Having spent 15 years in the United States in pursuit of American Dream, especially in the areas of peace and development studies, Spencer Chiimbwe has recently successfully defended his PhD thesis at the Northeastern University in Boston, which qualifies him to be called Doctor of Law and Policy.
Spencer Chiimbwe has gotten a lot of stories to share with us as a peace advocate and African-American who naturally has pan-Africanistic blood flowing in him.
During the exclusive interview with Parkchester Times Editor, Mutiu Olawuyi, Chiimbwe asserted that "the pursuit of education in America is loftier than the search for grandiosity". To know exactly what this means, I suggest you relax and enjoy what ensued during the interview with this great accomplished African immigrant.
PT: Congratulations on your recent accomplishment – You're now a PhD hold! Would you mind sailing through how you became an immigrant in the United States and what brought you here?
Chiimbwe: Until I am hooded, I am a Doctoral Candidate, and thank you for your congratulatory remarks. Well my first taste of the United States was when I was a delegate to the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) at the United Nations headquarters in New York in July 2005. I was representing the ACTION Support Center – The Africa Regional Hub of a global network of individual practitioners and organizations working for global peace using a conflict transformation approach.
As a delegate and discussant to the GPACC process from Southern Africa, I noticed lots of opportunities for engagement at the UN and the broader civil society initiatives and as a result I came back to the US and volunteered with a number of conflict transformation initiatives at the UN. That is how I became an immigrant to the United States. The pursuit of further peace and development platforms brought me here.
PT: What were some challenges you faced at the initial stage of your stay as an immigrant in the States?
Chiimbwe: As a volunteer you do not get paid. That was the reality of the initial stages of my stages. While I loved my volunteer work that was clustered around initiatives such as peace boat, gun control and campaigns for the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), I need to support myself and my family back home.
I started doing manual labor in bakeries in the night and during the day, I dressed up and went to the UN. At some point, I worked two bakery jobs, and slept on the train in order to generate enough to take care of myself while maintaining my presence at the UN during the day.
In addition to this, l sold cakes in Brooklyn from Shop to Shop. I bought them from the Bakery and delivered from shop to shop with a shopping cart and then my daughter and l would go and start collecting the money from our deliveries.
PT: How did you manage to cope with and overcome the challenges – especially how you managed to survive alone in a foreign land?
Chiimbwe: I met the right people from the United African Congress (UAC). One day when I was going to one of my Bakery jobs, I met this man on the train. He was holding flyers that were promoting an event to honor African leaders that were making efforts to achieve the MDGs. I requested for a flyer and I told this man how interested I was in such initiatives. This man got off at the next stop and encouraged me to call the number on the flyer, and I did. When I called the number, I reached the offices of the UAC in the Bronx County and the rest was a history. I became part of the process and together, we organized one of the unprecedented African Leaders Award ceremony at the UN, among other things. Leaders of the UAC started taking care of my bills while I volunteered with the organization as Executive Director. Therefore, it is all about meeting the right people. With the right people, one cannot walk alone.
PT: Let's talk about your academic pursuits. How did you manage to become a PhD holder, despite entering the United States with almost nothing?
Chiimbwe: When I came to this country, I had a Project Management Diploma from Cambridge University and several other leadership courses. To get into the US mainstream of education, I was requested to have my foreign credentials evaluated, that was hard because it required paying money which I did not have, and the process was complicated and lengthy.
I wrote some tests at SUNY Empire, but they needed some evaluated credentials. I decided to write the GED, just to get me in the system, and of course I passed and got in. I studied a BA in Public Affairs with a concentration in Public Policy. My professors were impressed with my writing and that is how I was encouraged to apply for the Internship in the New York State Assembly.
I got in and while doing my internship in the New York State Assembly I enrolled into a Master’s programs to study Work and Labor Policy with SUNY Empire State College. That is where I wrote a paper about The Payroll Card Predicament for Low Wage Workers. I proceeded to enroll in an MBA program which I did not squarely finish because I thought I was drifting away from my public policy paradigm. I am however few courses away from getting done with the MBA world.
After I left the New York State Senate as a Legislative Fellow, I enrolled into a Doctor of Law and Policy Program with Northeastern University. It is a very interactive, practical, and hands-on program that explores the nexus between law and policy, I loved it! At first, I wanted my thesis to be about the social consequences of low wage workers but after a wider consultative process with the people that know me and my professor in the Doc Design Course, I chose to write about the Legislative Oversight of the Pan-Africa Parliament. The subject whose traction has led me to successfully defending my thesis.
PT: Why did you opt for policy development, law and governance in your academic and career pursuits?
Chiimbwe: Look, in my view, Africa has been researched to the bone but at the same time, it is being under marketed. There are lots of documents that Africa has generated but due to prejudicial nuances against the continent, and the hypnotized perceptive tenets engraved on the psyche of many players in the outside world, Africa’s potential is still on the blind spot of the public eye. Therefore, I thought of unearthing documents like the Constitutive Act and researched the transformative gaps that can make Africa a solid partner to the world. I cannot share my thesis on this forum, it is not my product anymore, but going forward you will be seeing my publications that I hope will add currency to the legislative development of Africa.
PT: What else are you proud of as accomplishments, apart from the PhD?
Chiimbwe: To be a husband, dad and father is one of my most humbling accomplishments. Another one was when I worked in the European Union Parliament as a Visiting Researcher, among other things.
PT: So what next? Or have you accomplished your ultimate American Dream?
Chiimbwe: I have met many African Americans with the intellect to shape the law and policy landscape of the continent of Africa. In terms of what is next, I want my publications to engage this group, they are the sixth region of the African Union. In my view, the American Dream is organic, it is not exhaustive, opportunities will always be there to work with others and make this world a better place.
PT: What message do you have for your fellow immigrants, especially those from Africa?
Chiimbwe: Do not be ashamed to start from anywhere in life. Look for the right people in your pursuits, and the pursuit of education in America is loftier than the search for grandiosity that has misled the dominant paradigm of immigrants from Africa . Take the risk to be vulnerable and be humble enough to accept what you do not know; America still remains a beacon of hope if we tirelessly engage with the right people.
Dr. Spencer Chiimbwe at the UN Headquarters in New York