- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

Professor Charles Metze III decided last summer to leave his teaching job at Howard University to start a school in Africa, a dream realized that made him the first black American to run a university in West Africa.

Now back in the United States for six months of fund raising, Mr. Metze, 44, fondly recalls how he left his job teaching literature in the District, sold his possessions and moved his wife and 13-year-old son to Bamako, Mali with no job waiting for him there.

"Many people thought I was a fool, but this was my dream," Mr. Metze said.

After landing in Mali on Sept. 1, Mr. Metze began meeting with government officials to see about starting a school in Bamako, where he once taught as a Peace Corps volunteer.

His job search ended quickly once he came across a flier for the Jesse Jackson Institute of Bamako, a communications school preparing to open.

"The same day I left for Africa, they received permission to start the school," said Mr. Metze, who holds degrees in journalism and communications from Boston's Northeastern University.

"I saw that as a sign."

Mr. Metze approached the university's founder and was offered a position Oct. 8 as chancellor of the new school because of his previous experience in communications.

"I worked 18 hours a day in Africa from the time of my arrival until I returned to Washington this month," Mr. Metze said.

His dream has its roots in the Peace Corps, teaching English in Mali during the early 1980s. It was then that he met his future wife Anne, a fifth-generation resident of Mali.

The two married and returned to the United States, on the promise to her family that one day Mr. Metze would return to Africa to start a school.

As a literature professor at Howard, he was popular with students, earning the honor of faculty member of the year in 1998 and the 2000-2001 Professor of the Year Award from the Howard University Student Association.

His contract with Howard expired after seven years, though, a perfect time for him to return to Mali to pursue his dream, he said.

"I gave away everything I had before I left: clothes, car, VCRs, TV sets," Mr. Metze said. "Most of it went to my students."

In Mali, he exchanged the suits he wore as a professor for a grand bobo, a traditional garment worn by government officials and other administrators in Mali, he said.

The impact he has had on the lives of Malians made his sacrifices worthwhile,

he said.

"It's not 'all about the Benjamins' [one hundred dollar bills] as they say here," Mr. Metze said with a chuckle.

His fund-raising journey here was well-timed, as his son, Charles Metze III, became ill from the hot temperatures and needed to return to the United States, he said.

"Africa is one of the most difficult places in the world to live," Mr. Metze said.

With 90-degree heat in November, dangerous tropical diseases and a diet that consists mostly of vegetables and rice, his son was not prepared for the changes, Mr. Metze said.

The 2,000-student university, which opened Nov. 28, will offer courses in public relations, marketing and journalism, one of the only schools in all of West Africa to concentrate on communications, he said.

"I believe that the creation of the institut can only lead to positive developments in your society," wrote the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., the namesake of the university, to its founder Bakary Kante.

Malick Jallow, 22, a former student of Mr. Metze's at Howard, said many Africans leave their homes to study abroad as there are few good schools there.

Creating strong universities will allow Africans to stay home, learn and improve their communities, he said.

"He sets a good example," Mr. Jallow said of his former professor. "He is like a godsend there."

Mr. Metze now goes to businesses and churches talking about his experiences, recruiting teachers and trying to raise about $250,000 for the fledgling school.

"We have a chance of not simply talking about working to help the people of Africa, we can actually do something," he said.

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