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ACLP's Renowned Guest Speakers

By: Amy Xiang

ACLP’s curriculum includes empowering guest speakers, volunteers, and presenters who share their stories and explore various topics with students. So far, we have had the opportunity to bring in nine speakers. Here is a summary of what each speaker covered!

Becky Shaknovich — October 2017

ACLP students learned about the many free resources available to them and their families at Blackwell Library from librarian Becky Shaknovich. Becky brought library forms for ACLP parents to fill out, and about 13 students either received library cards for the first time or renewed their old ones. Thank you Becky for reminding us that many amazing community resources are right in front of our eyes!

Becky Shaknovich receives an award from ACLP staff members.

Coleman Donaldson — October 2017

ACLP students learned about the history of the N’Ko language, as well as how to say simple greetings, from Penn instructor Coleman Donaldson and his two colleagues from Mali. They especially focused on teaching students about Soulemanye Kante, who invented the N’Ko alphabet. Three of our students who spoke N’Ko were particularly pleased, with eighth grader Aibatou saying, “I liked the presentation, because it’s my language.” Coleman’s presentation showed students that, in addition to being proud of their native languages, they can also help innovate them for their home populations and beyond.

Coleman Donaldson takes a photo with ACLP students and volunteers after presenting about the West African language N'Ko.

Hazim Hardeman — November 2017

Then-ACLP Secretary Hazim Hardeman talked to students about becoming Temple University’s first ever Rhodes Scholar, along with his plans to study at Oxford University in the future. Hazim shared the inspiring journey behind all of his success and how he went from struggling academically in high school to becoming a student at the Community College of Philadelphia, and eventually Temple University. During 2018 Black History Month, ACLP revisited Hazim’s story and related it to their own experiences.

Lorene Cary — November 2017

Penn English professor Lorene Cary taught ACLP students about the fascinating world of haiku poems and helped them write their own poems around the theme of “home.” Fifth grader Ezzeldine added his drawing: a single flagpole with an American flag on one side and a Sudanese flag on the other. This creative lesson allowed students to use poetry to wrestle with the complex idea of home and what it means to them. Thank you, Professor Cary!

In addition to teaching English at Penn, Lorene Cary is an accomplished author and social activist.

Jannie Blackwell — January 2019

ACLP students had the opportunity to hear from then-Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. She spoke about her work in relation to the lives of our students and their families. Blackwell explained the connected histories of Africans and African Americans. “We all came from Africa. We all have to try to travel there one day and enjoy what we have to offer as a people in our own culture,” she said. She also reminded students about where they are now: “America is open to people from everywhere who want to come live here. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. People can have their own culture.” The councilwoman’s visit encouraged students to become more active, informed citizens and develop relationships with local elected officials.

Jannie Blackwell was a member of the City Council 1992 to 2020, representing the Third District.

Sozi Tulante — February 2019

To celebrate Black History Month, Philadelphia’s first African city solicitor came to speak to ACLP students about his journey integrating into American society as an eight-year-old boy from Zaire (DRC). He talked about how he faced many struggles growing up such as bullying, rejection, isolation, and financial hardships but, ultimately, overcame them to graduate from Harvard University twice and pursue a career in law. Many students expressed the impact that Sozi’s story had on them. Fifth grader Amadou exclaimed, “I met a lawyer!” while ninth grader Dieynaba concluded that “people like me can go very far in this country.” Ninth grader Raimat discovered that she was also interested in a career in law. The impactful reactions to Sozi’s visit shows how hearing someone else’s story can inspire students to dream bigger for themselves.

Sozi Tulante has been widely recognized for his legal work, both within Philadelphia and around the country.

William Hite — March 2019

ACLP students, parents, partners, and leaders welcomed Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia Dr. William Hite to learn about ACLP’s work, listen to concerns, and answer

questions. Some students shared issues they have faced at school including bullying due to their African origins and English accents and inability, unsanitary school buildings, and a need for more culturally responsive teachers and curriculums. Ninth grader Dieynaba said to Dr. Hite, “When I was trying to speak English, people laughed at me,” and fifth grader Amadou shared, “People mess with me because I am African. But I told them I am proud to be African.” Dr. Hite said the school district has been working hard to solve these problems, especially with developing a curriculum that better aligns with the district’s diverse student population, echoing founder Aminata Sy’s statement that “whenever you learn and you don’t see yourself and people who look like you in the curriculum, that tells you that you don’t matter.”

Parents praised ACLP’s work and said they want a quality education for their children and for them to maintain their cultures. We are proud to have provided students and parents with the opportunity to voice their most pressing concerns directly to the superintendent, showing them to advocate for what they believe in.

William Hite has served as the superintendent since 2012 and has been praised for his innovative work.

Miriam Enriquez — March 2019

ACLP hosted an event where 70+ community members, including our students, had the opportunity to hear from then-Director of Immigrant Affairs, Miriam Enriquez. The meeting began with Enriquez explaining the role of the Office of Immigrant Affairs and sharing some resources available to members of the African community. Then, she opened up a space for attendees to voice their concerns. Some brought up general concerns surrounding education and immigration, while others expressed the need for a community center geared towards Senegalese and Mauritanian immigrant families. Thank you to all the attendees for making it such a successful event, and especially thank you to Miriam for being willing to hear our concerns!

After the event, Miriam Enriquez and ACLP founder Aminata Sy smile for a photo.

Kayode Malomo — April 2019

Kayode Malomo, a renowned artist from Nigeria, shared with ACLP students his journey through education and art, even displaying some of his own artwork. Kayode explained how he pursued his self-taught passion for art from a young age and, using his artistic abilities to pay for his education, and turned it into a successful career. He also offered the following advice to students: “Don’t compare yourself to others. Be passionate, be proud of your rich cultural heritage, and dare to do great things.” Kayode’s story reinforces our message to students that being immigrants or first-generation Americans does not limit their potential and that hard work pays off!

Students share their favorite pieces of art by Kayode Malomo.

AMY XIANG is the writer for African Community Learning Program (ACLP) and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also writes for The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street Magazine. To support African Community Learning Program, please email

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