For Immediate Release

Office of Press Relations

Press Release

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everyone!

Thank you, Cory, for that introduction. For those of you who don’t know, Cory used to bring his talents to our speechwriting team before heading over to supercharge our legislative affairs work.

So, if my remarks today fall flat, it’s only because I don’t have Cory anymore to make me look good. 

In all seriousness, I want to thank everyone in BIG, our Blacks in Government employee resource group for hosting, not just this event, but for putting together such a thoughtful and resonant series of events for this year’s Black History Month. 

Personally, I feel incredibly privileged, because I’m speaking to you after having traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama on Monday, to usher in a new chapter of partnership with the university that has played such an outsized role in our nation’s History—both the triumphs, and the terrors. 

It’s relatively easy, at a place like Tuskegee, to feel the history around you—while there, I saw the graves of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, two titanic figures of American history—not African American history, but American history. But I also saw the site of the heinous Tuskegee experiment, one of our nation’s most unconscionable acts. 

As those familiar with the history of the experiment know, in an effort to study the effects of syphilis if left untreated, the U.S. Public Health Service enlisted hundreds of Black men in this study with promises of free meals and care, but never disclosed to them if in fact they had the disease—or provided them a cure if they did. 

The flyers used to recruit subjects for the experiment are chilling to read today: “Free Blood Test; Free Treatment. YOU MAY FEEL WELL AND STILL HAVE BAD BLOOD. COME… AND BRING ALL YOUR FAMILY.”

Rather than just having exhibits about this awful tale, the University has also turned the site into a Center of Excellence: the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare, which brings together health, religious, and legal scholars to close racial health gaps and break down the disparity in the provision of health care. 

Isn’t that so often the story of Black history in this country? Black people take the racism and cruelty dispensed toward them, and through ingenuity, will, and resilience beyond what anyone should ever have to summon, create something which betters our society, raises our moral sights, and shows America the best of what it could be. 

This story, of the trauma Black people have been made to bear and the quest to overcome it, physically and mentally, is at the heart of this year’s Black History Month theme, “Black Health and Wellness.” It also features throughout the program that Cory mentioned. 

Today’s event showcases two short films, one a fantastical narrative about breaking the curses of childhood trauma, another a documentary about a motorcycle delivery rider who races against time—and literally against traffic—to deliver lifesaving blood to a mother in childbirth. One will make you think deeply, the other will get your heart racing, and both will show you the power of Black cinema. 

Next week, Illinois’ Representative Lauren Underwood, with whom I had the pleasure of serving during the Obama Administration, is joining a panel focused on the Black maternal health crisis happening here in the U.S. For those unfamiliar with the data about Black maternal health: Today, Black women are two-to-three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as White women. This is obscene. In fact African American women have an average maternal mortality rate that is higher than women in countries with far lower GDP-per-capitas, countries where USAID works, like Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Egypt. 

RISE, the Respectful, Inclusive, and Safe Environments team in our front office, is hosting two sessions focused on the history of anti-Black racism in the United States, and how its legacy shows up in our political, legal, social, and cultural institutions. It would be wonderful if you could attend at least one of those sessions, the first of which is next week. 

Later in the month, our Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance is hosting their second career panel to highlight the experience of Black people in the humanitarian space, both the fulfilling nature of a career of the frontlines, and the obstacles and inequities that still remain. 

And finally, the month will end on an uplifting note, with a Black History Game Show, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our country. 

I want to thank the entire BIG team, as well as our colleagues in the Office of Civil Rights and Diversity and throughout the Agency who’ve helped put together this agenda of thoughtful programming. It’s an agenda that will benefit everyone in this Agency, and so I want to encourage, as Cory did, broad participation from our staff. 

You know, we often wait for moments like Black History Month to talk about race and systemic racism or celebrate the contributions of Black individuals, especially in the workplace. Given our country’s history, it can feel like an uncomfortable topic, one where most people who aren’t Black worry more about saying the wrong thing than saying anything at all. That in turn creates undue pressure on our Black colleagues, who are forced into a position to educate colleagues about the realities of the Black experience in the workplace and beyond.

But our country's historic struggle against racism is exactly why we should be talking about it all year, and not just in the context of diversity trainings and Black History Month events. We need to grapple with the impacts of systemic racism that still live with us every day, as well as see beyond it—to understand that Black excellence, Black joy and the remarkable contributions to our society by African Americans are as much a part of the Black experience and American history as the trauma of slavery or discrimination. 

This of course entails having more Black staff and Black leadership at our Agency—not because it is their burden to start that conversation, but because having an authentic conversation about anything requires diverse voices. And I’m pleased that we are bringing more diversity to our front office, but I want to reaffirm our commitment to do that across our Agency. 

But part of elevating the conversation requires all of us to find our voice on matters of race. To learn our shared history, contend with its legacy, and celebrate its highpoints. 

And we are very lucky to have such a committed group of USAID staff who are volunteering their time to help us do that. Let’s make sure we all do our part as well.

With that, I’d like to hand it off to one of them, BIG Board Member Temi Ifafore, to open our film screening. 

Thank you.

Black History Month
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