• In this on-the-record, hybrid briefing in recognition of International Day for People of African Descent, a panel of experts discuss efforts to protect and advance the human rights of people belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic communities and combat systemic racism, discrimination and xenophobia around the world.


MODERATOR:  Good afternoon and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on the critical role of racial justice and equity in U.S. foreign policy.  We are hosting this briefing today in recognition of International Day for People of African Descent.  My name is Doris Robinson, and I am the briefing moderator.   

And now for the ground rules: this briefing is on the record.  We will post the transcript and video of the briefing later today on the Foreign Press Center website at  For participants on Zoom, please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and media outlet that you represent.   

And now I will introduce our distinguished briefers.  First, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations; Special Representative for Racial Justice and Equity Desirée Cormier Smith; Howard University Law Professor Justin Hansford; and I understand Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the Honorable Congressman Gregory W. Meeks will be joining us later.  A link to all of the briefers’ bios are in the briefing announcement. 

And with that, each of the briefers will make opening remarks, and they will open for your questions.  First, we will hear from Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  Over to you.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you so much, Doris, and thank you so much to everyone for joining us in marking the International Day for People of African Descent.  And thank you in particular to Representative Meeks, Special Representative Cormier Smith, and Professor Hansford for leading and lending their time and talents today.   

This day is personal for me.  Having grown up in the segregated South, I was moved to tears the first – the very first time I set foot in Africa: the warm welcome that I received, knowing I was in the land of my ancestors was beautiful and inspiring, and I have never forgotten that day.  It made me determined to support all peoples of African descent throughout my career. 

So I am beyond proud that the United States is joining so many others around the world in both honoring and celebrating the second International Day for People of African Descent.  For me, honoring this day means not shrinking away from our painful past or our current responsibilities to remove the rot of systemic racism from our societies.   

Earlier this month, the United States presented its report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva.  The report highlighted our many actions across our entire government to address racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States.  We engaged closely with civil society and with the committee on that report, and we’re absolutely – absolutely committed to making that progress.  The appointment of Desirée Cormier is just one more example of that commitment.   

But this is not only a solemn day; it is also a day of celebration.  We should celebrate all people of African descent, and our many collective contributions to the world.  We should celebrate the hard-won progress we’ve made over the past decades, even though we still have so much further to go.  And we should celebrate the creation of the Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.  This new and necessary space represents a real, tangible victory at the UN.   

I know Professor Hansford’s decades of experience and commitment to racial justice will be pivotal towards shaping and sustaining this critical new body.  And I know this forum will benefit all people of African descent for years to come.  Thank you very much.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  We will next turn to Special Representative Desirée Cormier Smith. 

MS CORMIER SMITH:  Thank you, and thank you for having me.  Good afternoon.  I’m Desirée Cormier Smith.  In June of this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appointed me as the State Department’s first-ever special representative for racial equity and justice.  In this historic new rule, I am focused on advancing racial and ethnic equity and justice globally through our foreign affairs work.  It is my job to ensure that U.S. foreign policy, programs, and processes advance the human rights of people belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic groups, including indigenous peoples, and that we are working to combat systemic racism, discrimination, violence, and xenophobia around the world.   

This work has always been near and dear to my heart.  I grew in Inglewood, California, where my grandfather, Larry Aubry, a renowned black activist in the area, dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice and equality.  When I first began my career in foreign policy, he reminded me that there were problems in our own community and encouraged me to focus my energy and talents at home.  But I decided to do both: pursue a career in foreign policy while never losing touch with the struggles here at home because I believe, as Maya Angelou put it, none of us is free until all of us are free.   

Anti-black racism and the devaluation of black lives has plagued the world for centuries.  From the transatlantic slave trade to the devastating colonization on the African continent, to hate crimes and predatory community violence, to blatant and institutionalized racism that codified income inequality, health disparities, and poverty into law, this distinct type of racism is one that people of African descent around the world know all too well.   

Today, the International Day for People of African Descent, is an opportunity for the world to bring global attention to the various forms of discrimination faced by people of African descent everywhere.  As UN Secretary-General Guterres put it, “It is a long overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continue to confront today.” 

