Amara Enyia is fighting all problems everywhere

The former Chicago mayoral candidate takes a global view of local issues.

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Two-time Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, seen here at the United Nations in Geneva, has turned her attention to problems facing Black people on a global scale.

Two-time Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, seen here at the United Nations office in Geneva, has turned her attention to problems facing Black people on a global scale.

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If you are unaware, as I was, that we are nearing the end of a 10-year global initiative to spotlight concerns of special importance to Black people, don’t feel bad. Some efforts get more attention than others.

“The United Nations designated 2015 to 2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, all around the world,” said Amara Enyia. “This is a mechanism designed to deal with all of the issues: climate, inequality, education. Part of this is doing a lot of advocacy.”

Regular readers might remember my spending a day on the campaign trail with Enyia when she faced Rahm Emanuel in 2014.

“Unlike the typical marginal eccentric who feels compelled to run against a powerful if not popular Chicago mayor, she is neither a crank nor a fool, but a thoughtful, grounded community activist,” I wrote, “one of six children of Nigerian immigrants, whose only obvious sign of unbalance is the apparently sincere belief that she will defeat the mayor in February.”

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She didn’t win. Unlike most former mayoral candidates, she did not utterly vanish. She tried again in 2019 and recently popped up in Geneva serving as chairwoman for the international civil society working group at the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.

Most of us have enough trouble dealing with one problem in one place; Enyia is trying to address all problems everywhere.

“You’re essentially dealing with all of the languages, all of the geographies, prioritizing issues, working to make it as impactful as possible,” she said. “It’s a pretty significant undertaking.”

It is? It seems to me the woes of the world barrel onward, bursting through the paper barriers of working groups and multinational programs.

Enyia disagrees. She thinks it is important that Black people in America understand that the problems disproportionately affecting them in this country are also afflicting their brothers and sisters around the globe.

“In the United States, it can be insular here,” said Enyia, who visited 14 countries in 2022. “A lot of the focus is on issues Black people face within our own borders. It’s important to understand the global context, the global systems we’re grappling with. Once you look beyond the U.S. borders, you can see the commonality: the issue of police violence and police killings, for instance.”

It isn’t just Chicago?

“State violence in Brazil — police killings in Brazil are astronomical when it comes to Afro-Brazilians,” she said. “Same for Colombia. The impact of the climate crisis on island states: Barbados, Bahamas. Climate justice is a big issue. Inequality. Monetary policy is a huge issue. There’s a huge wealth gap. People are less familiar with issues of the global monetary system connected to development or lack thereof.”

Why not stay at home and run for mayor again? Everyone else is. Maybe, third time’s the charm.

“I thought about it,” she said. “If I had that sense I was supposed to run, I would do it. But I didn’t get that gut feeling. Especially if you don’t have the things that money can buy.”

Money buys airtime, but it can’t buy hope. The average person tends to view enormous systemic problems, whether at home or abroad, as intractable — something to be ignored, shrugged at or blamed on somebody else. So seeing one person trying to solve anything catches the eye, if only for its novelty.

I began Black History Month with a column about the Congo — how racial oppression and economic exploitation go hand in hand. White Americans mostly have no clue how racism deforms their own lives too: from the way certain politicians use fear of ooo-scary others to convince voters to oppose their own best interests. How the United States, alone among industrialized countries, has no national health care because white people were — and are — made to fear that Black people might get benefits they somehow don’t deserve.

I’m cynical but have a soft spot for people who aren’t.

“How do we create a global mechanism to create coherent venues for this fight?” Enyia asked. “Create space for global cooperation. Address these issues on a global level as well as on a local level. That’s the potential. Connecting people of African descent around the world. There’s a lot that needs to be done. We have the technology. We have the ability. We have the awareness.”

What we don’t have is the leadership. Maybe Amara Enyia can do something about that someday.

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