“No matter what path you take in this world, be sure you are somehow making a positive impact. … You have the capacity to impact meaningful change. Be a force for good.”
This was the resounding message conveyed by Dr. Kimmie Weeks ’01 throughout his two-day visit to the NHM campus earlier this month. Weeks is a Liberian-born, internationally recognized activist and humanitarian. After surviving a childhood marked by civil war, illness, and extreme poverty, Weeks resolved to devote his life to developing and leading organizations that support peace, economic self-sufficiency, and education for some of the world’s poorest people.
Weeks’ visit was the first in the NMH Alumni Fellows Initiative, a new pilot project that brings distinguished alumni to campus to engage with students and faculty in meaningful ways. The initiative is supported by Ruth Stevens ’68.
While Weeks has worked in numerous areas over his career, he is best known for his advocacy. In West Africa, Weeks lobbied to stop the recruitment of children as soldiers. While a first-year student at Amherst College, Weeks established Youth Action International, a nonprofit that supports families living in post-war countries. His work has helped to provide rehabilitation, skills, training, and employment opportunities to youth who have been affected by war.
During his busy two-day visit to NMH, Weeks spent time with students in humanities, language, and interdisciplinary classes, sharing meals with students in between. He also toured the campus with Head of School Brian Hargrove and the NMH farm with Farm Director Nancy Hanson and took part in a discussion for the broader community.
Weeks began his student visits with a discussion in Advanced Topics in Economics, a course taught by Tae Kim. In this class, students receive a rigorous introduction to the fundamental concepts, issues, and theories in economics. They are also offered opportunities to explore major questions that are central to debates within the discipline and attempt to answer them through a variety of research and creative projects.
Weeks opened the discussion by explaining how Liberia’s economy has been gutted by exploitation. “There has been a huge loss of mineral resources due to corruption,” he said. “With Youth Action International, we wanted to offer vocational training,” he said. “In the last few years, we changed to a technology focus. One of our goals is to get a computer into every school in Liberia. We need to train the leaders of tomorrow so that we can fix problems from the inside out.”
After Weeks’ visit, Kim reflected, “Kimmie's ability to tell his mission as a compelling story creates an instant connection with students. Afterward, my students were asking many questions about his organization and what the situation is in Liberia. We were able to investigate a number of economic topics and concepts related to development and foreign aid in a more meaningful way because they felt a deep connection to Kimmie.”
At an all-school meeting in Memorial Chapel, Weeks took part in a moderated discussion about citizenship and leadership with Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, a historically black school in Dallas.
“Whatever road you take, always be aware that you have the ability not only to create wealth for yourself –– you also have the ability to make a difference in the lives of people in the poorest countries, and it doesn't take a lot,” Weeks said. “Each of you has the capacity to affect change.”
The uplifting, hour-long discussion focused on the moral groundings that guide Weeks’ and Sorrell’s leadership and sense of citizenship. “One thing I appreciated from an early age is that my parents instilled in me the idea of integrity — that your name is the one thing that lives with you,” Weeks said.
Sorell emphasized the ways in which activism was central to this life. “Love something bigger than yourself … and stand up for it,” he advised students.
“I had a great time talking with Kimmie,” Hanson said after Weeks’ visit to the NMH farm. ”The first thing he told me was that when he was a student, the last place he wanted to be was on the farm.” Weeks explained that a relatively new component of his advocacy work is focused on offering his community control of its own food system.
On his second day on campus, Weeks visited a foreign policy class taught by Charlie Malcolm, where students have delved into the Biden administration's national security strategy agenda objectives and the critical importance of Africa in the 21st century.
“Kimmie explained the development challenges for states dependent on food and fuel imports that are hurt by national and local corruption,” Malcolm said. “He shared his firsthand accounts of working with the water administration of Liberia and the challenges facing African organizations working on economic development and regional peace and security.”
Since Weeks’ visit, “there isn't a day that goes by that the students do not connect the dots to what they learned from Kimmie,” Malcolm added.
Weeks also paid an afternoon visit to “Reading and Writing the Land,” an English course taught by Meg Eisenhauer as part of NMH’s interdisciplinary Farm Semester Program. He discussed with students how cash-crop farming has impacted Liberia’s economy and ecology over the years. He also highlighted how the farming project he oversees empowers Liberians. The initiative offers training in sustainable agricultural practices that will allow participants to grow their own food and to revive the land after years of depletion.
Weeks leveraged this discussion to again emphasize that each person has the capacity to bring about change. “Find ways to channel your passion into impact,” he offered. “We all have talents. You can donate time, you can share your expertise. Whatever it is, look for how you can be a blessing.”
Stevens, whose support makes the NMH Alumni Fellows Initiative possible, was excited by reports of Weeks’ visit. “I’m so pleased that the first alumni fellow was received with such enthusiasm on campus,” she said. “Many thanks to [Director of Alumni Engagement] Stacie Hagenbaugh and her team for the vision and flawless execution. Here's to many more fellow visits!”