This is why the United States was proud to strongly support the creation of the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent and why, as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield noted, we nominated Howard Law Professor Justin Hansford to serve on the inaugural body.  

Systemic racism makes societies less stable, less peaceful, and less prosperous.  So beyond it being the morally right thing to do, addressing racial inequities is in our national security interest.  This is why the United States has committed to advancing equity for members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities both at here – here at home and abroad.  And to give you a sense of what that means in practice, let me offer just a few examples of what the State Department is doing around the world.  

In Brazil, the United States is supporting local partners to document and report on human rights violations and abuses against Afro-descendants and to promote religious tolerance and reduce violence and discrimination against practitioners of African-based religions.   

In Colombia, U.S. implementing partners work at the national and local levels to support more effective and inclusive political, truth-telling, and accountability processes to prioritize the needs of Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and campesino populations.   

In Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, the United States supports improved social integration and economic empowerment for former hereditary slaves, and strengthens the local – the legal and political systems that identify and protect those vulnerable to slavery, exploitation, and re-enslavement.   

In the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. programs support the development of laws and good governance processes that are inclusive of the needs of historically marginalized communities.  

These programs consider the specific vulnerabilities of communities whose race and socioeconomic class compound to contribute to political, economic, and social marginalization.   

But let me be clear.  Today is not only a day of solemn acknowledgment of past and ongoing injustices and a reminder that we still have so much work left to do; it is also a day of celebration.  On August 31st, we encourage all nations to come together to acknowledge and commemorate the indispensable contributions of Africans and people of African descent around the world.  Despite the injustices inflicted upon us, people of African descent have always had a global impact on human civilization.  The influence of black people can be found in art, science, agriculture, medicine, politics, music, fashion, media, food, sports, and almost every other facet of society around the world.   

My late grandfather wrote a weekly column in Los Angeles’s oldest and largest black newspapers for 30 years, so it’s only right that I borrow a quote from him today.  In one of his last columns, he said, quote, “Black Americans [are] proud of their heritage and confident of their future.  And wherever you look, you will find them working, playing, worshiping, dreaming, creating and expressing their cherished freedom in the spirit of the country they would like to help make a model for democratic peoples everywhere,” end quote.  While he was speaking specifically about black Americans, I think this rings true for people of African descent everywhere around the world.  

I’m incredibly honored to be here today alongside colleagues and friends who are working tirelessly to create a more just world where all people are valued and included and no one is prevented from living up to their full potential simply because of their race or ethnicity.  I’m also humbled to take part in honoring the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of people of African descent to societies everywhere.  James Baldwin once said, quote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” end quote.  The history and legacy of anti-black racism may be uncomfortable to face head on, but the United States can, the United States must, and the United States is doing just that.   

Together, we have the power to create a better world for people of African descent, which will inherently be a better world for everyone.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Special Representative.   

Professor Hansford. 

MR HANSFORD:  Good afternoon.  “A people without knowledge of their history, their origin, and their culture is like a tree without roots.”  These are some of the words shared by Marcus Garvey that helped me decide early on in my life to dedicate as much energy as I possibly could to the fight for black liberation.  

Today I have been honored to have been granted the intriguing assignment to help launch the new and historic United Nations Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.  I see this work first and foremost as the realization of a dream that has been held by black people around the world for many generations, a dream that was reinvigorated in the activism that sprouted up in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in 2020.   

As my colleagues on the permanent forum noted in our statement which we released earlier this morning in honor of the second annual Day for People of African Descent, this permanent forum will be a mechanism committed to following Garvey’s path, which he blazed over 100 years ago in the campaign for Pan-Africanism and human rights for people of African descent around the world.  Garvey’s path is not the only one that we follow today as we launch our work to support human rights in the African diaspora.  

I am a professor of law at Howard University, the highly prestigious historically black university that was founded in 1867 here in Washington, D.C.  This is my alma mater as well as the alma mater of the first African American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall; the first African American Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris; and many other luminaries, including Congressman Gregory Meeks, who will be joining us shortly.  

