Leonora Souza Paula, Assistant Professor in MSU’s Department of English and affiliated faculty in the Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities Program, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Center for Gender in Global Context was invited to participate in the most recent meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
One of the missions of the forum is to advise the United Nations Human Rights Council on Global Reparatory Justice for African Diasporic Peoples. This advocacy work as well as the academic trajectory of Dr. Paula prompted her to organize and lead a meeting with the Minister of Racial Equality of Brazil that was successful in building a partnership.
Paula is one of the leaders of the Kilomba Collective, which was founded in 2019 as the first collective of Black Brazilian Women in the United States. This feminist organization is dedicated to centering and empowering Black Brazilian women by engaging in advocacy, education, community action, and national and international collaboration on issues around social justice, gender equity, and immigrant rights. The Kilomba Collective draws attention to “the inadmissible scenes of erasure” that constitute anti-Black racism across multiple borders.
“I joined Kilomba not only because of my background in community organizing but also because my work as a researcher and educator is dedicated to exploring possibilities for equity and justice,” Paula said. “It is about centering and uplifting the voices of Black Brazilian women and cultural producers, as well as communities and organizations, not only in Brazilian society but also in the diaspora.”
“I joined Kilomba not only because of my background in community organizing, but also because my work as a researcher and educator is dedicated to exploring possibilities for equality and justice.”
Brazil is home to the largest African diaspora population in the world and Black Brazilian organizations represented the largest civil society delegation at the United Nations Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, with the Kilomba Collective earning recognition as an important partner.
The week before the forum, Paula introduced the Kilomba Collective and its mission to the Ministry of Racial Equality of Brazil in a virtual public hearing. Impressed by their work, the Ministry invited Paula and other Kilomba Collective leaders to an in-person meeting with the Minister of Racial Equality, Anielle Franco, in which Kilomba advocated for the rights of Black Brazilian immigrants, as well as for direct support from the Brazilian State. That encounter, which took place at the Consulate General of Brazil in New York, was an unprecedented meeting between a state representative of Brazil in the United States and the organized community of Black Brazilian immigrants.
During this meeting, the Kilomba Collective advocated for the Brazilian government to launch a number of new initiatives through the embassy and consulates. Paula explained that Kilomba members’ experiences as Black Brazilian women immigrants to the United States “deeply resonated with Minister Franco, because she had experience living as a Black Brazilian international student in the United States.”
As a result of the meeting with Minister Franco, the Consul General of Brazil agreed to hold regular advisory meetings with the Kilomba Collective; provide financial and operational support for a Kilomba-led annual symposium, “Brazilian Black Consciousness Abroad”; co-create a calendar of cultural events featuring Afro-Brazilian artists; and implement Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice training for all consular staff. Following the success of this new partnership with the Brazilian Consulate, the Kilomba Collective also has been invited to an in-person private meeting with the Brazilian Minister of Culture, Margareth Menezes.
“My work advances the public purposes of higher education with regards to diversifying knowledge production, implementing collaborative research and action, and reimagining impact.”
As an educator, researcher, and social impact strategist, Paula has over a decade of experience in anti-racist education, program design, community engagement, and transnational collaboration. She also has worked with several nonprofit organizations and educational institutions in the United States, Latin America, and Africa, developing strategies to build international coalitions around racial and gender justice.
At MSU, she co-founded the Sister Circle Mentoring Program, an initiative that is designed to enhance the educational and professional experience of young women of color leaders in the United States. This initiative supports students’ academic, social, and professional needs by fostering peer relationships, mentorships, and community building.
Paula also has provided intellectual leadership for collaborative programming with MSU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies on racial equity issues across the African diaspora to foster critical comparative reflection about the experiences of African Americans and Afro-Latin Americans through research, teaching, and co-curricular events.
With more than 10 years of experience in higher education, Paula’s research focuses on contemporary Afro-Brazilian and Afro-Diasporic literature and culture, urban memory, and cultural heritage preservation. Her current scholarship examines the role of Black spatial imagination in the process of claiming material culture as a form of heritage recovery and epistemic reparation.
“My work advances the public purposes of higher education with regards to diversifying knowledge production, implementing collaborative research and action, and reimagining impact,” Paula said. “This commitment to build connections across local and global contexts through collaborative partnerships that are innovative and transformative is central to MSU’s land-grant mission.”