Hi, I’m Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State.
I want to start by expressing my gratitude on behalf of the State Department to the incredible athletes who joined us today for their insight and for their courage.
Luci, Ibtihaj, Etan, Kei, and Elladj: your advocacy is an inspiration to athletes and sports fans worldwide. You are making the admirable choice of carrying the weight of more than just your sport on your shoulders. We all have a responsibility to speak up for racial justice and speak out against human rights violations against marginalized communities of all backgrounds, and your voices are part of a chorus that will help create change. Thank you.
I also want to thank the Second Gentleman and UN Envoy on Youth for taking the time to speak with us about the importance of sports diplomacy, and for using their roles to advocate in support of racial justice.
To our outstanding panel today, viewers from around the world, and to the participants in President Biden’s upcoming Summit for Democracy, your insight is imperative as the world is in an ongoing reckoning with racial injustice that has come to the spotlight following decades of activism from international human rights defenders and advocates such as our panelists. We are having this discussion today because of the path that racial justice leaders from the past have forged for us, and it is now our time to carry the torch forward.
When we think of carrying the torch, the Olympic and Paralympic Games come to mind. The games, symbolized by a torch, represent the fire within all of us to strive and evolve. But what does carrying the torch actually look like? It means we, as a global community, must work diligently to ensure that this movement toward justice and equity continues to grow stronger and our goal for a more equal society becomes a reality. That effort is not easy; it requires sacrifice, unity, and a shared commitment to the values of democracy.
Inherent to the urgent need to revitalize democracy is the need to dismantle systemic racism. The promise of democracy for a more just and equitable society cannot be fulfilled while persistent systemic racism continues. We must recognize that inequity and injustices are compounded for women, religious minorities, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and people with disabilities throughout the world. We have an obligation to talk openly and honestly about how systemic racism hurts everyone, not just people of color.
Today, we heard from five athletes who are doing their part on their respective fields, courts, fencing strips, and rinks to speak up and advocate for a more just world. We remember and continue to be inspired by the athletes that stood before them — from Muhammad Ali to Althea Gibson and Jackie Robinson to Hank Aaron, or Jim Brown to Colin Kaepernick — who broke barriers and defied discrimination even when it was terrifying to do so; even when the world was not ready to hear the truth about the pervasive and systemic scourge of racism.
Moving forward, we call on people around the world, and the participants of the Summit for Democracy this week, to listen to the voices fighting for an end to racism globally. True democracy benefits all people and enables a reality where every voice matters, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or any other trait, and the rights of all are protected.
I’d like to encourage all of you to take some time following today’s discussion to think about your commitments to racial justice and how you can be an advocate. How can you use your voice to speak up the way the athletes who joined us today have done? How can you do your part to ensure the people in your community, whether physical or virtual, have their inalienable human rights protected? We must and will work together as a team and a global community to commit to the larger ideals of fairness, justice, equity, and equality for all.