The legacy of African Americans involved in global affairs that have emerged from Howard is also illustrious.  It includes Ralph Bunch, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and an integral part of the creation of the United Nations itself; ambassadors such as Clyde Ferguson, ambassador to Uganda; Horace Dawson, ambassador to Botswana; and legal activists such as Pauline Murray and Lisa Crooms-Robinson.  I am also the founder and executive director of Howard’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, our flagship institutional home for human rights and civil rights research and activism.  

The involvement of our center is key because I intend to include the center’s approach to fighting for civil rights and human rights in my work at the permanent forum.  At the center, we’re known for bringing an approach that includes a commitment to scholarship that is going to fight the battle of ideas in the ivory tower; a commitment to movement lawyering, which includes legal activism, lawsuits, and policy advocacy for civil rights; and also a commitment to supporting grassroots movements and community organizers so that we can continue to build community in our diaspora.  

Again, there are many – there are many scholars that have collaborated with Howard University over the years, scholars in the field of human rights, scholars like Gerald Horne, scholars like Derrick Bell, some of the scholars I admire the most.  There are lawyers like Gay McDougall and Randall Robinson, who have been pragmatic advocates for human rights on a global scale.  And of course there are activists like Kwame Ture, who have come out of Howard University, who have continued to engage in global advocacy for people of African descent.  

This nomination and this election has allowed me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are continuing that legacy of fighting for human rights for black people all over the world, and I’m very proud to work alongside them to fulfill the mandates of the permanent forum.  There are nine mandates that – which we were given by the United Nations to fulfill, and it’s – it’ll take a long time to describe them all in detail, but I’m going to describe them very briefly for you.  

Number one:  To contribute to the process of ensuring that people of African descent have access to their full civil rights and human rights wherever they are located all over the – all over the world; 

Number two:  To provide advice to members of the UN community, including special rapporteurs, members of the General Assembly, members of the Human Rights Council, and others who need consultation or seek consultation when it comes to rights involving people of African descent; 

Number three:  To help to collaborate to create a new declaration of rights for people of African descent; 

Number four:  To explore best practices, challenges, and opportunities when it comes to advocacy for people of African descent; 

Number five:  To monitor and review the evolution and progression of the Decade for People of African Descent; 

Number six:  To prepare and disseminate information to the general public about human rights as they involve people of African descent;  

Number seven:  To continue to coordinate with other agencies in the UN, working together to support human rights;  

Number eight:  To gather more data on the diaspora; and  

Number nine:  To offer recommendations and respond to requests that will be delivered by the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council involving issues pertaining to people of African descent. 

So it’s my intention to ensure that over the course of my term as a member of this permanent forum I live up to some of the examples set before me as a member of the Howard University community, both an alumni and a professor and an admirer of many of the people who have paved our way when it comes to advocacy for Pan-Africanism and the rights of black people throughout the world.   

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that we live in a world house where people from all parts of the world are connected in what he called a beloved community.  It’s my intention, with your help, to ensure that people of African descent fulfill their greatest potential and continue to make sure that they contribute to the development of our global community by fully exploring our advocacy for human rights to the utmost.   

So thank you, and I look forward to working with you all. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Professor.  And we are pleased to introduce Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Honorable Congressman Gregory W. Meeks. 

CHAIRMAN MEEKS:  Thank you very much.  I know I’m a little bit late.  I know Doris was up here and speaking.  I want to thank Doris for all of her work and for my – I apologize for my delay for being here.  I’d like to thank the Foreign Press Center also, but of course, Howard University – I’m a proud grad of Howard Law School, the proud father of two Howard University graduates; my – two of my three daughters are Howard grads – and, of course, the Department of State for organizing, and Desirée Cormier Smith for what she’s doing in helping to organize and facilitating this very important event. 

And I’m proud to stand here today with my friend and I know who spoke earlier, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, special – and to be with this distinguished Howard University professor and human rights advocate, Justin Hansford, who I am pleased to say that I was one of many early supporters of his nomination to become a member of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent at the United Nations.  We need voices, voices like theirs, in our multilateral institutions, in diplomacy, and in all facets of decision-making. 

