I Heart Africa conference to attract area students

From Nov. 13-15, Geneseo will host I Heart Africa: The Conference, inviting students from 42 neighboring colleges and universities to unite for three days of panels, discussions and presentations on issues affecting Africa and its people.

The idea for the conference came from the Invisible Children club at Geneseo. Members of Invisible Children attended How It Ends, a conference in Washington, D.C. in June, which featured panels and speakers on the war in northern Uganda. After attending that conference, five students decided to organize a similar event here.

"We were inspired by what we had seen and heard, and by the people we had met," said junior Justine Porter, vice president of Invisible Children. "We wanted to bring that experience back to Geneseo."

Invisible Children initially hoped to host a conference as early as last fall, when the club proposed the organization of a conference on African issues for recognized organizations at the college. Although the idea never materialized, Invisible Children engineered two successful events last spring: Displace Me and The Rescue.

"[Those events] gave us the bond, trust and confidence as a group to pull together something on the scale of the I Heart Africa conference," Porter said.

Invisible Children has partnered with other organizations including The Ghana Project, International Relations Club, FACE AIDS, Amnesty International and the French Club to plan the event. Porter said it is "really impressive that Geneseo has so many clubs on campus devoted just to African issues."

The conference will begin on Nov. 13 with opening ceremonies and panels in the evening. Three or four panels will occur simultaneously, allowing attendees to listen to the panel of their choice. Panels will run until 5 p.m. on Saturday, after which there will be a movie screening and a scavenger hunt. On Sunday, there will be closing ceremonies and final discussions.

In addition to speakers and panels, the conference will feature student presentations running from 15 minutes to an hour on topics relating to Africa and African culture.

"Our intention is to create a laid-back setting for the conference," Porter said. For example, those attending the conference from other colleges will be housed with Geneseo students. "It will be an opportunity for everyone to build upon the knowledge they already have, to share what they know and to learn what others know and to make friends who share their interests."

"Everyone has a story to tell and everyone is fighting for something," said sophomore Nick LaGrassa, president of Invisible Children. "This will be an opportunity for everyone to share their passions."