Most diplomats are usually concerned with events on the international stage, but some can take a break from advocating for the rights of disabled people and fighting climate change to talk to college students.
Aubrey Webson, the current United Nations ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, answered questions from Pitt students in a live Zoom webinar Wednesday night. The Epsilon Kappa chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity and the Pitt Pan-Caribbean Alliance co-sponsored this event.
During the hourlong event, Webson discussed various topics, ranging from his experience as a U.N. ambassador and former president of UNICEF to his experience as a disability rights activist. As a blind man himself, Webson has broken through barriers within the United Nations and continues to advocate for the rights of other people with disabilities.
“The fact that I could be where I’m at, as the first visually impaired person as an ambassador to the United Nations, and then having seen at least three other persons follow me, shows that once you break that glass ceiling, people begin to see the normality in it,” Webson said.
Cameron Clarke, president of both the Epsilon Kappa chapter of Phi Beta Sigma and of the Pan-Caribbean Alliance, hosted and helped organize the event. He said he wanted to hold a significant event that would help solidify PCA’s rebranding as “a place of belonging for Caribbean students.”
“I know that PCA has gone through a big rebranding this year,” Clarke, a senior anthropology major, said. “I knew that I wanted to cement that change with a pretty big event, something that I would know would be really important.”
To reach out to Webson, Clarke enlisted the help of family members who are from the Caribbean and had connections with Webson. Even though Webson has a busy schedule, Clarke was able to find a time for him to speak to Pitt students.
“My family comes from Antigua and Barbuda, so I reached out to family members and their family friends to try and get a hold of him,” Clarke said. “He graciously agreed, and even though he is a really busy guy, we were able to find a time for him to speak.”
Even though Webson acknowledged that the United Nations. has come a long way in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, he also said it still has a long way to go.
“While there are really good policies being developed, the implementation of these policies in some developing countries still remains a challenge for both economic and cultural reasons,” Webson said.
Webson also discussed some of the differences Black people around the world experience in education. He said one of these differences is the lack of Black representation in leadership positions in the United States.
“I think one of the things the Caribbean gave me that most African American students here don’t have is that our leadership, role models, heroes, doctors and lawyers are all mostly Black people,” Webson said.
According to Webson, this representation gives young Black students in the Caribbean role models who look like them to aspire to.
“That representation gives you a lot of confidence and opportunities to aspire, and I think that it’s a really good thing,” Webson said.
Along with being a current U.N. ambassador, Webson is also the current head of several specialized committees and organizations within the United Nations — the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Protective Services. Even though working for the United Nations can be a tough job, Webson said he views any difficult situation he faces as a challenge, not a failure.
“Failure shouldn’t be something that beats you,” Webson said. “You have to instead keep fighting and understand why you fell short, when you fell short and how you are going to address it again in the future.”
Nneoma Uzoukwu, a senior philosophy major, attended the event and said she enjoyed Webson’s discussion of how climate change impacts the Caribbean.
“I liked when he talked about how climate change will drastically affect the Caribbean islands very soon because of the rising water levels,” Uzoukwu said. “That’s one thing that I had never really thought about that specifically was really interesting.”
For Uzoukwu, this event was important because it highlighted the many different issues going on around the globe and in the Caribbean specifically, not just in the United States.
“I think that these kinds of events are important to get a different perspective on things, especially during the pandemic,” Uzoukwu said. “Being online, Pitt can bring people from more diverse areas in and we can make students aware of what’s going on outside of the U.S.”