Fatima Nkata, on the Importance of Developing Leaders
Fatima Nkata, a student at Henry Ford College, is originally from Malawi, where she worked in the media industry. “In that work, I met a lot of politicians and started coming up against a lot of questions that I needed answers to,” she said. “But none of the questions were being answered.”
Frustrated, Fatima decided to take matters into her own hands, and began charting a course that would lead her into politics. “I decided to come to Henry Ford and study political science,” she said, noting that she also felt the college was affordable for international students.
After taking a political science class with Professor Robert Yahrmatter, she was inspired to enroll in the Community Leadership Program. “He told me this program would be more suitable for me in light of what I want to do when I get back home. That’s why I joined,” she said, adding, “I really made the right decision.”
At first, Fatima was surprised by the hands-on nature of the Community Leadership Program; she says the courses, such as Professor Yahrmatter’s “Introduction to Community Leadership” class, are unlike traditional college offerings. “With most classes, you just go into the class and do the assignments and that’s the end of it,” she said. “But with this class, I feel its extending into all the elements of our lives. We are actively part of the learning process, which I believe is what community engagement is all about.”
“I’m learning that leadership is about identifying the strengths in others and bringing those strengths out to move whatever cause you are fighting for forward.”
The importance of leadership development is one of Fatima’s primary takeaways from Professor Yahrmatter’s course. “Before I used think, if it’s going to get done right, I need to do it myself,” she said. “Now, I’m learning that leadership is about identifying the strengths in others and bringing those strengths out to move whatever cause you are fighting for forward. You can’t just be a one-man army trying to run the show. You can’t stand alone for a cause. You need other people with you.”
Further, Fatima says she now recognizes leadership development as an important part of any successful campaign to bring about change. “I’m learning that you lessen the amount of work you have to do by involving other people and ultimately giving other people a sense of ownership. If you give others responsibilities, they become a part of your cause and you have a greater chance of succeeding.”
Though Fatima is older than many of the other students in her class, she has found inspiration in the idealism exhibited by her younger classmates. “I love seeing the passion of people that are in the class,” she said. “That’s what this program is doing—encouraging young people to take interest.”
Fatima appreciates that the course has prompted her and her classmates to seek out common ground. “We are really learning to see the strengths that lie in others,” she says. “We care about each other. That’s one of the things different about this class: it has created the space for us to be more open to learning about each other.”
“That’s one of the things different about this class: it has created the space for us to be more open to learning about each other.”
Fatima has also appreciated the course’s willingness to speak about difficult issues of race and class—conversations she’s noticed are often avoided by people in the United States. [Professor Yahrmatter’s course] is the first time I saw people in this country speak freely about issues of race,” she said. “Students talked about how they were brought up to interact with others in a certain way and how this affected the way they interacted in class. Then we talked about how this was influenced by race. We talked through it and dealt with it as a class and people were willing to help each other learn and suggested what we could do.”
Perhaps Fatima’s biggest takeaway from the course, though, is that anyone with a passion can become involved in community change work. “I used to think that to be an organizer you would have to go through extensive schooling and have a lot of money,” she said. “Now I see that you can use whatever talents you have to organize. For example, one of the speakers talked about how artists have always been part of movements. We can harness creative talents and use them to initiate change.”
“I want to be able to say: here’s a problem, we want to sort it out, let’s organize around this problem and here are the steps we are going to take to solve it”
These are lessons, Fatima says, that will last her a lifetime. “I want to take that home with me. I’m learning about how to deal with the challenges that arise when you work in a diverse environment. I know that people act in a certain way because they don’t know. This is my opportunity to teach people about where I come from, my culture, and who I am as an African. I’m also learning from my classmates and its breaking my own stereotypes about others.”
The Community Leadership Program has also inspired Fatima to learn more about community organizing. “I want to be able to say: here’s a problem, we want to sort it out, let’s organize around this problem and here are the steps we are going to take to solve it. And I want to be able to practice what I am learning in class with an organization.” Based on Professor Yahrmatter’s recommendation, for instance, Fatima recently joined the League of Women Voters as an associate member, and is applying much of what she’s learned in class to the organization.
After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Fatima hopes to take what she’s learned about social change work and apply it in her upcoming political campaign for Malawi’s Parliament.
“I want to see more young people getting involved in politics and running for office,” she said.
As a politician, Fatima hopes to use her influence to fight for youth empowerment. “In my country, two thirds of the population are youth and yet youth are the least represented and most marginalized. We’re not interested in participating in politics because the playing field is not level. When it comes to voting, we will talk about it. We will complain about issues and debate among ourselves but when it comes to actively doing something about it – like voting – we don’t do it. When we look at the candidates that are there, we say, How are they going to represent me? They don’t understand me.”
With Fatima as the face of one of these politicians, however, this is an outlook she plans to help change.