The Freedom and Learning Forum at George Mason University allows for the campus community to engage in an interactive dialogue series with the University President and extraordinary thought leaders from around the world. The program emphasizes that freedom and learning are mutually interdependent and that one cannot happen without the other. Participants will have an opportunity to hear personal leadership stories and life experiences from our guest leaders. The forum also allows for community dialogue across difficult topics and increasing understanding across difference.
Previous Freedom and Learning Forum Topics and Guest Leaders
A Conversation Around the Power of Symbols, Statues, and Race in 21st Century America
In collaboration with Virginians for Reconciliation, three influential leaders in the Commonwealth of Virginia will discuss the past, present, and future role that historical symbols play as Virginia attempts to engage with its history, address the wounds of racism, and construct an accurate narrative of its past.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a New York Times Notable Book; and Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. Ms. Adichie is also the author of the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck.
Ms. Adichie has been invited to speak around the world. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has a started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.
Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Ms. Adichie divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Dr. Gail Christopher
Dr. Gail C. Christopher is an award winning social change agent and former Senior Advisor and Vice President of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), one of the world’s largest philanthropies.
She is the visionary for and architect of the WKKF led Truth Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) effort for America. TRHT is an adaptation of the globally recognized Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) model. TRHT evolved from the decade long WKKF America Healing, racial equity and racial healing initiative, designed and led by Dr. Christopher. Over the last ten years she has had responsibility for several other areas of foundation programming. These include, Food, Health and Well-Being, Leadership, Public Policy, Community Engagement and place-based funding in New Orleans and New Mexico.
In August of 2017, Dr. Christopher left her leadership position with WKKF to launch the Maryland based Ntianu Center for Healing and Nature; and to devote more time to writing and speaking on issues of health, racial healing and human capacity for caring. She is currently Chair of the Board of the Trust for America’s Health and a Fellow of The National Academy of Public Administration.
A former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Cameron Kasky couples lessons from the classroom with real world experiences in civics, politics and media. The tragic Parkland shooting changed the trajectory of Cameron’s life from talented student to nationally-recognized activist. His hopeful response in the face of national tragedy has made him a voice for his generation, issuing a wakeup call to those in positions of authority. It catapulted him onto the national political stage, where he speaks to all who will listen about the mechanisms of change and the tools of social justice.
Topping Fast Company’s list of the 100 Most Creative People for 2018, Kasky has appeared across multiple media outlets, including CNN, Fox News, The New Yorker, and TIME Magazine, where he and several other MSD students appeared on the March 2018 cover as part of a story entitled “The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough.” He also submitted an Op-Ed for CNN, describing the events of the massacre and his reaction to it.
On February 14, 2018, the lives of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were forever changed when a lone gunman committed the deadliest high school shooting in United States history, killing 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 more. In the wake of the tragedy, Cameron Kasky and his fellow classmates recognized that they would not be the last Americans to have the worlds shattered, and that the gun violence epidemic was an issue of national safety. From that day forward, Kasky and other MSD students have implored legislators and citizens alike to answer the call to protect our nation’s children. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, he bluntly stated that “my generation won’t stand for this.”
In the days following the shooting, Kasky and several of the other survivors founded the #NeverAgain gun-control movement. They subsequently organized March For Our Lives, which would become one of the largest public demonstrations in American history with over 1 million people filling the streets of Washington, D.C. He and his cadre of classmates have traveled to over 70 cities in more than 20 states around the country on the “Road to Change” tour to advocate for gun control and promote youth engagement in political activism. Kasky has made regular appearances across several media outlets, using his social media channels to keep the issue of gun control in the national conversation and share the life of a young American activist standing tall in the face of fear.
Jose Antonio Vargas
Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and a leading voice for the human rights of immigrants. He is the founder and chief executive officer of Define American, the nation’s leading nonprofit media organization that fights injustice and anti-immigrant hate through the power of storytelling. He is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, to be published by HarperCollins in fall 2018.
In 2011, the New York Times Magazine published groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine worldwide with fellow undocumented immigrants in a follow-up cover story. He then produced and directed Documented, a documentary feature film on his undocumented experience. Broadcasted on CNN and streamed on Netflix, the film received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. In 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically changing America.
Among accolades he has received are: The Salem Award from the Salem Award Foundation, which draws upon the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; The Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA; and honorary degrees from Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Passionate about the role of the arts in society and promoting equity in education, Vargas is a member of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee, and serves on the advisory board of TheDream.Us, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students.
A product of the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a proud graduate of San Francisco State University (’04), where he was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012, and Mountain View High School (’00).
