Peace Corps Celebrates African American History Month

February 1, 2008

Peace Corps Honors Contributions of African American Volunteers

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 1, 2008 - The Peace Corps will join Americans across the globe to celebrate African American History Month in February. The agency will participate by recognizing the countless contributions of African Americans Volunteers, whose service to others continues to help promote peace, friendship, and understanding around the world.

The theme for this year is, "Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism." During the first half of the twentieth century, Woodson heralded the contributions of African Americans and forged an intellectual movement to educate Americans about cultural diversity and democracy.

"The Peace Corps has greatly benefited from the leadership and contributions of African American Peace Corps Volunteers," said Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter. "Their service has led others to volunteer, and has demonstrated the true face of America overseasthe face of caring, motivated, multi-cultural and diverse people."

Currently, 239 African Americans are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the world. Thirty-four percent of African American Volunteers serve as educators, another 29 percent work in the health sector. Others focus on business, environmental, agricultural and urban development projects.

There are 125 African American Volunteers currently serving in 25 countries in the African region. Additionally, 76 are serving in Latin America, the Caribbean or the Pacific, and 38 are serving in Europe or Asia. With nine Volunteers each, Kenya and Morocco have more African American Peace Corps Volunteers than any other Peace Corps country.

These Volunteers hail from 32 states across America, as well as the District of Columbia. Most are from California, representing eight percent of African American Peace Corps Volunteers. North Carolina and Georgia tie for second, each producing seven percent of African American Volunteers. There are seven African American Volunteers older than 50, with the oldest at 78 years old.

Serving as a Volunteer in the Peace Corps is a great way to learn more about other cultures, something many African American Volunteers have learned. Peace Corps also offers a way for Volunteers to make a connection with the local community in which they work and live. Byron Williams, who served in Lesotho from 2003-2005, said, "Working with other cultures opens your mind and eyes to so much more outside of the 'American Perspective.' As an African American, learning the host national language meant something different for me, it showed that I truly cared for the people I worked with. Peace Corps reaffirmed and strengthened my love for my African brothers and sisters."

Notable African American Peace Corps Volunteers include Martin Puryear (Sierra Leone 1964-1966), a sculptor whose post-minimalist work was recently featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

W. Frank Fountain (India 1966-1968), who helped grow the largest harvest of rice ever produced in an Indian district during his service later became the senior vice president of external affairs and public policy for the Chrysler Group. Regarding his Peace Corps service, Fountain once said, "Most of the success that I have experienced throughout my career can be traced back to the intense, challenging, sometimes painful, but always inspiring experience in the two years in West Bengal, India."

Notable African American Peace Corps staff members include James Ham (Guinea 1996-1998), the current Peace Corps country director of Cameroon; and Carolyn Payton, the first female and first African American director of the Peace Corps from 1977-1978. "Joining the Peace Corps was a chance for me to carry out my dream of serving others," said Ham. "I truly appreciated Martin Luther King, Jr., and his famous call to serve, which parallels with the mission of Peace Corps."

Ham continued, "My experieamous call to serve, which parallels with the mission of Peace Corps."

Ham continued, "My experience as a Volunteer and staff member at Peace Corps has opened doors for me that I could not have had otherwise. This experience can change your life in ways you will never imagine. The demand and opportunity for African Americans to serve is still as strong today, as it was for me when I volunteered."

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 46-year legacy of service at home and abroad. Currently there are more than 8,000 Volunteers abroad, a 37-year high for Volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 190,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries where Volunteers have served. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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