Law Student/Lincoln Scholar/Basketball Activist's Trip to Africa
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
A Trip to Africa Highlights the Role of the Law in Developing Countries, and the Broad Reach of the Firebird Spirit
by Matthew Perdoni, '11 
Despite its status as a developing region, the growth taking place in West Africa shows that better years are ahead. However, political turmoil, economic instability, and the uncertain protection of human rights remain major obstacles to West Africa’s reaching its vast potential. It is through these channels that current and future lawyers can aid in the development process. But as one University of the District of Columbia graduate is showing, one need not have a law degree to make a lasting impact.
For several years, I have traveled around the world discussing Abraham Lincoln’s international legacy. The common question arising when I mention my Lincoln-related travels is "why does anyone outside the U.S. care about Lincoln, and why should I?" I recently was invited to Ghana to give a presentation on the District of Columbia’s celebration of Emancipation Day, which provides an excellent example of Lincoln’s importance at home and abroad, and illustrates why his philosophy remains relevant today.
The celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday in 2009 brought "The Great Democrat" back onto the collective radar. Despite the dormancy at home, however, his legacy has been active and influential across the globe since he took office in 1861. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation marked the beginning of a worldwide erosion of slavery, but his legacy runs much deeper. Lincoln’s diplomatic recognition of Haiti marked the first time in history a world power formally acknowledged and opened relations with a self-governing nation consisting entirely of former slaves. Moreover, his philosophies influenced prominent leaders and revolutionaries across the globe. Sun Yat-sen, known as the father of democracy in China, helped overthrow the last Chinese dynasty, and openly credited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as the foundation of his political ideology. A Lincoln bust sits atop the desk of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and his curiosity in Lincoln was generated after meetings with Fidel Castro, during which the Cuban President shared his own interest in America’s 16th President. My presentation in Africa further illustrates the worldwide power of Lincoln’s beliefs, and their influence on shaping governments across the globe.
Much to my surprise, scholars and leaders from countries including South Africa, Italy, Egypt, Nigeria, and Cameroon already were aware both of Lincoln the President, as well as of Lincoln’s Emancipation legacy and the legal implications of his decisions while in office. More surprising yet, those in attendance arrived equipped with questions on how modern-day Africa can benefit from Lincoln’s teachings, and moreover, how current leaders can help build a national belief in the importance of legally solidified human rights and the power of the Constitutional structure –two prominent concepts in Lincoln’s belief system.
As encouraging as this interaction was, one could not help but leave concerned over the unresolved issues facing Africa’s future. For example, Ghana is a country boasting one of the first female Supreme Court justices in the world, and has enjoyed a span of relatively uninterrupted peace that is among the longest on the continent. Yet the brightest minds in the region still struggle to see a sustainable economic structure, and harbor doubts over whether their government is capable of providing the personal protections and freedoms currently enjoyed under governments outside their region. Thus, although Lincoln’s legacy has traveled far beyond America’s borders, and continues to provide a meaningful reference point for all countries seeking to provide a justifiable brand of government for its citizens, it remains unrealized in countries where political structures do not afford full human rights protections or a right to participate in the political process. This, as suggested by those attending my presentation, is where lawyers in Africa and across the globe come into play.
Those in attendance pointed to Lincoln’s controversial approach to keeping the Union intact during the Civil War, and to his freeing the enslaved citizens of the country during that period, as the types of daring legal actions necessary for achieving lasting peace and freedom in West Africa. Although Lincoln’s methods are viewed by many as overextending his Presidential authorities, they were grounded in his unwavering belief in the inherent rights possessed by all of humankind as identified in the Declaration of Independence. Those attending recognized that similarly forceful and likely unauthorized actions often are undertaken by African leaders. However, they quickly noted that such actions generally have lacked the elements of freedom and human rights underlying Lincoln’s approach. With this, they suggested that future leaders and lawyers alike cannot be afraid to take bold actions, and that they would be well-served to keep Lincoln’s philosophies in mind in their efforts toward bringing a better future to bear.
