Administrator Samantha Power at the USAID-Delaware State University MOU Signing Ceremony

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For Immediate Release

Monday, October 18, 2021

October 18, 2021
Delaware State University
Dover, Delaware

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  Good morning everybody, I could not be more excited to be here. I could not be more grateful to Stephanie for presiding over this incredibly important occasion.  Thank you Senator Coons, for your warm introduction and also for your presence here.  As one of USAID and Delaware State’s foremost supporters in Congress, I'm not surprised you're here. But I gather there’s some things going on in Washington, kind of some important negotiations and you're in the thick of, and so you being here is just what you do all the time--which is you vote with your feet. You show your values with your presence. And this has been such a priority for you, and again, your presence is just reflective of that.

You have been a lifelong champion of HBCUs in Congress, successfully working to grant them permanent federal funding. Helping make them more affordable and more accessible, and now fighting to make a generational investment in the facilities and infrastructure at schools like Delaware State. So they can continue to lead successful research partnerships like the one that we are ushering in here today.  Perhaps most impressively in today's climate, you have been able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to do all this. Fostering rare bipartisan agreement that America must address historic inequities in funding and opportunity for our nation's historically black colleges.

I'd also like to thank President Allen, Vice President Boyle, and the members of the Delaware State University Board of Trustees for the work that they did to make today's events a reality.  President Allen's leadership, in particular, has helped transform this institution into a top-flight center for learning and state-of-the-art research.  And yet, he still somehow finds time to plan for presidential inaugurations, to lead President Biden's HBCU initiative.  He also had one of the tougher jobs in Washington in the early part of his career. Do you all know what that was?  He was Joe Biden's speechwriter. And I am hereby applying one of the great life lessons that I learned a long time ago, which is always speak before the professional speechwriter, never after the professional speechwriter.  

Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I also want to thank Charisse Adamson, from USAID, who more than anyone at our agency made this partnership possible.  And it's a reminder of the good that a single individual can do when they believe in something and they are relentless, and they never give up.  Charisse is retiring at the end of this month.  But in her last great gift to USAID, she has helped us write a new chapter of partnership between USAID and this institution--one of this nation's premier universities.  

The father of the land grant universities, Senator Justin Smith Morrill, said he introduced the bill to establish these schools because he wanted to put every state upon a sure and perpetual foundation. A sure and perpetual foundation.  Prior to the Civil War, as you all know, education in the United States had been reserved for elites.  It trained wealthy white students in Latin and Greek.  But Morrill and President Lincoln saw a new dawn emerging. An era where America's prosperity would only be unlocked if the nation harnessed the potential of its agriculture and if the nation made education available for far more people. Universities needed to foster a new body of knowledge in technical disciplines, like agriculture and engineering.  And crucially, in Morrill words, they needed to be accessible to all, especially to the sons of toil, as he put it.  

It would take a bloody civil war and decades of legislative battling until the U.S. would fulfill that promise and create universities like this one, like Delaware State. Universities that were accessible to black students.  And it would take decades longer until women had equal access to technical studies.  But America’s land grant colleges and universities ultimately transformed this country into an economic powerhouse.  And it set our nation on a foundation of perpetual prosperity even as we obviously continue to grapple with our legacies of racism, gender discrimination, and inequality.  

Today, the world is at the dawn of another new age.  With the twin calamities that Senator Coons spoke about--COVID-19 and climate change--with those calamities devastating communities and shuttering economies all around the world, it could be an age of peril as tens of millions of people are being pushed into a state of extreme poverty and hunger.  

But it can also be a new age of promise, where fresh innovations and a new spirit of global cooperation, usher in that more equitable and prosperous future for the sons and daughters of toil all around the world.  

Just as President Biden is donating over 1 billion American made mRNA vaccines to countries around the world to try to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. We can harness the expertise of America’s land grant universities, to help smallholder farmers stave off climate change, feed their families, and boost their national economies.  

