ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I could not be happier to be back here in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm really grateful to President Thomas, to Provost Brown, to the students, and faculty here at Morehouse, for being a part of this incredible day, this incredible partnership. Which I hope people will look back on, and recognize as an inflection point in the kind of collaboration that we do, and indeed, an inflection point for some of the students who are here today. I'm here to announce our new partnership with the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership. This is a partnership that is going to expose students here to work that promotes global peace, promotes democracy and governance, empowers women, and tackles the most important generational challenge that Morehouse students face, which is the climate crisis. Which touches on so much else that matters to your students and to your faculty, exacerbating poverty, endangering health, bringing about new diseases.
There is so much to be done on climate change, and this is a campus where there is such talent, and capacity for innovation, and impacts, that we could not be more excited to work together. The partnership that we are initiating today, in some respects, is made possible by the continued efforts and support of the Center's Executive Director, Dr. Jann Adams, as well as Dr. Levar Smith, who helped shape the memorandum of understanding that we are signing today, so a huge thanks to both of you.
I must also thank the USAID team who helped make this partnership real - Ryan McCannell, Jennifer Hawkins, Alexious Butler, Kathy Body, and Julie Southfield. I also want to welcome State Representative Dexter Sharper, who has long served his fellow residents of Valdosta, Georgia. And finally, I want to acknowledge a few Morehouse alums with ties to our Agency, USAID. First, Julius Coles, who is with us today, class of 1964, whose 30 years in the Foreign Service took him across half-a-dozen posts in Africa and Asia. And Nicholas Bassey, class of 1997, who dedicated most of his career to expanding diversity in foreign policy and development work, from the Institute for International Public Policy to the Peace Corps, and then to the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID.
That mission is at the core of why I’m here today. Diversity and inclusion aren’t luxuries. They are critical to the success of any aspect of public policy, including American foreign policy, and they are certainly critical to the success of USAID’s programming, and our pursuit of improvements in human welfare around the world. But I gotta be frank, I’m a frank kind of person, we have not done enough to seek out diverse sources of talent at USAID, we just haven’t. We have posted job listings with great enthusiasm, or attended career fairs at places like Georgetown or Yale, or even Emory University. But we’ve only recently started recruiting aggressively and engaging faculty in a much more intentional way at minority-serving institutions like Morehouse and Spelman. And we’re now providing opportunities like internships, mentorships, and research grants for people like Rollin, who’ve got the goods, and we just want to nurture that talent and make sure that those exposures come early and often, and that mentorship is made available and careers in international development open up.
So, we are changing the way business as usual has been done. In the last year alone, thanks to the efforts of the team that I had mentioned a minute ago, we’ve signed partnership agreements with Tuskegee, with Delaware State, with Alcorn State, and with Florida International University.
And today, I could not be more privileged to join you here at Morehouse, in a city so close to my heart, celebrating a new partnership with a Center named after a personal hero of mine.
As Rollin mentioned, I spent my formative years here in Atlanta, where I attended Lakeside High School. My first day at school coincided with the early years of DeKalb County’s new busing system – a culmination of a lengthy effort to integrate the county’s schools, that maybe some of you here were involved in. That first morning, my first day of high school in 1983, I arrived as hundreds of Black students disembarked from yellow school buses and walked into the school, heckled by angry White parents who had fought against the integration in school board meetings and in courtrooms. But the Black students and their families prevailed, and my graduating class – the Lakeside Vikings Class of 1988 – would become the first where Black students outnumbered White.
When I served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, I marveled at the fact that I – this Lakeside High School grad – was occupying a role once filled by Andrew Young, who in addition to being a civil rights legend and my hometown mayor, also had pioneered, really, in many ways, the idea of a foreign policy rooted in the protection and promotion of human rights. A principle that showed day-in, day-out in his advocacy on behalf of the marginalized and the oppressed around the world.
Of course, Ambassador Young comes from an institution with a long, storied history in promoting social justice. I find it immensely moving to think of Morehouse’s first classes meeting in a church basement back in 1867 – freed slaves, defying expectation and threat, to gain an education that White Americans didn’t believe they deserved. I also feel privileged to address the newest generation of Morehouse Men, driven men of conscience who, no matter their careers, are committed to creating a more just world.
Perhaps no one illustrated this path better than Morehouse’s most famous son, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though we rightly credit him and celebrate him for creating a more just America – if an insufficiently just America, we recognize – Dr. King’s vision of justice was global. In a lecture delivered after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, he decried the evil of poverty that plagued the modern world, and noted that in their struggle for freedom, Black Americans joined marginalized peoples across Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean – all moving, as he described it, “with a sense of great urgency towards the promised land of racial justice.”
