The Johns Hopkins University Newsletter has published the list of speakers for the 2020 Foreign Affairs Symposium. It includes Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of 21 plaintiffs to sue the federal government for perceived inaction on climate change. In 2017 he was featured on Rolling Stone’s inaugural “25 Under 25” list of young people changing the world. He will speak at Shriver Hall on March 4 at 8pm.
The other speakers are pro-democracy Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law; Syrian refugee and advocate Muzoon Almellehan; and African American political activist and author Angela Davis.
COURTESY OF KATY OH
The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) announced on Monday that the theme of its spring 2020 lineup is “Anthem.” The lineup includes pro-democracy Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law; Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez; Syrian refugee and advocate Muzoon Almellehan; and African American political activist and author Angela Davis.
The theme of the Symposium was inspired by a viral chant led by student protester Alaa Salah amid the Sudanese transition to democracy in 2019.
Further, the goal of “Anthem” is to capture the diversity of social movements happening around the world, as well as highlight their shared themes of justice and equity.
FAS Executive Director Claire Zou emphasized the role of community input in each of the movements that the speakers are a part of.
“None of these people are able to do what they’re doing just on their own. They are all leaders in their own right, but they also all acknowledge the community that is backing them up,” she said. “We are hoping that the Symposium inspires people to find the issue in their community that they want to bring to light, that they want to crowd their own movements around.”
According to fellow FAS Executive Director Turquoise Baker, the Symposium reflects the growing presence of youth activists in social movements worldwide.
“All of our speakers for this symposium have experience with youth activism in some way, shape or form, whether it be 50 years ago or the present,” she said. “We think that this perspective will be appealing to a lot of people here at Hopkins and also younger people in the Baltimore community.”
For its first event, FAS will partner with the Department of Political Science to host Joshua Wong and Nathan Law in Shriver Hall on Feb. 20. During 2014, Wong and Law were student leaders of the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong. Afterward they founded Demosistō, a pro-democracy political group.
The theme for the Symposium, Baker added, stems from a desire to showcase a wide array of topics.
“We wanted to choose speakers who had a variety of areas of expertise,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we were giving our audience new perspectives and new areas to really think critically about because a lot of our previous speakers have focused solely on explicitly political factors and ideals.”
Baker believes that Xiuhtezcatl Martinez will achieve that, noting that the Symposium has not previously represented environmental activists. FAS will host Martinez in Shriver Hall for its second event on March 4.
In 2015 he was one of 21 plaintiffs to sue the federal government for perceived inaction on climate change. In 2017 he was featured on Rolling Stone’s inaugural “25 Under 25” list of young people changing the world.
For its third event, FAS will host Muzoon Almellehan in Mason Hall on March 26. An advocate for girls’ education, Almellehan became UNICEF’s youngest-ever Goodwill Ambassador in 2017. That same year, she was included among Time’s “30 Most Influential Teens” and BBC’s list of 100 influential and inspirational women.
FAS will honor her with its annual Anne Smedinghoff Award for her humanitarian work. This award is named after former FAS Director Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in a suicide bombing while delivering books to children in Afghanistan.
According to Baker, Almellehan embodies the spirit of youth activism and global movements.
“We felt that being a young woman herself and being an example for so many young women is phenomenal,” Baker said. “We really wanted to highlight that. We also felt that her mission aligned very well with the theme ‘Anthem.’”
For its final event, FAS will host Angela Davis in Shriver Hall on April 16. Davis’ visit will be co-sponsored by the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium; the Program in Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship; and the Program for the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. A radical scholar, Davis has written several books on feminism, class and the prison system.
Zou cited Davis as an example of someone with extensive experience as a youth activist in her early work.
“When she was in college, she really aligned with our theme of what it means to find your voice as a young person when it comes to social and political movements,” Zou said.
Three years into the Trump administration, Baker expanded on the importance of youth activism in the current political climate.
“If you don’t become engaged and you don’t start thinking critically at a younger age, you will be more likely to maintain that disillusioned state of mind going into the future,” she said.
Zou added that, while selecting speakers, FAS sought to identify individuals who could promote civic engagement.
“We were cognizant of the fact that 2020 is going to be a very pivotal year in terms of voting and new leaders coming up,” she said. “We are hoping that our speakers will inspire and mobilize young people on campus and around Baltimore to take charge of shaping our global politics.”
Arts & Entertainment Editor Katy Oh is an executive director of FAS. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.