Adam Torres and Cordell Carter discuss Festival of the Diaspora.
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Festival of the Diaspora is a global convener of talent, ideas and solutions. In this episode, Adam Torres and Cordell Carter, Founder of Festival of the Diaspora and Founding Executive Director of The Aspen Institute Project on Belonging, explore the evolution of Festival of the Diaspora and what its community can expect.
About Cordell Carter
Cordell is the Executive Director for the Aspen Institute Socrates Program leading a global education forum for leaders learning from leaders, Founding Director of the Aspen Institute Project on Belonging which equips leaders to create a society where everyone belongs and enjoys equitable opportunities to thrive and Founder of the Festival of the Diaspora, which curates annual convenings of leaders across the Americas and Eastern Europe. Cordell serves on the Board of Directors of Concordia; and the advisory boards of SkillStorm, for whom he chairs their UpSkill Together Initiative, EVPassport, a manufacturer of EV charging devices, Fvlcrum Fund, a private equity fund focused on scaling Black & Brown-led SMEs and Tulsa Innovation Labs. In June 2021, President Joseph Biden appointed him as Commissioner to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
About The Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.
The Aspen Institute does this in many ways:
- CONFERENCES & EVENTS that invite the public to engage with experts and each other
- PROGRAMS that drive change on global and domestic challenges
- LEADERSHIP PROGRAMS that build networks of values-based leaders that drive action in their communities and businesses
- YOUTH LEADERSHIP PROGRAMS that foster civic engagement and active citizenship among young leaders
- SEMINARS in which experts and leaders reflect, connect, and share ideas
- INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS in 11 nations that address global challenges and develop civil society
- MEDIA RESOURCES that promote innovative thinking and solutions
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres and if you’d like to be a part of our community, just head on over to missionmatters. com and click on community to apply. Alright, so today is a very special episode. I’m bringing Cordell Carter onto the line. He is founder of Festival of the Diaspora and founding executive director of the Aspen Institute Project on Belonging.
Cordell? Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. All right, Cordell. So I’m excited to learn more about Festival of the Diaspora and maybe just to get us kicked off here, we’ll start this episode the way that we start them all with what we like to call our Mission Matters Minute.
So, Cordell, we at Mission Matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Cordell, what mission matters to you? This broader mission of ensuring that our great country is a land where everyone belongs and everyone should enjoy equitable opportunities to thrive.
That is the umbrella that all of my work and efforts find shade under. It’s great. Love bringing mission based executives and entrepreneurs on the line to really share why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and what we can all learn from that so that we can all grow together. So for those that newer to the platform, that’s the aim of Mission Matters is we really want to all grow together.
So great having you on the show Cordell. And I guess just to get us kicked off I mean, big mission, broad mission important, like how’d you get started on this journey? You know, I’m the son of of ministers. And so this notion of service has just been part of my cultural DNA just from the very beginning.
It was very, very rare to have a Sunday meal at the home without guests. As a kid, and so if you would see me at Thanksgiving or major U. S. holidays now, you’re not surprised that I always have straight table because that’s just how I grew up. That’s my expectation. Family is who you make it as well as the folks that are blessed to being your gene pool.
And so I’m proud to say that I have a very, very wide, diverse family all over the world and people we consider near and dear just because of how I grew up. And so this work that that notion of, of. Service has permeated pretty much everything that I do at the Aspen Institute and the Festival Diaspora.
So folks that know me aren’t surprised. So let’s go let’s go further into Festival of the Diaspora. Like how did you as founder, how did you come up with the idea? Yeah, so this came to me as I was in this fierce debate in Puerto Rico right before COVID and fall of 2019 about a seminar I was leading called the American Value Seminar, and I get, I got into a deep conversation with some academics.
There happened to be academics at the University of Puerto Rico really focused on on colonization. And they were saying, you know, you can’t talk about American values in a form of colonies, like you, you, you can’t. And, you know, they were giving me various reasons, and we were going back and forth on good facts and bad facts, and I said, well, let’s bring the conversation up a bit.
What is it that we’re actually trying to solve? What’s the mission we’re trying to solve? What we’re trying to solve is Is, is, is ensuring that there’s enough joy with the pain that we know comes with just being a human. And I think, you know, when I was a kid and I was looking for something that was joyful, I would look forward to those summer tent revivals.
