my university and in the city. Sophomore year, I decided to try and become an executive board member. I made it to the interview portion, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately, I did not get the position because my ideas were not fully understood by an e-board that was homogenous in their thinking, experiences, and identities.
This issue is not new to black people, and I see it throughout this organization, general boards, and other NGO's. It does not negate any of the work UNICEF USA has done, but a lack of diversity hinders the growth of the organization. Although I was disappointed, that did not stop me because I know that UNICEF empowers youth to be the change we want to see in our future.
During National Council training, it was brought to our attention that only 2 out of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the US have UNICEF clubs. This was extremely alarming to me because I go to school in Richmond, Virginia, a city with a large black population and 2 HBCUs nearby.
Like many young people nationally, I wanted a seat at the table. This led me to apply for the National Council. Fortunately, my voice was heard, and I was given a role on both the Internal Communications and the Recruitment Teams. My identity as a young, black, Ethiopian-American woman, has taught me how critical representation, diversity, and communication are. During National Council training, it was brought to our attention that only 2 out of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States have UNICEF clubs. This was extremely alarming to me because I go to school in Richmond, Virginia, a city with a large black population and 2 HBCUs nearby.
Working with other members of the National Council, I was inspired to start recruiting student organizations at HBCUs to join UNICEF's mission. Additionally, I have been in conversations with current UNICEF UNITE clubs about inclusivity, implicit bias, and calls to action that are relevant to real situations for youth of all backgrounds.
UNICEF's motto is "for every child," yet there are children in the United States that feel as though they have nobody to turn to. For every child means there are no exceptions, conditions, or categories for a child to feel empowered, and most of all to have a childhood.
As I continue my research and outreach, I realized that the black community did not know what UNICEF was because most didn't have a personal connection to the organization. UNICEF is known for helping those abroad, specifically black and brown children. Ironically, the population that knows the least about the organization in the United States is the black community. UNICEF serves a diverse demographic; we need that same level of diversity within UNICEF and the club's program.
UNICEF's motto is "for every child," yet there are children in the United States that feel as though they have nobody to turn to. For every child means there are no exceptions, conditions, or categories for a child to feel empowered, and most of all to have a childhood. Using my project, I hope to spread UNICEF's amazing work to a larger demographic so that those children can proudly talk about UNICEF in their futures.
If I hadn't been selected to be on the National Council, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make my dreams of working towards diversity and inclusion for the organization possible. I urge everyone to be an ally in the fight for diversity in every aspect of our lives.
You can be an ally by:
Listening to understand, not listening to rebuttal
Staying up to date with news and history
Making friends with people of different races, religions, ethnicities, ages, gender identities, etc.
Donating to organizations that support black people
Supporting black-owned businesses
Recruiting students that don’t share the same background as you
Always being a student of the world!