Following my presentation in Ghana, I traveled to Thies, Senegal, as a guest of The Sports for Education and Economic Development in Senegal (SEEDS) Academy. In 1989, the Academy’s founder, Amadou Gallo Fall (photo at right), arrived in the United States from Senegal on a basketball scholarship to UDC. Following his Firebird career, he began scouting players professionally, and his acumen and intelligence –Mr. Fall graduated magna cum laude in biology- eventually earned him a position as the Director of Scouting for the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association.
Recognizing the unique benefits and opportunities his involvement in basketball afforded him, it was time for Mr. Fall to give back. The critical gap was apparent: Senegal needed a means for equipping young minds with the skills and knowledge necessary for directing the country’s future development. "Even before arriving in the U.S., basketball gave me the chance to travel outside of Senegal, and opened my eyes to the larger issues facing Africa," Mr. Fall recalls. "When I arrived in Washington, DC, I realized that all it takes is a vision, some hard work, and a little forward progress to build toward a brighter future in Africa and all across the world, and that basketball is the ideal means for making that happen."
Mr. Fall’s vision came to fruition in 2003, when he launched The SEEDS Foundation. As a part of The SEEDS Foundation, The SEEDS Academy offers Senegalese basketball players an opportunity to attend one of the best boarding schools in the country, while allowing them to compete in various camps and tournaments in Africa and across the globe. SEEDS’ mission is to "Grow the Game" of basketball, and by way of this, to positively influence the lives of Senegalese youths such that they will be positioned to assume future roles as leaders and change agents in the global community.
"Amadou is just one man, but look at what he has been able to do for Senegalese teens in a relatively short time," notes SEEDS U.S. Operations Manager Brian Benjamin. "He serves as a role model, and shows them that the goals and possibilities The Academy stands for are more than just words." "And truth be told, we really are just getting started." In recent years, SEEDS has arranged for participants to attend U.S. high schools to better prepare them for success at American colleges and universities, and each year, more of The Academy’s students follow in Mr. Fall’s footsteps by traveling to the U.S. to embark on their own college journeys. As Mr. Fall views it, "these opportunities have shown our boys the various ways they can do their part in bettering the world condition, and help give them the skills to do exactly that."
The Academy currently accepts twenty participants each year. However, over 100 teens annually attend tryouts in hope of earning a spot on the team, making expanding The Academy’s capacity and scope primary goals in the coming years. "The sheer number of young men vying for a roster spots shows how far we have come in the past seven years, and the enormous potential this model has down the road," says SEEDS International Director Cheikh Fall. "With adequate resources, we hope to expand the size of The Academy, and to nurture its evolution toward encompassing all of the academic and athletic interests displayed by the young people of Senegal."
My trip to Africa highlighted the role of American government and its leaders in moving toward justifiable governments in developing countries, and the substantial impact one person can have in this process. As the leaders and scholars I spoke with made clear, the law is an integral part in achieving this desired end, and those working toward sustainable freedom and peace in Africa would be wise to look to the past for examples of leaders like Abraham Lincoln, and their willingness to take bold steps to definitively quash injustice and oppression. As shown by Amadou Gallo Fall, examples of the spirit necessary for forging such progress takes many forms, and it is up to everyone both within and outside of the Firebird community to find channels for doing their part.
 Matthew Perdoni is a second year student at the David A. Clarke School of Law. He was recognized as a Dean’s Fellow for his academic performance during his first year of studies, received the LeClercq Award for submitting the best brief among first year students, and was awarded the Joseph L. Rauh Scholarship for completing the best Community Service project in the first year class. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
 For more information on The SEEDS Foundation and The SEEDS Academy, visit http://seedproject.org/index.html, or e-mail U.S. Operations Manager Brian Benjamin at email@example.com