Monticello is hosting more than two dozen African leaders who are building better societies. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), launched by President Obama, is in its third week.
The young African leaders learned about a president of contradictions Thursday. On one hand, Thomas Jefferson wrote about equality in the Declaration of Independence. On the other, he owned black slaves.
“What fascinated me about Thomas Jefferson was his Declaration of Independence and also the contradiction between what the person believed and what he practiced,” said Jean-Marc Afesi Mbafor, YALI.
Mbafor spoke with NBC29 about touring Mulberry Row, the area where Thomas Jefferson housed the slaves he owned at Monticello.
“The treatment of the slaves was terrible and even with that in mind, he wanted to do something different,” said Mbafor.
Mbafor says he empathizes with Thomas Jefferson.
“Knowing he could try to do slavery in a different way for me speaks about how we struggle sometimes as leaders with what we believe and what our reality is struggling to match the two,” said Mbafor.
Mbafor is one of 25 young African leaders that Monticello will host through Friday. Monticello works to actively incorporate slavery into the learning experience.
“Our hope is to create a dialogue on some of these ideas of enacting social change and trying to make government more transparent,” said Christa Dierksheide, a Monticello historian.
YALI participants say they look forward to participating in the Fourth of July festivities and watching some of their friends become American citizens during the annual naturalization ceremony at Monticello Friday.
As with Thomas Jefferson, the young leaders have a perspective about becoming a U.S. citizen that is different from most people who live in this country.
“It is going to be an experience for me. I am sure very emotional because I will be seeing my African brothers forgo their African nationalities to become Americans,” said Mbafor.
Mbafor says he hopes to learn that the Africans who are becoming Americans will return to their country to help it. None of the YALI participants will be naturalized.
The leaders have three weeks left in the United States. At the end of their visit they will meet with President Obama.