It was his interest in basketball that brought alumnus Melvin Foote to Western Colorado University. Little did he know that the connections made on campus would lead to a lifetime of service on a global stage.
Foote ’73 has spent almost 40 years as an advisor and proponent of African issues and has been called upon by several U.S. presidents for his expertise on critical issues in about 30 different countries. He spoke to Western Vice President of Enrollment & Student Success Abel Chávez, Ph.D., during a speaker series on Zoom called “Lunchtime Charla: From Western to the World.”
Charla is Spanish for “chat,” and during this lunchtime event, Foote described his humble beginnings at Western that led to a long career in Africa and Washington D.C.
Opportunities to Make a Difference
Foote, who was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, came to Western to play basketball. Coming from the Midwest, it was the mountains that kept him here.
While at Western he began to write a column for the Top o’ the World campus newspaper. Through his column “The Back of the Bus,” which focused upon Black issues in the 1970s, he met a friend who shared with him about the Peace Corps. Foote said it sounded like the perfect fit for him. He applied, was accepted and was assigned the country of Ethiopia.
“I didn’t even know where Ethiopia was,” said Foote. “Back then, there wasn’t Google. So, I went to the library and saw it was in Africa.”
Let’s Do This Together
And thus, the journey began. During his time overseas, he worked in 30 countries undergoing various challenges: civil war, famine and drought. With each experience, he grew to understand the challenges faced by the African countries and their people. He began to collaborate with various organizations bringing them under one tent of action.
“There are a lot of organizations that consult on Africa,” said Foote. “I put myself in the space of, ‘Let’s do this together,’ a constituency for Africa and building a base for Africa.”
By doing this, Foote founded and is the head of “Constituency For Africa,” a nonprofit organization that educates the United States public and influences policy regarding African nations.
The White House and the World
Foote, who lives a mile from the White House, is called upon by U.S. leaders regularly.
“You know I always wanted to help Black people. I always wanted to help my people,” he said. “But I wasn’t thinking about it globally…. But then I thought I should think globally, so when an opportunity came up to help Africa, I was open to it.”
With this world view, he still remembers his humble beginnings at Western at a time when the country struggled with its own unrest—protest over the Vietnam War and civil rights issues that dominated headlines in the 1960s and ’70s.
“[Western] didn’t have all the distractions that you have in the urban areas,” he said. “What I appreciated most about it is, it gave me time to think.”
Discover More Inspiring Speakers
“Lunchtime Charla: From Western to the World” continues in March and April: Thursday, March 25, will feature Miss Alyssa Magalong ’16, who has earned the title of Miss Colorado Earth. On Thursday, April 22, we’ll hear from Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Michael Bauer ’05, who has tried more than 70 crime cases.
Please join us on Zoom for these upcoming episodes.
Photo (above): Alumnus Melvin Foote (right) is seen with African leader Nelson Mandela.
Author Credit: Chris Rourke
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Melvin Foote