And we would do it right in front of the church in the parking lot and we’d give them a tent. So we’re little kids, we’re thinking this is like camping, you know? And camping with the adults. As we, you know, jumped around in these evangelical services, but they were very special moments for me. It was like, almost like a family reunion.
People come from far and wide. I said, we need a secular version of that for the hemisphere. So Americans from, from Argentina to Canada can come together and just connect across our 35 borders and our isms and our, and our cultural differences to, to celebrate. Our shared history and the other AI, which is ancestral intelligence.
And thirdly, to collaborate together. And so the festival was launched in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the same day that Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022, and we’ve been building a movement across Columbia, we now have offices in Medellin and our. The second festival was in Cartagena, and I just got back from Brazil last weekend where I was in Rio, because that’s where the third festival will be next February 22nd through 25th in Rio de Janeiro.
Wow. So tell us more about the festival and like what people can expect. Sure. So a mix of music, of ideas, of a very form of cultural expression. So you get the art combined with this notion of sustainability, you know, so no plastic bags allowed less Be really thoughtful about how we’re engaging in procurement activities.
There’s a focus on, on women run businesses and enterprises, knowing they don’t get as many opportunities of others in these countries. Pharrell Williams, Black Ambition is a sponsor. He sponsors a pitch competition just for women. And so we do that every year. The National Black Empowerment Council and Google are sponsoring a mayoral summit.
So we’re bringing together about 25 American mayors. With about 40 Brazilian mayors, and they’re going to do data driven policy case studies together for a couple days during the festival. And then right in the middle of the day, every day, there’s a wellness time where we are we’re being reflective.
We’re processing what we’ve heard in the previous three hours, because that’s a lot. It’s 45 minute panels. And film premieres and all of that happening all mixed in the first with, you know, with concerts and dance lessons. And we’re learning a lot really quickly about a particular country, but we’re really also thoughtful about that rest and mentally recharging.
And we do it again in the afternoon. And then we go out visit different places and visit a favela and think some innovation there where we’re going to some of the museums and learning more about Brazilian history. And then we’re ending our day, or I should say our event at the Merrill Palace the mayor of Rio, who is eager to welcome us to this beautiful historic building that used to be the British embassy way back when, and bring in Carnival.
to the palace two weeks after Cannavale ends. So it’s going to be a very exciting cultural event. Wow. And how do you decide? Like, tell me a little bit more about the themes and how you decide this. Because, and by the way, for everybody that’s listening to this, highly recommend checking out the website.
And we’ll have links to this in the in the show notes. So festivalofthediaspora. org. And you can see the different events that Cordell’s talking about. So I see the one in Puerto Rico was under community. The one in Columbia was under empowerment. And the one in Brazil, I believe the theme is metamorphosis.
How do you go about choosing these themes, so to speak? Yeah, we have a great volunteer group called Theme Leads um, the as well as Theme Leads that really care about a topic. And I’m particularly thinking of our AI folks. One is a VP at Google, the other is CEO of his tech firm that has a lot of Latin American talent engaged.
And so they’re coming with these compelling topics that Matter to them as leaders in that space. And we have literally 15 theme leads. And some of them, of course, we can’t have 15 different topics. Those will be be two weeks , you know, which I wouldn’t mind in Rio, don’t get me wrong. I know, I know. I, we wouldn’t mind, but hey, I get it.
Go ahead. a real job to get to. Right. But, we’ve asked them to combine their efforts and mix up the panels a bit so that we can get people some really compelling content, but more importantly, that we can have representatives. From the USA, from Brazil, from Colombia, from Uruguay, give multiple people opportunities to speak on their perspective on these particular issues.
And so, there’s gonna be a, a healthy mix of, of policy, of, of data, of entrepreneurship, of, And tech and society in general, and more importantly, what’s the best use case for these emerging technologies that so many of us are afraid of because we don’t understand. So let’s be inspired by these different use cases.
And all of that comes from this group of volunteers that all met in Puerto Rico and have been part of this movement since the jump. Wow. what keeps it going? What keeps the movement going? I’ve seen I mean, to be three years in on this is significant. Like, it’s significant. What keeps it going? I think what keeps it going is what happens actually at the festival.
It’s almost hard to describe. It’s quasi spiritual. I call it the Secular Tent Revival, just because that’s the language that I understand. Most people in the USA, especially the American South, would understand, but it really is that. I’ve never seen so many tiers at events like this. My W2 is with the Aspen Institute.
