The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture hosted a question-and-answer session with Nicole Lee, executive director of foreign policy advocacy organization TransAfrica, Wednesday night.
Lee is a human rights lawyer who has been called to advise national foreign policy decisions regarding Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. She has also served as the official liaison between the Mandela family and international media, and has appeared on programs including ABC’s “20/20” and CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360”.
“We work to make the invisible visible and make sure our policies are fair and just,” Lee said.
The event consisted of opening remarks from Lee, followed by questions from audience members and previous submissions mediated by Mary Lou Williams Center director Chandra Guinn. Topics ranged from Lee’s family and career to current events and foreign policy. Lee also spoke at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently as part of her ongoing national speaking tour.
Senior Orane Douglas, an organizer of the event, said bringing Lee was intended to promote dialogue about foreign policy, particularly in relation to the international African community. He added that the event was also geared toward helping individuals see how they can have an impact.
“We’re just excited because it’s a chance for someone who’s actually in the legal field to be speaking to other African-Americans and minorities,” said senior Jillian Williams, co-president of the Black Pre-Law Association. “Usually that gets overshadowed, and there are a lot of pre-law interests, but this is a nice marriage of both foreign policy and international aid work.”
TransAfrica has operated as a foreign policy advocacy organization since 1976. The group is best known for its work against the apartheid regime in South Africa and its involvement in the Haitian coup of the early ‘90’s. Lee joined TransAfrica as chief financial officer in 2005 and is currently working as the organization’s first female director.
Attendees were curious about Lee’s personal history as well as her organization’s stance on a slew of current issues. Along with recollections of her time working on a sulfur dioxide suit in South Africa and as a field researcher in Haiti during the coup of the early 90’s, Lee spoke of her family’s roots and her lifelong vision of becoming a human rights lawyer.
“People in Buffalo would think I had a crazy idea,” she said of her early dreams for her career. “But sometimes the craziest ideas are the best ideas.”
Throughout her talk, Lee urged students to get involved in movements at their institutions to divest from companies as stances on human rights and foreign policy matters.
“It’s going to be people like you that are really going to make the difference,” she said.