Dr. King’s message resonates today. Because today’s Morehouse Men inherit a country whose destiny is literally inseparable from that of the world. A world where borders are porous to pandemics, a world where one man’s needless war in a distant land can lead to spiraling food and fuel costs right here in Atlanta, Georgia.
And we at USAID want to do all we can so that today’s students have a path to join the fight for global justice. In the coming years, USAID is going to work with the Andrew Young Center to expand access for students and graduates to careers in international development and foreign policy. We are going to organize guest lectures and speaker series, sponsor capstone research projects, and organize on-campus information sessions, where USAID employees can share their career experience with the Morehouse community. We are going to expand access to internships, fellowships, jobs, and faculty exchange programs. And we are going to create those mentoring opportunities between Morehouse students and USAID employees.
The partnership is going to be coordinated by USAID’s Bureau of Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, our brightest minds on preventing conflict and promoting peace. Core to those efforts are the promotion of human rights and the pursuit of nonviolent social change, as well as the fight for climate justice – which increasingly, and alarmingly, is a key driver of conflict around the world.
And let me just take a moment before wrapping up here to say a slightly more detailed word about the fight for climate justice. For too long, Black communities have borne the brunt of pollution and environmental damage, including right here in Atlanta. As you all know, where a recent study showed that the neighborhoods surrounding Georgia’s most hazardous waste sites are far more likely to be Black.
But, they have also long led the charge against environmental injustice. Here on this campus, a new generation of Morehouse Men is tackling the climate crisis with all the seriousness it deserves. These are students working to raise campus awareness of environmental issues and sustainability through clubs like Morehouse MoreGreen, or joining a global network of Black sustainability practitioners through Black Sustainability, Inc.
You are probably aware that something analogous to the injustices affecting Black and Brown communities in America, something analogous to that is happening globally. Those who’ve committed the least to climate change—the global poor— pay the heaviest price. It is Pacific Island nations who have to worry about their land literally disappearing into the sea. There are countries right now thinking, how are we going to move our entire population out of the country that generations, 1000s of years of people have lived in, how are we going to move every last soul because our island is disappearing underwater? Those countries have almost nothing to do with emissions, tiny countries, underdeveloped countries. It is farmers in East Africa who have to endure unprecedented climate-induced droughts and potential famine. It is families in Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, who are forced to flee catastrophic flooding, whose homes and farms are just not built to withstand torrents of water. It is Indigenous communities, Brown communities, and yes, Black communities, who pay the price. And therefore, the fight for environmental justice has to be a global effort.
While it hasn’t always been the case, the United States has taken important strides to tackle the climate crisis. As you know in August, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is going to invest $369 billion in addressing the climate crisis – the single largest climate investment in American history that is going to help us achieve a 40 percent cut in climate emissions by 2030.
But climate change – again, it’s just a great example of how connected we all are now, climate change cannot be curbed by U.S. cuts to emissions alone. And that’s why USAID is actively engaged around the world, reducing other country’s dependence on fossil fuels. We’re helping countries from India to Colombia install solar panels, modernize power grids, and access cutting-edge research and innovation in renewable energy. We’re working with governments to pass laws to bring about a just energy transition, so it’s not just working people who pay the price of that transition to a cleaner form of energy. In Southeast Asia alone, in the past five years, we’ve helped prevent the release of 93 million tons of CO2 – the equivalent of pulling every car off the road in Australia. These are the kind of opportunities that exist for you to make a difference in the world, a difference that will have bearing here, in the communities you've come from, at home.
In order to advance their economic development, and cognizant of our responsibility for such a large share of global emissions, we’re also helping those communities most impacted by climate change adapt and build resilience. In the Amazon and the Congo Basin rainforest, we’re working with governments so that local communities actually retain control over land that they’ve inhabited for generations, but that often others dictate what happens on that land. And this, it turns out, giving them that control, giving them those land rights, has proven one of the best ways to fight deforestation and pull carbon out of the atmosphere.
And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the mining of cobalt and lithium is critical to our planet’s green energy transition, we are working with the government to implement and enforce legal protections for environmental and human rights advocates, to counter human rights abuses and corruption, and to connect small-scale miners directly with buyers so that local communities, not just big foreign companies, benefit from the energy transition.
So, whether you’re fighting the climate crisis or helping build peace in the world’s most conflict-ridden regions, at USAID, you Morehouse Men can apply your studies, your experience, and your fierce belief in social change to helping achieve Dr. King’s global vision of justice. And when you graduate from Morehouse as part of that newest, greatest generation, you will find a world immensely grateful for your contributions and for your leadership.
As you choose your job, build your career, find your field, I urge you to remember the lesson Dr. King wished to impart – that the American struggle for justice is essential, but it is also a small piece of a global struggle for the same. At USAID, we are proud to be a part of that global struggle. And today, this historic partnership between USAID and Morehouse represents our call to you to join us, and our commitment to support you along the way.
Thank you so much.