Why Black students should experience black life outside of the U.S.

By Devin Walker | Statesman

When I reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement and the many viral images that have galvanized protesters into action, my mind keeps going back to a disquieting video that did not result in belligerent shouting or bloodshed.

The seemingly uneventful home surveillance footage captures a young Black boy shooting hoops in his own driveway. When he spots a police car approaching in the distance, he quickly ducks behind a parked car, hides and waits for the cruiser to pass before resuming his game. Another day in the life for a Black boy in America.


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A few hours later, I watched the video of a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, being shot in the back while running from police officers. This is the reality Black Americans live in, and it has been this way from the beginning.



Given the emotional toll of growing up Black in this country—which is becoming more visible in the cellphone footage inundating our social media feeds—now is the time to expose our Black youth to the world outside of America.

To do this, parents, school administrators, educators and donors must prioritize and support financially accessible study abroad programs designed specifically for students of African descent and a more expansive curriculum that incorporates global perspectives.

This will be a challenge due to pandemic-induced budget cuts to programmatic funding. Yet during this time of national reflection and reimagining education, I hope to see a mobilized effort to bridge systematic education gaps—including access to non-Eurocentric histories and world travel.


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As the director of Global Leadership and Social Impact at UT Austin, I have been taking large groups of students—mostly African American—to South Africa and China over the last eight years. In Cape Town, we experience a world where Blackness is normalized – in the streets, in shops and in the halls of Parliament. In Beijing we explore a cultural history so different from our own, which is deeply steeped in White domination. While every country grapples with issues surrounding anti-Blackness, students consistently reflect on the feeling of liberation from the constraints of being Black in America.More Headlines


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A moment I often relive happened while dining at Mzansi’s restaurant in Langa, Cape Town. As we were listening to the sounds of a local band, the owner, Nomonde grabbed the microphone and told us, “You are home now. This is your home.” As I glanced around the room, many were in tears. In this moment – they felt seen, they felt whole, they felt fully human. We all did.

These moments can change everything, especially for those who often feel like imposters in their own country. Unfortunately, Black students continue to be underrepresented in study abroad programs. According to a report by the Institute of International Education, just 6.1% of Black students are taking their studies overseas and experiencing these small yet transformational moments.

It does give me hope that more programs are providing African American youth with international travel. Organizations like Birthright Africa and Movement for Black Youth Abroad are taking students on heritage-exploration trips to countries in Africa and regions of the African diaspora.


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Sometimes I find myself thinking back to that video of the boy playing basketball and worrying if this is the only world he’ll ever know. I hope one day he’ll travel abroad and experience another reality—and when he returns stateside, I hope he will use his newfound knowledge and sense of self to demand change. I know this is possible because I have seen many of my former students go on to champion social justice issues upon return.

Traveling abroad is, of course, not the panacea for the 400-year-old disease of racism and white supremacy. However, it has the power to radically transform how young Black Americans see themselves, their citizenship, their humanity and their ability to change the world.

Walker is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas, where he directs the Global Leadership and Social Impact program within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

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