I’m honored here – I’m honored to be here today to support this international day of recognition, reaffirming our commitment to honor the proud legacies built by people of African descent, all of whose shoulders we stand on.  In this eighth year of International Decade for People of African Descent, we are reminded that we’ve come far but still have a long way to go to ensure access for people of African descent to all aspects of public life; to build stronger economies, more just societies, and promote a greater knowledge of and respect for our diverse heritage and traditions. 

Over 200 million people of African descent, many of them the direct descendants of enslaved Africans, shape the region in which we live, influencing its growth, innovation, development, and unique blend of cultures.  The United States is inextricably connected to many countries by a common history of colonialism, conquest, the transatlantic slave trade.  But we’re also linked by an unwavering desire to enjoy freedom, equality, representation, and prosperity, not just for a few but for us all.  And as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I am deeply vested in the promise of prosperity, of innovation, and responsible growth. 

But these goals will not be met if we do not recognize that our national interests, suffering, and potential are all very closely linked.  What affects our neighbors impacts us here.  Our future is also tied to the fate of many historically marginalized groups.  We must support and protect these communities in the region and around the world and lead a global commitment to continue to fight the global pandemic, and to ensure sustainable development, inclusive investment, lasting peace, and of course, prosperity.   

This also means that we should ensure that local communities are consulted – consulted – and remain engaged in key stakeholders before international finance infrastructure project begins their work, and that our policy is imbued with respect for the rule of law and human rights, so that to address the violence and inequities that still today is faced by many African descendants, indigenous, and rural communities around the world. 

Over the years I’ve been a strong proponent of programs which seek to provide access to economic, educational, and leadership opportunities for people of African descent and other historically marginalized people.  My office has championed initiatives at the State Department that support the International Decade for People of African Descent, such as the U.S.-Brazil Joint Action Plan and the Colombian Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, and the creation of a unit designated to support these issues in the Western Hemisphere as well as foreign assistance in alignment with these programs at USAID. 

Just this – earlier this month I had the pleasure of seeing that commitment at work during a recent delegation visit to Colombia led by Administrator Samantha Power, who announced a $60 million initiative focused on the challenges to peaceful and inclusive development for indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians.   

In February I led a delegation to several countries on the continent of Africa, including Sierra Leone and Liberia, with the theme of an indelible bond between the members of the African diaspora and the United States and the continent – was underscored throughout our entire visit.   

Again, in my capacity as chairman, I will continue to make full use of the committee’s oversight responsibilities to ensure that the State Department and USAID are committed to expanding diversity and hiring efforts, as well as increasing efforts to address the global rise in racial discrimination and gender-based violence.  I remain steadfast in my belief that by building and strengthening regional and global partnerships and investing in global black – the global black diaspora, we can ensure that we support the pillars of the decade for people of African descent.   

We can only do it if we all bond together and it’s not on the backburner, it’s not just a day, it’s not just a month or a week, it’s not even just a year – it is something that we continue to focus on collectively.  Because we know if we don’t, the future for everyone will be in doubt.   

This is the time for all of us to unite and for the United States of America to show its commitment – indeed, its leadership – in making sure that justice, that equality, and equity, and inclusion is everywhere you find individuals of African descent. 

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to engage with you this afternoon. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Congressman Meeks, and thank you to our panelist.  We will now open for questions.  For journalists in the room, please raise your hand and wait for the microphones, and for me to call on you.  For journalists on Zoom, please click on the raised hand icon, and when I call on you please turn on your video and state your name and your media outlet. 

So let’s start in the front row here with Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency, Azerbaijan. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so very much, Doris.  And thank – I thank all the speakers for being here today. 

I have two questions; the first one is easier one.  This kind of goes to Special Representative Smith, if you don’t mind.  How many U.S. diplomatic missions abroad right now are led by people of color, and how could you describe that evolving process, how it looked like before, and how many, say, ambassadors or mission chiefs are acting?   