We know that growth in agriculture is up to four times more effective at reducing extreme poverty in low-income countries, including in any other sector. Four times more powerful.  It reduces inequality, it boosts the economic standing of women and girls, and it lowers food prices for everyone.What could be a better investment? But to deliver on that potential, the US government and USAID specifically have to do a better job tapping into the brilliance of American research institutions, especially our nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  

Truthfully--and Senator Coons and now President Allen know, that I am nothing if not truthful and blunt-- but when it comes to engaging our nation's HBCUs, USAID has fallen short.  A 2020 study we commissioned to look at how USAID and HBCUs interacted showed that we have distressingly little knowledge about the structure, capacity, and research expertise that HBCUs have to offer.  

Worse, when we commissioned the study, we weren't even trying to remedy that lack of familiarity.  We weren't reaching out to historic Black schools.  And as a result, students and faculty at these institutions had limited-to-no knowledge of USAID and our mission to build a free, more peaceful, more prosperous world.  

And I can tell you like Senator Coons, I went to a public high school in Atlanta, Georgia. Never heard of USAID, would not have heard of USAID, none of my classmates, no matter their backgrounds, would’ve ever heard of USAID.  If we are going to go to places that have not been accessed traditionally, we're going to have to bring intentionality to that. We're going to have to work at it--and that comes, especially, to recruiting a more diverse workforce.  

So, students and faculty up to this point, really haven't been joining our ranks. Haven't been competing for our grants, or sharing their--your--expertise, not because you might have been unwilling, but because we did not extend our hand to you.  

Our logo at USAID is actually a handshake. One hand embracing another meant to represent our nation's embrace of those in need around the world.  That same gesture is conveyed in USAID's motto, which is “from the American people.”  That's what we brand, what we provide in the realm of food aid or seed imports around the world from the American people.  But unless we commit ourselves to tapping into the wisdom and intellect, and the generosity of spirit of all the American people, we're not going to live up to our mission.  That's clear.  

Today's MOU between Delaware State and USAID represents an important first step in changing our approach to partnership.  As part of this agreement, we are committing to hosting important conversations with Delaware State on topics of mutual interest, like climate change adaptation, fighting malnutrition, and strengthening water security.  We also pledged to reach out to DSUs faculty and staff to promote the fellowship opportunities we offer for both professors and students.  

We are hoping to boost recruitment. And to boost recruitment at this campus, to start off, we're going to work together to shape two separate courses on international development so that students here can gain broader exposure to the technical challenges that still plague our world.  And I don't know, Senator, if I'm overstepping, but I think you and I would be happy to be guest speakers maybe at such inaugural courses should they be interested after today.  

Now, Delaware State University, I want to be really clear about this. You don't need USAID’s help to make a difference on the global stage.  You already have dozens of international partnerships with global institutions. Your Center for Global Africa, is harnessing the expertise of the African diaspora to benefit African nations. You're already leading in areas of research like water quality, and microbiology, two of the labs that I'm going to visit today. And you're already developing strains of drought-resistant staples like cassava.

Your students inherently understand that if we fail to address threats like COVID-19 and climate change abroad, their devastating effects will continue to fall disproportionately on communities of color here in the United States. And that as the strongest, most successful nation in the world, your folks already know that America has a responsibility to fight inequality and injustice abroad at the same time we fight inequality and injustice right here at home.  After all, it was America's universities, Delaware State among them, that helped awaken our conscience to the horrors of apartheid, the need for global debt relief, and the importance of fighting HIV AIDS abroad.  

That tradition is already well embedded here.  But even though you may not need our help, we need yours.  Your expertise, your cutting-edge research, your willingness to anchor our engagement with other historically black land grant universities. That is going to strengthen the good that USAID, and the United States as a whole, does out there in the world.  And it helps usher in this new age of promise.  So, in closing, I just want to thank you, Delaware State University, for embracing our extended hand.  And with that, let me turn it back to somebody who I hope has been convinced by my recruiting pitch. And might give us a look when it comes to deciding on her career path, Stephanie. And thank you so much for having me here today. 

Last updated: October 18, 2021

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