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Local student developing unique project connecting African culture to America

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Tatiana Kolan
University of Baltimore student Tatiana Kolani was the recipient of the United by Purpose scholarship to create a museum-gallery with the goal to bring African culture to America. Photo Credit: NSLS

Through the United by Purpose Scholarship established by the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), more and more students in higher education are being inspired to pursue their dreams and impact their communities. The United by Purpose scholarship and the NSLS, America’s largest leadership honor society with membership exceeding one million, is challenging its members to develop projects that emphasize racial and social justice while focusing on bringing diversity to their campuses and local communities.

In November 2020, the NSLS board of directors selected 20 applicants to receive $1,0000 toward jumpstarting their projects and developing business proposals. Of those 20, Tatiana Kolani, a University of Baltimore student, was a recipient of the United by Purpose scholarship and will create a museum-gallery that will bring African culture to America. The initial $1,000 scholarship money is useful toward jumpstarting her idea, said Kolani.

However, to cover the expense of the entire project, Kolani is in the process of pursuing grants from various organizations and agencies, one of which being grants.gov. According to her original proposal, her project name is “Explore Afrique.” Kolani, a sophomore from Togo in West Africa, moved to the U.S. in 2013. She is majoring in policy, politics and international affairs and plans to pursue a master’s degree in negotiations and conflict management following her  undergraduate studies.

Drawn to the organization’s promotion of leadership  and success, Kolani just joined the NSLS in fall 2020. What largely inspired Kolani’s project is the tension she has noticed between African immigrants and Americans. From her observations, many Americans— whether White, Black or otherwise— often have distorted perceptions of Africans. Likewise, many Africans see Black Americans the way that mainstream media portrays them. But through the unique museum she is developing, Kolani aims to bridge the gap.

She has personally experienced the negative preconceived notions, adding that others think “we are poor and we don’t have skills. I want them to feel that we are better than that, and that all this injustice— we can use our cultures to influence and bring people together. That was my intention.” In a nutshell, the central focus of the museum-gallery is to break the cultural barriers that exist between Americans and Africans who have migrated to the U.S. Kolani is still in the beginning phases of her project, so most details to her museum-gallery are still underway.

From what she has drafted thus far, Kolani wants the museum-gallery to be in a decent-sized building. It will be based in the Baltimore region and will contain images, artifacts, etc. pertaining to the cultural uniqueness of Africa. Once her museum opens, Kolani hopes to hire employees from all racial backgrounds and will organize trips to Africa, connecting Americans to a part of the globe that will broaden their cultural competence. The grants that Kolani has applied for will enable her to gather resources to make her dream a reality. Once fully developed, Kolani foresees her project making a tremendous impact not only in Baltimore but all over the country, as well.

“I want to connect people [who are] from here, with Africa,” she said. Amy Westby, the NSLS director of strategic initiatives and education, began the United by Purpose scholarship and is working closely with the 20 finalists. She also oversees the education division of the organization. The NSLS Foundation gives more than $300,000 to students every semester through its programs, according to Westby.

“We are very much about helping students find other ways to build their leadership skills, even beyond NSLS,” Westby said. “We wanted to engage in experiential leadership, project leadership and helping to help prepare the members that work with us to engage in contemporary issues of that commitment towards ending systemic racism, bigotry, oppression and injustices within those local communities that they serve in.”

Over the last month, Westby has met with each of the 20 scholarship recipients— many of which are teams of five— individually to help craft what their project will look like. “The scholarship panel was particularly impressed with Kolani’s proposal, Westby said. “She personally had a connection to the project in that she was an immigrant, wanted to be involved in her community and she wanted to use her art major and culture to bring people together.”

Applicants have until February 1, 2021, to complete their project proposals and pitch their ideas to the NSLS board of directors. First, second and third place winners will be selected on March 12, 2021 and awarded $10,000, $5,000 and $2,000 scholarships respectively, which will provide some of the funding that members need to implement their projects in their communities.


Amy Westby
Amy Westby, Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives at the National Society of Leadership and Success, created the United By Purpose scholarship. Photo credit: NSLS

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