Secondly, Congressman, I’ve been following your career for a long time.  When we think about the major foreign policy challenge of the day, which is Russia-Ukraine (inaudible) you mentioned one of the connectors within the U.S. foreign policy and the countries abroad is colonialism, something that was missing for a long time from what Russia was doing in the wider region.  I was wondering how much the people of color shape U.S. foreign policy not in terms of how it looks like, but also how it acts like, how much colonialism is the case or should be the case when you focus on the post-Soviet region, like, particularly given what’s going on right now in that part of the world.  Thank you so much. 

MS CORMIER SMITH:  Thank you so much for your question.  I will address your first question and then turn it over to the chairman for your second question.  On the question of the number of diplomats of color abroad, I don’t have the specifics because that work on making sure that the State Department’s workforce is reflective of the American people is led by our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley.  So her work obviously is complementary to the work that I’m doing, but she is focused on making sure that we have a diplomatic corps that looks like America.  I’m focused on making sure our foreign policies are aiming to eliminate racism, discrimination, and xenophobia.   

CHAIRMAN MEEKS:  Great question.  I believe that, number one, there’s not enough policymakers of African descent.  When you think about history, I’m the first chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that is of African descent in the history of this country.  And if you don’t think about history and where you came from and how things evolved, then you missed the boat.  So colonialism clearly plays a huge role and a big role in what took place on the continent of Africa.  Just like those that were brought over here in the hulls of the slave ships and were enslaved in the Western Hemisphere plays a huge role in who we are and what we are, whether you’re in South America or North America. 

So those policy decisions and those thoughts – and that’s why diversity in every area is tremendously important, because those individuals who come from that will initiate, talk, and advocate from those positions.  Those voices, when they’re not there, are missing.  And my hope would be, by those voices being there because of that diversity, it will create an opportunity for even those who have colonized or enslaved to understand what took place, and then how we work collectively to move forward to correct the wrongs of the past and make that there’s prosperity, equality in the present and in the future. 

MODERATOR:  Professor Hansford.   

MR HANSFORD:  Sorry – yeah, well, very briefly, I also am certainly of the belief that the importance of having people of color, and particularly people of African descent, as part of any American voice abroad is integral, because we are representing and we are continuing to live out a particular unique experience that is reflected in our values, in our culture.  And I think that our contributions to those discussions would be very important to continue to consider.   

So I also believe that, as my role in the Permanent Forum, we are looking to ensure that the UN and other mechanisms continue to include the voices of people of African descent at all levels of decision making.  And whatever we can do to support that and to provide recommendations for people to continue to engage with people of African descent, we’re happy to do so.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Congressman Meeks, did you have time for one more question?  I know you have to leave.  Thank you.  So let’s go to online.  Let’s go to Pearl Matibe with 98.7 FM South Africa.  Pearl, can you go ahead and  ask your question?   

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Doris.  And I appreciate Congressman Meeks’s time.  So I do have a question for all our briefers, but let me get with the chairman first so that he can address that question.  I’m hoping to provoke conversation with my questions with you.  So Chairman Meeks, firstly, thank you so much for being available today and engaging with me today.  I appreciate your oversight on foreign affairs.   

Now, we know from President Biden’s new strategy towards Africa that there are at least 2 million who are closely – these are people of African descent in the United States who are closely connected socially and otherwise to their families, friends, and communities in sub-Saharan Africa.  And the UN agrees that the challenges are compounded by exclusion.  And we see this in, for example, the Zimbabwean diaspora, for example, who are gravely concerned about not being able to vote in their 2023 elections.  So in what ways can your efforts champion effective justice through foreign policy?   

And as you said, it’s not just a day, a week, or a year.  What then can truth-telling achieve, say in free and fair elections, when the hopes of creation for just, democratic society – Eswatini’s still a monarch; that might be another example.  What does justice look like from where you sit, Chairman Meeks?   

And then to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, I do have a question for you.  It’s always a pleasure to speak with you, by the way, and I appreciate your – the element of your personal story that you shared today.  I know that President Biden is keen to show that he is — 

MODERATOR:  Pearl, the ambassador had to leave early.   