H.E. The Ambassador of Spain, Ramón Gil-Casares
H.E. The Ambassador of Spain, Ramón Gil-Casares was born in Madrid on October 26th, 1953. He entered the Foreign Service in May 1982. Between 1982 and 1996 he worked in the Spanish Embassies of Equatorial Guinea and Uruguay, and in Spanish Consulates in Manila and New York, as well as in the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation in Madrid. In May 1996, following José María Aznar’s election, he was appointed Director of the Department for International Affairs and Defense of the President’s Office. He held this position until July 2002, when he became the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs until 2004.
From September 2004 to March 2005 he worked at the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC. From September 2005 until October 2008 he was the Ambassador of Spain to South Africa, with multiple accreditation in the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republics of Mauritius and Madagascar. Between October 2008 and April 2011, he worked as Ambassador at Large at the Directorate General of Foreign Policy for Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid. From May 2011 to April 2012 he was the Ambassador of Spain to Sudan. As of April 13th, 2012 he has been appointed Ambassador of Spain to the United States of America. He has a degree in Philosophy and in Law and a Diploma in International Studies from the Diplomatic School of Madrid. He is a Second Lieutenant of the Infantry.
José Andrés, minibar by josé andrés
Named as one of Time’s “100” Most Influential People and awarded “Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation, José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup as well as minibar by josé andrés. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of 21 restaurants, located throughout the country in Washington, DC, Miami, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He is a committed advocate of food and hunger issues and is known for championing the role of chefs in the national debate on food policy. In 2012, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. Andrés also serves as Culinary Ambassador for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Andrés’ work has earned him awards and distinctions such as Outstanding American by Choice, awarded by President Barack Obama and the Refugees International McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award. In 2015, he was named EY Master Entrepreneur of the Year in Greater Washington for his leadership and impact on the global business community, and also became a Presidential Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization to help increase awareness regarding the contributions of new Americans.
Yoani Sánchez — Executive Director, 14ymedio
Yoani Sánchez is an acclaimed Cuban blogger, journalist and founder of 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent daily digital news outlet. She is currently the Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
A University of Havana graduate in Philology, she emigrated to Switzerland in 2002 to build a new life for herself and her family. Two years later, she returned to Havana, promising herself to live there as a free person. In 2007, she began Generation Y, her personal blog about daily life in Cuba. She has been arrested and detained by the Cuban government for starting her activities.
In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama wrote that her blog “provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba” and applauded her efforts to “empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology.” TIME magazine listed her as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People, stating that “under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech.” Foreign Policy magazine has named her one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers.
In May of 2014, Sánchez combined her passion for journalism and digital media to launch14ymedio, Cuba first independent daily digital news outlet. It serves as a fresh voice in the island, with exclusive national news, highlighting not only political and economic developments but also social and cultural activities.
She has received much international recognition for her work, including the Ortega y Gasset Prize, Spain’s highest award for digital journalism; the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University; the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute; and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands.
Rosemary Trible, President and Founder of Fear 2 Freedom
Rosemary Trible is the President and Founder of Fear 2 Freedom. Rosemary’s compassion to help others move from victim to victory led her to write the book Fear to Freedom in which she shares her own healing journey after being raped at gunpoint in 1975. Rosemary has dedicated her life to walking alongside those wounded by abuse and helping others find joy. Her husband, former U.S. Senator, Paul Trible Jr. currently serves as the President of Christopher Newport University. Rosemary, originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, has been married to Paul since 1971. They have two children, Mary Katherine, who is married to Dr. Barrett W. R. Peters, a pediatric dentist; and Paul III, who is the co-founder and CEO of Ledbury, a men’s shirt-making company. One of her greatest joys is being a grandmother of two.
Rangina Hamidi, Founder of Kandahar Treasure
Demonstrating Strength in the Face of Early Adversity: Kandahar Treasure’s founder, Rangina Hamidi, escaped her native Afghanistan in 1981, at the age of three, during the Soviet occupation. She moved first to Pakistan and then, in 1988, to the United States. Settling with her family in Virginia, Rangina earned a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies and Gender Studies from the University of Virginia and worked for the Institute for International Public Policy, an affiliate of the United Negro College Fund. Committed to Her Homeland: Rangina returned to Kandahar, in 2003. With a personal commitment to help lead change in Afghanistan she assumed the leadership of the Women’s Income Generation (WIG) Project for Afghans for Civil Society (ACS), a development organization dedicated to the social development of Southern Afghanistan. Transforming the income generation project of ACS into a viable business has brought sustainability to the women’s work and now serves as a successful model of sustainable work in a developing nation. Rangina’s work and experience has enabled her to serve as a voice for Afghan women in international platforms.