Photo by Stephanie Swart

By Maddie Van Horn, Staff Writer—

A passion for social justice and leadership has earned one student at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga a spot in The Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship in Dublin this summer. 

Delali Gadzekpo, a sophomore at UTC majoring in Vocal Music Education, currently serves as the Social Issues, Equity, and Diversity (SIED) chair for SGA and has put on several successful events to educate the UTC community on the importance of anti-racism.  

Her outstanding achievements have earned her a spot in CIEE’s Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship, which is a highly competitive international program which focuses on developing leadership and cultural competency. 

During her freshman year, Gadzekpo put on her first event, Dear White People, which ultimately jump-started her involvement in programming and organizing educational events. After being appointed as the SIED Chair for SGA, she began brainstorming ideas for an annual education event.

“The SIED committee didn’t have an annual event, so I wanted to think of different ways that we could start one,” Gadzekpo said. “Empathy rather than sympathy is crucial during these times because people aren’t able to form proper connections when they are trapped behind their own biases and prejudices. I wanted to create an event that taught our community about the importance of radical empathy and the importance of anti-racism. I thought it would be perfect to start an annual event as it’s not just a 2020-2021 problem.”

Gadzekpo and her committee decided to name the event “U SEE Me?” which stands for “Understand, Support, Empower, and Embrace.” The inspiration for this title came from their shared experience of not feeling seen. The SIED committee successfully held their first annual U SEE Me? campaign in January. Gadzekpo said that she appreciated the overwhelming support from UTC. 

“This entire experience has taught me the power of student leadership,” she said. “It shows how much we can accomplish when we are all impassioned and all working together towards a common goal. It has also shown me how much the UTC campus, especially the administration, is willing to support these efforts to ensure that our community is anti-racist and inclusive. I have created a three-year plan for the campaign, so this is not the last that people will hear from us. The plan is to ensure that it will last long after I graduate.” 

Recently, Gadzekpo was one of 14 fellows selected from 527 applicants to participate in The Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship, which is a signature course in intercultural communication and leadership designed by CIEE that is taking place in Dublin, Ireland this summer. 

“The entire experience is to promote cultural self-awareness and the power that can be accomplished from people with diverse backgrounds,” Gadzekpo said. “We have people from Emerson, Harvard, Howard, and then little old UTC. I’m excited to get to work with these people and to pick their brains on their perspectives and their experiences in leadership. I am a strong believer in a live-as-you-learn mentality. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity and I think the best way to do that is through interacting with people with different experiences from your own. That’s really what I’m looking forward to, and doing it in Ireland is the best way to do it.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin congratulated the awarded fellows via Zoom, which Gadzekpo said she loved every minute of. For Gadzekpo, receiving this fellowship has provided perspective and validation. 

“I think this Fellowship means that I am more than I thought I was,” Gadzekpo said. “My roommate said, ‘You do all of these things in the name of social justice and in the name of helping your community, but you don’t always get immediate feedback.’ Though it is rewarding to be able to impact those around you, it leaves a lot of room to wonder, ‘Did I do enough?’ or ‘Was I actually impactful?’ Being awarded this fellowship was very validating. Out of 527 people, only 14 of us were selected, and they chose me. They saw me and they saw the work that I have been doing. They saw worth. To boil it down, it’s a very validating and humbling experience.”

Gadzekpo hopes to incorporate her leadership skills and her passion for inclusivity in her future career as a choral conductor. 

“There’s more in store than just conducting music,” she said. “When I am able to start conducting on the collegiate level, I will be avidly working to create a more culturally inclusive space through my curriculum and the school system as a whole. Though music is where I am, I see myself doing much more.”

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