Melat Nigussie believes that young people hold the power to shape a healthier, safer, and more democratic future for all, and that the arts provide effective tools for them to take on that task. When young people combine art and activism, she believes they tap into the energy and resolve that brings about profound social change. As a participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Melat travelled to the U.S. to meet like-minded activists and learn new skills to further expand her activism.
Having a “heart for writing and activism” is how Melat describes herself. These twin passions have led her to devote herself professional life to developing her craft and serving youth. She believes the arts empower them to bring about great social change. “Young people have always been at the forefront of political and societal change,” she explains. “Every big societal movement, be it ‘Black Lives Matter’’ in the United States, has had young people at the forefront.”
Melat’s work with the “Next Generation, Please!” project supports young people in combining arts and activism as she has. Whether the topic is climate change, democracy, inclusion, or intergenerational dialogue, participants create photography, performance, installation, and more to showcase ideas for a safer, healthier, and more inclusive world. “It’s time that we give young people a chance, that we listen to them, and that we actually learn from them instead of always placing value on experience and age over young people. So I hope the world pays attention a bit more.”
While writing can often be solitary work, Melat understands that activism cannot be. As a participant in the International Visitor’s Leadership Program (IVLP) through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Melat met new people and gained new experiences to serve her ongoing work.
She explains how her coast-to-coast tour of the United States “united people that are active in the cultural field.” Through those connections like-minded participants “learned a few good practices that we could take with us when we got back and implement those good practices here,” Melat explains.
Building connections between cultures inspires Melat and energizes her activism. During her IVLP tour of the United States, she met fellow activists from around the world who found much in common. Her Ethiopian heritage also inspires her to make these global connections with others. “I am a child of the diaspora, so we’re very displaced and dis-rooted,” Melat explains. “I call Belgium my home, but I feel at home in Ethiopia as well with my extended family.” Her activism carries with it a sense of loyalty that extends well beyond her own close circle of family and friends, to communities around the globe, and even to future generations.
Just as a writer may seek to reach wider audiences, an activist may seek to impact the lives of more and more people. Melat says, “I hope that the ‘Next Generation, Please!’ program gets implemented throughout Europe. That would be very exciting! And maybe in the United States as well. So we can still have that transatlantic connection going on.”“I hope the world pays attention a bit more.”