Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum
National Museum of African American History and Culture
DECEMBER 13, 2022
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Wow, it is wonderful to see this incredible auditorium full. I think hopefully you managed to get a little breakfast before this. But I’m here simply to say this: Welcome to the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum.
Your Excellencies, President Weah of Liberia is in the house. (Applause.) President Maada Bio of Sierra Leone in the house. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you both for traveling to Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. It means a great deal to have this time in person with you.
And I also saw in the house Greg Meeks, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Applause.) There may be some other members of Congress here as well. It’s wonderful to have you this morning.
So to everyone joining us this morning – members of the African diaspora, African and American youth leaders, students in the United States and Africa who are tuning in virtually – thank you for all that you do to strengthen the bonds between African countries and the United States.
Now, it is fitting that we are meeting here at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a national treasure. On its top floor – and I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to visit, but on the top floor of the museum there is an exhibit called “Cultural Expressions.” It explores, in part, the contributions of the African diaspora and how its members have shaped American culture and life – through fashion, the arts, dance, language, food, music.
Across the exhibit and museum, we see the unique culture in objects like a recipe book brought by Pierre Thiam, a great chef who brought the flavors of Senegal to New York City through his beloved Teranga restaurant. Or a flag of the United States whose colors have been replaced by the colors of the Pan African flag, titled “The African American Flag,” which has served as a symbol of African American and African pride in protest movements throughout our history.
As this museum shows, the United States continues to be enriched immeasurably by the African diaspora: from the piercing comedy of Trevor Noah, who we will miss on “The Daily Show” – (applause) – to the Alté of Tems, who I happen to have on my phone – (applause) – to the speed-skating of Maame Biney, who I don’t have on my phone – (laughter) – among so many others.
Often, we see members of the diaspora return to the countries to which they’re connected, and empower people there. This past August, I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I met with someone who may be familiar to some of you – a certain NBA Hall of Famer, Dikembe Mutombo, whose foundation has provided high-quality health care to more than 30,000 patients, regardless of their economic status. I can also say Dikembe is very, very tall – a wonderful, wonderful person.
The importance of the diaspora – to the past, to the present, to the future – of both African nations and the United States is why this is one of the very first events of the Africa Leaders Summit.
Earlier this year, in South Africa, I had an opportunity to set out the administration’s new strategy for sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a strategy rooted in one key word – partnership – and in recognition that we can’t solve any of our shared priorities unless we work together. And it’s a strategy that recognizes the immense role that the African diaspora and young people will play in shaping and strengthening that partnership. And in fact, that’s exactly what you’re already doing. Back in August I had a chance to meet with members of the diaspora and African American youth leaders right here in Washington to hear a little bit about some of the work that they were doing.
One young leader, who has mobilized climate finance to make the water sector more resilient in South Africa, is now sharing the lessons that she learned at a U.S. government agency. Another, fresh off her experience fighting infectious disease in Malawi, was sharing her insights with nonprofits and businesses in the United States. Others were expanding educational opportunities for children, conducting environmental research, creating job opportunities for youth in both African countries and the United States, and demonstrating exactly why the diaspora is such an unparalleled asset for people on both continents. It’s these interconnections, the back and forth, and the benefits that flow to African nations and the United States alike that is so incredibly powerful.
The United States is committed to ensuring that young people can continue to bring their talents and hard work to the benefit of people across the continent and to the benefit of people in the United States. We’ve got a number of programs that are doing just that – programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative – and through our economic development programs, like the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs program. Now, since its inception in 2019, that program has provided more than 5,400 women throughout Africa with the training and the networks that they need to start and to scale small businesses.
Over the next few days, we will be announcing additional investments to make it easier for students to participate in exchange programs between our countries, to increase trade opportunities for members of the African diaspora, and to support African entrepreneurs and small businesses. Each of these investments is guided by one overarching goal: to continue building our partnership so that we can better address the shared challenges we face. And ultimately, we can build a safer, more secure, more prosperous future for all of us.
And now I have the great pleasure and the honor of introducing his excellency President Weah of Liberia. Now, President Weah, I happen to have been in Qatar for the World Cup, and I didn’t get an opportunity to speak to you in detail then, but I wanted to thank you for all you’ve done to strengthen the bonds between Liberia and the United States – (applause) – including through your support of the Liberian diaspora. And thanks for all that you and your family have done to support that goal too, including, quite literally, by scoring a few goals. (Laughter.)
So I was there – first match between the United States and Wales, and I got to cheer your son, Timothy, scoring the first goal for the United States Men’s soccer team in the World Cup. (Applause.) But the best part of that was turning around and getting a quick look at your face as you watched your son score that goal, and I could see the extraordinary pride that was there and an entire stadium cheering him on. So I guess the apple just doesn’t fall too far from the tree in this case. Ladies and gentlemen, the president of Libera. Thank you very much.