I’ve been, I’ve put on more than 200 convenings over the last seven years for Aspen, and none of them involves tiers. None of them, okay? But, but this event, and I think it has a lot to do with the setting, has a lot to do with the people. I mean, I believe everything is text, you know, like you have readings that are text, people are text, location is text, framework are text, and I think it’s the way we go about this, the intentional mixing of what I call this motley crew of people is what draws out that third eye type experience.
Where people are feeling so emotionally drawn to the convening. I suspect that’s the case. Yeah, I, I feel that too from your energy. That’s amazing. What, what is your what’s your vision going forward for this? And I know it’s a broad organization, so I’m not putting all that on your shoulders. I’m sure there’s many conversations that are happening or surrounding that.
But what’s the vision? Yeah, three things. One is talent, two is research, and third is the convening. So the convening is where we started, and that’s been fantastic. The learnings we’re getting from it just exemplify, or I should say amplify the need for, for more targeted research on these issues. And I’m talking about diasporic communities, like doing the survey.
We just won a grant with the U. S. Department of Education to actually build out curriculum around this notion of Sankofa Circles. Making sure folks understand the history of the Americas. Making sure that term is, is, is not confusing to people. I’m like, we are all Americans because we’re in this hemisphere.
Some of us are from the United States of America, some of us from Kansas, some from Paraguay, Ecuador, you name it. We’re just broadening our, our sense of connectedness. And then the third thing is talent. We’re meeting some amazing people. And There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be trying to solve our talent shortage and leveraging what we can do as a nonprofit that has connections to multiple accredited institutions of higher learning to solve two problems.
One is lack of diversity in the tech sector, and then lack of talent in tech sector. Well, I’m meeting the people that are talented and diverse. Let’s see what we can do to get them up to the USA. to help us out and frankly, through remittances alone fundamentally transform their communities back home.
I think it’s a win win for industry, for our economy, and for these families by just, frankly, staying the path we’re on, making sure we’re being intentional about these connections, and leveraging existing law and policies for greater benefit. So that’s the broad mission that I see for the festival going forward.
How do people get involved? Whether it’s from the corporate side, attending events. I mean, just like, I know there’s layers to that. How do people get involved? I would say attending is number one. I said, before you sponsor, just come, just come experience. Oh, taste and see. That this fruit is good, right?
Come experience and you’ll understand the magic and power of proximity. And then we can add a second layer, like consider sponsoring to be a co designer, be a limited partner with us in this enterprise, and help us think about our next steps and way of keeping our impact. We’re proud to, to to boast, you know, MasterCard, Meta, Google some companies that we don’t know, some high network individuals that really love what we’re doing.
They’re the ones that allow us. To to put these events on every single year and to expand our community of adherence. And so I would say, just come just come to the event. And that, that’s the sales pitch that we need to push. Just, just come and experience, come dance with me on the beach in Rio next February.
That’s what I think. That’s amazing. DM my mother, because my mother comes. Come, come dance with me and Mother Carter. Yes. Oh, that’s wonderful. So I gave the website. So the website for everybody listening festivalofthediaspora. org. How else can people follow us? you know I’m pretty public on LinkedIn.
On LinkedIn, it’s Cordell Carter II, Cordell Carter II, and on Instagram, Cordell underscore speaks do a fair amount of what I call spreading the civic gospel of belonging, and this work with the festival is, is directly connected to, it’s just a convening part of belonging, but there’s a little more technical work involved as well that I do as well with the Aspen Institute and other organizations around the country.
But I would say I am easily found. I, I’m not hard to find at all, Cordell Carter, the bold black dude trying to make the world a better place. Oh, that’s wonderful. And yeah, for everybody that’s listening, again, that’s Cordell Carter, it’s Cordell underscore speaks. I just went on Instagram and I typed in, I didn’t even put the underscore, I just put in Cordell speaks and I just hit follow.
I suggest everybody else listening do the same and speaking of our listeners. If this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging in an episode, we’re all about bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, visionaries, really, and having them share their mission, the reason behind their mission, why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and really what we can all learn from that to grow together.
So you just now heard today from Cordell of Festival of the Deaf. I’m looking at the website. Go check that out. I tend definitely. If this is the type of content that interests you or excites you, hit that subscribe button because we have many more mission based individuals coming on the line and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
Cordell really hate, just want to say thanks again for making some time for us over at mission matters and coming on the show. Thank you so much. Thank you, Adam. And best to you.