“Find the biggest platform you can,” said Grace Jerry when asked for her advice on bringing about change, “and add your voice.”
Jerry, a Nigerian gospel singer, has a big voice. And when introducing President Obama at a gathering of 500 young African leaders, she took full advantage of it.
The journey that brought Jerry to Washington began with personal tragedy 13 years ago, when she lost the use of her legs in an auto accident and learned how people with disabilities can be marginalized.
Last year, she applied and was chosen for the Young African Leaders Initiative’sMandela Washington Fellowship, which brings 500 people from sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. to meet others working for change.
“I connected with the fellow from Ethiopia who happened to be a polio survivor, and he’s very active in research and data on challenges facing people with disabilities in Ethiopia,” Jerry said. “I met a guy from Sierra Leone with a disability who’s a human rights lawyer.” The three now work together to “create a more inclusive Africa.”
Jerry’s singing attracts attention to any issue she trumpets. Her tribute to YALI called “E Go Happen” received 100,000 views in its first 24 hours online. Likely as not, it reached the ears of someone at the White House who chose her to introduce Obama when he spoke to the Mandela fellows.
When the president came to the podium, he said, “Following Grace is a little bit like following Michelle,” referring to his wife. “You’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to be thatgood.’”