US: People of African descent still have a long way to go, says Congressman Meeks

The Honorable Congressman Gregory W. Meeks is the Chairman of the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee. Sadiq Yishau reports that Meeks believes that though black people have come a long way to assert their place in the world, more grounds remain uncovered. He spoke in Washington DC. Excerpts: 

Celebrating Africans home and away

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.   

Trip to Africa 

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. 

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. 

Taking Africa off the backburner 

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.  

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