(Re)Framing African Immigrant Women’s Civic Leadership: A Case Study of the Role of Families, Schooling and Transnationalism

By Michelle Knight, Ramatu Bangura and Vaughn Watson.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The increasing influx of immigrants to the United States over the past two decades has resulted in unprecedented demographic changes. African immigration to metropolitan areas like New York and Washington, DC has increased significantly, with women and children making up larger percentages of African immigrants. This growth has transformed the civic, cultural, and educational landscape of the United States. Yet, there is scant social science and educational literature on African immigrant youth’s perspectives of and experiences with civic leadership. This paper presents findings from a qualitative, interpretive case study of in-depth, semi-structured interviews of second-and 1.5-generation African immigrants in New York. Situated at the conceptual nexus of shifting conceptualizations of civic engagement and Black Feminisms, this case study centers the voices of eight second- and 1.5-generation African immigrant women who self-define as feminists to reframe understandings and experiences of African immigrant women’s civic leadership in the United States. We illustrate how their transnational, intersecting identities undergird a critical consciousness of race, class, sexuality, privilege and oppression; and how these identities influence their political and civic engagement within families, schooling and institutions both in the United States and Africa.

Keywords: African Immigrants, Civic Engagement, Black Feminisms, K-20 Schooling, Families, Community-based Organizations, Civil Society

Global Studies Journal, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.135-148. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.200MB).

Dr. Michelle Knight

Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Teachers College, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Michelle Knight is an associate professor of urban education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She received her Ph.D from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research and teaching interests include diversity and equity issues in youth studies, urban teacher education, and qualitative research methodologies. She has published in such journals as Teachers College Record, Journal of Educational Policy, Equity and Excellence, Race, Ethnicity and Education, and Urban Review. Her most recent research projects include: 1) Rendering Visible the Civic and Political Engagement of African Immigrants and 2) Strengthening the Bicultural Resiliency of African Immigrant Adolescent Girls in the Context of a Community-Based Organization.

Ramatu Bangura

Teachers College, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY, USA

Dr. Ramatu Bangura is Program Director of the Girls’ Empowerment and Leadership Initiative of the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women responsible for local and national advocacy around educational access for English Language Learners, early/forced marriage, and health care access for youth survivors of female genital cutting (FGC). She has dedicated her career to educational programming and direct advocacy in support of women and girls in vulnerable circumstances including survivors of sexual violence, immigrant and refugee women, and youth involved in the commercial sex trade. Her dissertation, entitled “In Pursuit of Success: The Educational Identities and Decision-making of African Girls with Limited Formal Schooling” utilized African feminism to examine how immigrant girls with limited formal schooling navigate American schools, and make decisions about college and marriage. Dr. Bangura earned her Doctorate in Education (EdD) and Masters of Education (EdM) in International & Transcultural Studies from Teachers College Columbia University.

Vaughn Watson

Teachers College, Teachers College, Columbia University, NY, USA

Vaughn W. M. Watson is a doctoral candidate, research associate, part-time instructor, and teaching assistant in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. His teaching and research examines intersections of youth’s literacies, learning, and identities within and across contexts of schools, families, and communities, and across sites of college going, urban education, technologies, and youth culture. He is interested in participatory methodologies and qualitative research that explores transformative possibilities of youth learning, and constructions of youth’s civic imaginaries—ways in which youth envision the world to be. He is a 2012–2014 National Council of Teachers of English “Cultivating New Voices” fellow. He has taught English literature at a Brooklyn, N.Y. public high school since 2003.


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