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Fletcher Celebrates Outstanding Alumni For Black Legacy Month

Black Excellence abounds as alumni reflect on their careers, impact, and time at The Fletcher School.

To honor and celebrate Black History Month - now also known across the Tufts University community as Black Legacy Month - Fletcher sat down with several of our outstanding Black alumni to ask them to share their stories. Here, we've compiled their perspectives on how their careers have developed over the years, what they see as their greatest achievements, how they've made an impact in their chosen fields and in their communities, and how their time at Fletcher helped set them up for success.

Click through the accordions below to learn more about each of these impressive Black alumni members of the Fletcher community. 

Antoinette M. Sayeh (F80, F85), Deputy Managing Director at IMF

How has your career has developed over the years?

My career has comprised economic and advisory work in Liberia’s Ministries of Finance and Planning; economic, advisory, and managerial roles at the World Bank; service as Liberia’s Minister of Finance; heading the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) African Department; being a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center for Global Development; and my current role as IMF's Deputy Managing Director.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

As Minister of Finance of Liberia from January 2006-June 2008, and as Deputy Managing Director of the IMF since March 2020.*

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, in your industry, or beyond?

Leading critical economic reforms and obtaining debt relief for post-conflict Liberia; and helping to lead its response to the COVID19 pandemic crisis as a member of the IMF’s senior management team.

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

The Fletcher Ph.D. program allowed me to combine economics with a development focus and global lens, thus preparing me well for policymaking in Liberia and leadership in the IMF.

 

*For more in-depth stories we've written featuring Antoinette we recommend reading: 

- Building A Multilateral Future: IMF Deputy Managing Director Antoinette Sayeh (F80, F85) calls on Fletcher students to look outward to solve global challenges at annual Convocation ceremony.

The Hard Work: A Fletcher Ph.D.’s lessons from leading Liberia’s Ministry of Finance
 

Leland Lazarus (F16), Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean

How has your career developed over the years?

My career path is really a crossroad between China and Latin America. I am an Afro-Panamanian from New York who loved martial arts and all things Asian. As an undergrad at Brown and a grad student at The Fletcher School, I imbued my mind with the history, culture, and languages of both regions. I explored and worked in both regions too, teaching English in Panama as a Fulbright Scholar, and producing news programs for China Central Television. Now, I am a U.S. State Department diplomat, where I have served in China and the Caribbean.

What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

While I am proud to serve as a U.S. diplomat, I think my greatest accomplishment dates back to my time as a Fulbright English teacher in Panama. While teaching at a public university in Panama City, I saw how many disadvantaged youths didn’t have the same chance to study abroad as their wealthier peers, and I pledged to fight on their behalf. I started the Dream Scholarship, a non-profit that provides young people the chance to study in the U.S. for free. Now, seven years later, the DS has helped dozens of students, who have gone on to become teachers, translators, and entrepreneurs in their own right. In the midst of COVID-19, we’ve also shifted to offering virtual ESL workshops for young English teachers. Knowing that these students’ lives have improved continues to give me great joy and purpose.

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, your industry, and beyond?

Representing the U.S. as a person of color is a manifestation of our country’s greatest strength—our diversity. The global protests for racial justice last year taught me that citizens the world over are demanding that their governments take specific actions to address racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Having a diverse workforce enables the U.S. government to have representatives on the ground who can truly empathize with the local population—to win hearts and minds by saying “yes, I know your pain because I’ve experienced it too.” My own family story resonates with the local Caribbean audience: being the son of immigrants, with a grandmother born in Cuba and a grandfather from Jamaica. To me, the tropical cuisine, culture and customs of the Caribbean were already familiar. I would like to think when Caribbean young people see me leading a meeting, or giving a speech, or signing a grant, they think to themselves “he is just like me. And if he can do it, so can I.”

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

If my previous academic and professional experiences sparked my fascination with China, Fletcher solidified it, exposing me to all the complexities the Middle Kingdom had to offer. Professor Sulmaan Khan forced me to think about foreign policy from China’s perspective. Professor Toshi Yoshihara enumerated the military and political dimensions of China’s rise. Professor Sung-Yoon Lee painted a picture of the U.S.’s complex and often contentious history with China and other Asian countries. I also served as president of the Fletcher China Club, organized numerous China-related events on campus, and mentored other colleagues interested in China. In short, when I entered the Hall of Flags, I was simply a China enthusiast; when I left the Hall of Flags for the last time, I was well on my way to becoming a China scholar.

Kelly Miller Smith (F03), Principal at Deloitte

How has your career has developed over the years?

I experienced 9/11 while at Fletcher and made some major career decisions that I would focus on helping my country respond to catastrophic events. My bet back then was that the future events wouldn’t be just kinetic but in the cyber domain. I was then hired by a Fletcher alum to enter into this field and progressively advance in the field of risk.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

While my admission into the partnership at Deloitte was certainly a shining moment, what really comes to mind is the character my wife and I are building within our daughter and son. COVID has been a hidden blessing in that it forced us to develop a more interactive relationship with them and expose them to our own drive and how we excel (although one interpretation could be that we drink coffee and video chat with our friends all day).

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, in your industry, or beyond?

From an academic standpoint, I am proud of the ability to serve currently on the Fletcher Board of Advisors where I can make a contribution to the overall strategic direction of the school and the Fletcher Alumni of Color Association, where we have created a host of internship opportunities over the past decade, almost doubling the funding available for students.

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

I was in the field of chemistry before Fletcher and went seeking a pivot. The school and network provided the tactical and strategic skills to guide government and business leaders through complex global challenges. I am able to differentiate in these situations because I bring a diverse range of perspectives gained from courses such as the Role of Force with Professor Richard Shultz to International Finance with Professor Laurent Jacque.

Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas (F80), former U.S. Ambassador to Senegal

How has your career has developed over the years?

With an undergraduate degree in International Business from Simmons College in 1963, I began my career as a secretary at the American Embassy in Paris. I worked in the White House, the United Nations and served in Senegal, Mali, Greece, Turkey Belgium and returned to Senegal in the most senior diplomatic position 28 years later.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

While becoming the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal ranks high on my professional accomplishment list, being a trusted and authentic representative of the US. government for 42 years with awards from the Greek and Turkish governments ranks equally high in my ranking. I must include the briefing which one of my young African American mentees gave to my fellow Americans when we visited the then U.S. Interest Section in Havana, Cuba on July 1, 2015. That was the day the U.S. re-established relations with Cuba. (See the epilogue of my memoir - Diversifying Diplomacy:  My Journey from Roxbury to Dakar)

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, in your industry, or beyond?

My positive impact on America's image abroad and the number of my former students and mentees who are now career diplomats, international consultants, and respectful contributors to our global society.

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

The time that I devoted to earning a master's degree from The Fletcher School (F80) was an investment that paid off handsomely in my increased ability to deal with the complexities of foreign policy. As a career diplomat, our job is to explain  and amplify American's foreign policy decisions to government officials, journalists, and editorial writers. I honed those skills during assignments in Istanbul, Turkey and Brussels, Belgium, both media capitals. My time at Fletcher which had only 7-9 students of color at the time (including  Antoinette Sayeh, now deputy managing director of the IMF -profiled above), provided me with the substantive knowledge of international affairs to complement my existing practical knowledge of public diplomacy. I received a fellowship from the U.S. Information Agency to attend Fletcher after the first 17 years of my working career. 

Derreck Kayongo (F14), Founder of the Global Soap Project

How has your career has developed over the years?

As a former refugee, I never thought I would ever have a meaningful career. But that experience became the inspiration for me to create the Global Soap Project. To do that successfully, I worked with several prominent INGOs which gave me the experience I needed to build a whole new NGO. In addition to that experience, I was fortunate enough to attain a great education through the Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP) at The Fletcher School, which has enhanced my career ever since.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

Because of my work at the Global Soap Project, I have been awarded several recognitions. The first was the CNN Heroes Award in 2011, and the second was the MAX entrepreneurial award. These awards are important to me because they inspire me to do even more in the service of others.

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether in your community, in your industry, or beyond?

Never in a million years did I ever think recycling partially used soap from hotels would end up impacting the health of mothers and children in over ninety countries around the world. Today in the world of COVID-19 where washing hands with soap is key, my work has even more meaning and impact, especially in the Global South.

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

We have what we call the "Fletcher cabal" which essentially means when you become a member you can always tap into that powerful network to build a more peaceful world. I am fortunate to be part of that cabal and in fact, that is how I was able to pay for my tuition; an alumnus of that cabal availed me of the fees for which I will always be grateful.

Brian Kitching (F14), White House Fellow

How has your career developed over the years?

After leaving The Fletcher School, I returned to serving in the Special Operations community in the Army. From 2015 to 2019, I served primarily as a Director of Operations in the U.S. as well as Afghanistan and Jordan. I then served for a year working for the Army's senior leader, General James McConville. Most recently, I was selected in the fall of 2020 to serve as a White House Fellow in Washington, D.C. The White House Fellowship is the nation's premiere program for leadership and public service.  

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

Being selected as a White House Fellow has been an incredible growth experience as a leader, particularly at such a dynamic time in our nation. From working at the highest levels of government, interacting with leaders from across the country, and learning from other Fellows, I remain hopeful in the promise of our country. 

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, in your industry, or beyond?

As a professional soldier, I continue to be focused on helping our service members reach their full potential and help to address many of the mental health issues that still plague our ranks. While at Fletcher, I authored a personal account of my battle with post-traumatic stress, and have developed a broad network of service members who reach out to seek holistic ways to get better. 

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

There are two aspects of the Fletcher experience that helped prepare me for success: 

1.  The faculty: The professionalism and depth of the professors and other faculty at Fletcher was exceptional. Most had a breadth of expertise to couple with academic concepts that brought the curriculum to life. They made themselves accessible outside of class, and I developed several relationships that I still access to this day. 

2.  The smaller size of the Fletcher School enabled me to connect with more people in a meaningful way. I appreciated the diversity of thought at Fletcher, particularly coming from a military background.

Roland Pearson (F91), Director of Economic Growth at Palladium: Make It Possible

How has your career has developed over the years?

My career started in domestic (USA) banking, which resulted from a deliberate decision to acquire a hard marketable skill set, in the aftermath of graduating from Brown University with a B.A. (Hons.) in International Relations.  Fletcher then helped me pivot into international development, which had been my longer-term career goal, and the path that I have pursued ever since Fletcher.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

Successfully establishing, growing, and divesting from two companies during my time living and working in South Africa opened opportunities for involvement in and influence of many pivotal points in the political, social and economic transformation of that country.

How do you feel you’ve made an impact, whether on your community, in your industry, or beyond?

I strive to leave a legacy of people with whom I have worked as employees, clients, peers, or collaborators who grow, excel, and remain committed to making a positive difference in their communities and spheres of endeavor.

How did Fletcher help set you up for success?

Fletcher’s network, reputation, academic content and some dedicated faculty and staff – in my case, especially former Professor. Jim Paddock and Dean Jerry Sheehan – all made a difference in launching my now 30+ year career in international development.

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