QUESTION:  Sure.   

MODERATOR:  I will take your questions and send it to her.   

QUESTION:  I’ll send the question to you later on that.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you.   

QUESTION:  I’ll go ahead to Professor Hansford.  I’ve written about how Zimbabwean diaspora is marginalized.  Issues of racism and diaspora, remittances are not the only challenges that African diaspora face.  So can you comment on the feasibility of the indigenous African diaspora being unable to vote in elections in their home country because some countries in Africa do allow citizens living outside their borders voting rights and – identical to their own citizens but not every country does.  Guinea Bissau, for  example, does.  Namibia, South Africa do.  But not all countries do.   

And then I’d appreciate Special Representative Cormier Smith if you’ve got anything you’d like to chime in, I’d welcome insights.  Thank you so much, Doris, for your time.  I’ll send other things later – connect with you later.  Thanks.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.   

CHAIRMAN MEEKS:  Let me just say, the first thing that – and I think that I have a responsibility here.  And when I was elected to be the chair of this committee, one of the first things that I committed to – and I said this to my colleagues whether or not they were members of the Congressional Black Caucus or not, whether they were members of the Hispanic Caucus or any other caucus – I said that my intent as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is to take Africa off the backburner and put it on the front burner so that we will then do and continue – and to have hearings and oversight on the continent in the full committee, not just in the subcommittee, where we were very ably supported and worked by Chairwoman Karen Bass.  

But it had been – and in my conversations with her something that was always behind the scenes, not something that was full forced ahead, forcing every member of the committee, not just those that were singularly focused on the continent – make it full hearings.  Let’s have this dialogue and conversation about the continent.  Let’s talk about what’s going on, and let’s leave nothing off the table.  Let’s talk about human rights.  Let’s talk about democracy and free and fair elections.  Let’s meet and have conversations with the heads of state.  Let’s not pretend that they don’t exist.  Let’s talk about, though, also the economics that are taking place in the continent.  Let’s talk about not just the bad things.  Let’s talk about the positive things – because there’s many positive things going on – and show the example of the positives even when we’re trying to promote someplace else where there may not be the democracy that we want to say, this is where you should be aiming to go, and you get the assistance from us.   

And so if in fact you had acquired, if in fact it’s not on the front burner, then people think that democracy is not important or what they really think, when I talk to some of the heads of states, that we don’t care.  That we’re not there.  And they see other people showing up – other people showing up, but we’re not there at all.  That is what has to change.  That is what I believe that is my – part of my responsibility, to be quite honest with you – to do as chair of this committee and to have the United States Congress moving forward in that direction.  And that’s why I do appreciate the fact that President Biden is having the Africa Summit in early or mid-December in regards – and bringing in many of the heads of states to D.C. to meet with him.  I think that can help us make a difference and promote democracy and equality and economics on the continent.   

MR HANSFORD:  Sure.  And I’ll say briefly that one of the elements that I’m focused on in the promotion of human rights for people of African descent is political rights.  And I was talking to my students this morning in our class on human rights about the ICCPR and the need to engage in data collection so that we are aware of what is happening throughout the diaspora and ultimately so that we can make appropriate recommendations.  So thanks for making me aware of that situation.  It’s certainly something that we will continue to explore.   

One of the things I’m very proud of at Howard is that we have a class of students who will be working with me on issues impacting the permanent forum and collecting data and drafting reports and even advocating for human rights issues for populations all across the continent, all across the world.  So please continue to be in touch with me about that issue.  I’d love to hear more about it and continue to gather data so we can make appropriate recommendations.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Professor.  And Special Representative, did you — 

MS CORMIER SMITH:  We can go to the next question.   

MODERATOR:  Okay.   

Thank you.  I will ask the journalists in the room if there’s any questions; otherwise, we will go to Mouctar Balde from Guinea News.  Mouctar, I think you’re still muted.   

QUESTION:  Okay.  Can you hear me?  


