Q&A: Novelist Renee Daniel Flagler Looks To Increase Literacy In Ghana
Renee Daniel Flagler may be a top -selling author, but she is also working to bring literacy to Ghana. And now Literacy, Empowerment and Action Project (L.E.A.P) has appointed her as the new Chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. L.E.A.P. works to expand educational opportunities and strengthen communities in Ghana and other developing nations where illiteracy is high. Launched in 2012, even world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni has gotten involved.
Flagler just released her latest novel entitled Still Raging. It is the sequel to her 2012 release of the successful book, Raging Blue.Then there’s the upcoming Society Wives, which has been optioned for film. And she is currently at work on her next novel, The Second Wives Club. She is also scheduled to release her first romance series in the fall of 2015 through Harlequin’s Kimani Romance imprint under the pseudonym Nicki Night.
But despite the demand of promoting her latest novel, L.E.A.P. is important to her. The mission of L.E.A.P. is to use innovative literacy, school improvement, and girls’ empowerment to expand educational opportunities and to strengthen communities in Ghana and other developing nations.
AFKInsider: How and why did you first get involved in L.E.A.P.?
Renee Daniel Flagler: The L.E.A.P mission began in the spring of 2012 when the co-founder, Kwame Alexander, an author and poet, took the first journey. He had been invited to visit by Konko Village’s newly appointed Queen Mother Nana Botwe Adobea II, a successful business woman from the States who is also known as Juanita “BusyBee” Britton. After seeing the needs of the children, Alexander returned home and carefully selected a few individuals to share his mission and desire to help empower the students and the community as a whole. As a fellow author, I had known Alexander for a few years and when he found out about the work that I was doing here in regards to mentoring youth, advocating for literacy and teaching writing, he asked me to join him on the next trip to Ghana. Six of us coordinated to raise funds and solicit donations of school supplies and headed to Ghana, West Africa in September of 2012. Our goal was to send a young woman named Lydia to high school, because her family was too poor to afford schooling on their own. Through our fundraising efforts, we were able to pay Lydia’s tuition and brought along school supplies and a few laptops for the school house. After working in the village for several days building bookshelves, doing “read alouds,” teaching poetry, and engaging the students in empowerment sessions, we realized that this couldn’t stop at just one visit. We couldn’t leave Lydia and those other children hanging. They needed our continued support. By the end of that trip we knew that there was so much more to do. L.E.A.P. started as a cause that became a mission and now a non-profit organization.
When the opportunity to become a part of that initial group was presented to me, I knew I had to go. The thought of impacting lives, serving and advocating for literacy and youth on a global level reeled me in. Once I met those children, looked in their eyes and held their hands, I knew that I had made the right decision. Over the past two years, I’ve been able to witness them grow in ways I had never imagined and now not only have we supported one girl’s high school education, but younger students are empowered by the same awesome possibilities and for the first time in their lives, they can see this happening for themselves.
AFKInsider: What will your new role entail?
Renee Daniel Flagler : As Board Chair, I am responsible for helping to steer the direction of the organization in effort to fulfill our mission and guide our strategic plans to impact literacy, empower young minds, and provide scholarships for students to attend high school.
AFKInsider: How does L.E.A.P. work?
Renee Daniel Flagler : L.E.A.P. raises funds to support our efforts in Konko village. We raise funds through online crowd funding sites, events, and our annual benefit. We are currently in the process of expanding our options to include recurring donations and corporate sponsorships. We also invite volunteers who join us each year to work in the village, participate in our programs and take part in excursions that allow them to experience Ghanaian culture on a deeper level.
AFKInsider: Why Ghana?
Renee Daniel Flagler : Ghana is where our journey began. However, our interest is to continue our work in Ghana as well as in other developing countries when and where we are led.
AFKInsider: Do you have to travel often to Ghana?
Renee Daniel Flagler: I travel to Ghana at least once a year. Alexander often makes additional trips to help execute our work on the ground along with the Queen Mother.
AFKInsider: Do you feel more Americans are interested in reaching out to Africa?
Renee Daniel Flagler: I do feel that more Americans are becoming interested in reaching out to Africa because we are no longer relying on just the images that the media presents to us. For example, Nikki Giovanni joined us for several days on our trip in 2013. Since then, she has given us her full support and returned this year with the support of Virginia Tech University, other professors and even students. She believed in the work that she saw us doing there and wanted to become a part of it. Because of all the support that she lends to the organization our scholarship fund has been renamed in her honor, The Nikki Giovanni LEAP Scholarship Fund. Also, she has been appointed as the Poet Laureate of the organization. There is a desire to make connections and close cultural gaps. We live in a global community where ‘borders’ are decreasing. And for those who want to attach themselves to causes where they can see a real impact, moving beyond their own backyard is another way to do that. You learn so much about yourself and the world in the process. It’s absolutely life-changing.
AFKInsider: What are the goals this year for L.E.A.P.?
Renee Daniel Flagler: We have several but I will share a few: To see our very first high school scholarship recipient graduate and pursue higher education; To see our twelve recent middle school graduates complete their first year of high school now that this opportunity has been afforded to them; To continue making progress on much-needed school building improvements; To introduce the world to L.E.A.P. and the important work we do in an effort to increase our level of support.
AFKInsider: Long term goals of the program?
Renee Daniel Flagler: To continue to provide high school scholarships to students which will result in empowering the village of Konko as a whole. Provide the necessary repairs and school building improvements to ensure a successful and safe learning environment for the students. Empower the teachers through professional development and increase literacy.
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