QUESTION:  Thank you, Doris.  Ambassador, John Howard Morrow, Sr. who was named by President Eisenhower to newly independent Guinea in 1959 – Guinea is the country where I’m from – and Ambassador John Howard Morrow, Sr. was among the first African Americans named as top diplomat back in these years.  After leaving Guinea, he wrote a book – an interesting book you can find everywhere by just Googling it – and the title is “The First Ambassador to Guinea.”  My question now is what the State Department is doing to keep alive the work, the mission of this diplomat back when the segregation was at the center of everything in the United States.  So what they are doing in order to give a motivation to young African Americans to get involved in foreign service?  That’s my first question. 

And the other thing is a remark – a remark I have made and I’ve – the remark is that African Americans diplomats are mostly affected in Africa instead of other parts of the world.  Is that due to the fact that black people are not welcome?  Myself, I was a student in Europe and in some part of Europe back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so I know that it doesn’t matter if you’re from the United States or Africa – if you’re black, you are not welcome in many part of the world.  So is that – that’s why the State Department is not sending African – African Americans diplomats in those parts?  Thank you.  

MS CORMIER SMITH:  Thank you so much for your questions.  Let me briefly just address your second question, where I can unequivocally say that black diplomats are not exclusively sent to Africa because they are black.  I will say from my personal experience, I joined the Foreign Service to serve in Africa because as a black American I felt a personal connection to the continent and I wanted to serve in Africa, just as Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted.  So many of us do join the Foreign Service to go to Africa, so that may be a reason why there seems to be a disproportionately high number of black Americans serving in Africa, but there is no – absolutely no State Department Foreign Service policy that restricts black diplomats to only serve in Africa.  

On your first question about historical black figures in the Foreign Service, again, this is outside of my purview, but I will say that our chief diversity and inclusion officer, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, and her team have done a phenomenal job of making sure that we remember our history and we recount the past of the State Department and acknowledge the fact that it has not always been and was not built as an inclusive institution.  And so her team is doing the hard work of dismantling that, of those structures that have prevented people of color, LGBTQI+ people, women, persons with disabilities from not only joining the State Department but from also rising in the ranks.  

So that is the work of her office.  I’m happy to send you her website if you’d like to learn more.  Thank you.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Special Representative.  We have time for one more question, and we’ll take a question from Ahmadou Kane from Senegal.   

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I have one question for Ambassador Greenfield.  So my question is about – regarding the United Nations.  Does the United States support – will support any proposition from the African countries to get a seat, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council?  

MODERATOR:  Ahmadou, I’m afraid the ambassador had to leave.  I will take the question and —  

QUESTION:  All right.  

MODERATOR:  — get back to you.  So with that, it doesn’t look like we have any more questions.  I will invite Special Representative Cormier Smith and Professor Hansford to make any final remarks.  

MR HANSFORD:  Well, I would just like to thank you all for taking the time to talk to us today.  As I said earlier, I am very excited about what we’re planning to do with the permanent forum during my term.  I have two and a half years left and I plan to make use of every single day to the best of my ability.  We have our opening meeting on December 5th through December 9th, 2022.  We have a second meeting that will be taking place in June of 2023.  Both of those meetings will be public.  I hope that you continue to cover those and continue to engage with us in a very robust way.  

Also, I should say that all the members of the permanent forum are deeply committed to ensuring that there is as much grassroots participation as possible.  So whoever is in the media, whoever is in the audience who is interested in working with the permanent forum, whether that involves gathering data on human rights violations that are affecting black people throughout the world, whether that involves trying to get the UN to become more aggressive in its support for the human rights of people of African descent, or whether it involves advocating for us to take on certain issues, please feel free to reach out to me either through Howard University or going online and looking up the website for the permanent forum, because we really are trying to be as open and participatory as possible.  So please keep in touch and please stay tuned in for more work ahead.  Thanks.    

MS CORMIER SMITH:  I can’t follow that.  (Laughter.)  (Inaudible) go last.  Thank you for your time.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much to our distinguished briefers today for taking the time to brief us, and thank you to all of the journalists for joining us today.  We really appreciate that.  We will post the transcript today at  And with that, this concludes today’s briefing.  Thank you all. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future