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Celebrating Black History Month At The State Dept.

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
February 22, 2008

Celebrating Black History Month at the Department of State

Thank you very much. Thank you. Well, first of all, I'd like to thank Allison for that really kind and wonderful introduction. Allison, thanks also for braving the elements. I'm glad you got here. I'd like to recognize our great Director General Harry Thomas, who is really an exceptional public servant. (Applause.) I want to thank the great choir from the Duke Ellington School. What a great performance. (Applause.) And what they whispered to me is we're going to teach you Rock-a My Soul. And I want to say I know Rock-a My Soul, but I just don't know how to do it like that. (Laughter.) So I look forward to learning. I'd like to thank Gilbert Perkins, who's going to share his great talents with us, and of course, our speaker, Ernest Green. I think none of us can really imagine what it must have been like to be a teenager thrust into history in the way that you were, and of course, you did it with great dignity and with great integrity, and we all have so much that we owe you for having gone through that experience and helping America to come out better on the other side. Thank you for being here. (Applause.) I want to say too that I had a chance to meet your great sister, who is with you. Family is always very important. Thank you for joining us. And I'd like to thank the Office of Civil Rights for the wonderful work in putting all of this together.

Now, I'm going to tell you that perhaps my predecessor many times removed -- I am the 66th Secretary of State of the United States of America -- the first Secretary of State was, of course, Thomas Jefferson. And I think he would have had a hard time imagining this day, let alone Black History Week -- Black History Month, but also that I would be standing here as Secretary of State, a girl from Birmingham, Alabama who grew up in the crucible years of the Civil Rights movement.

Nonetheless, it was Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State of many years before, and of course, one of the authors of our great Constitution who, of course, set in place the words and the documents that made it possible for a person like me to one day become the Secretary of State.

But as I think about what this country has gone through, I'm always reminded that what we really represent -- and as I go out and I represent America around the world, what we really represent is evidence that democracy, while hard, and democracy, while always imperfect, is the only system of governance that is worthy of human beings. And it's worthy because those great principles, those great statements, those great words that were embodied in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution about the equality of all men and women, were not, of course, fulfilled in the United States for a very long time. Indeed, when the founders said, "We, the people," they didn't mean me. On two counts they didn't mean me.

But of course, we've struggled and we've come to a second founding with the Civil Rights movement to try to make those words ever more true. And what we really observe in Black History Month is the long trail of dedication and commitment and hard work and, indeed, tears of those who came before us to make it possible for me to stand here as the Secretary of State.

Now I want to tell you a little interesting fact, which is that if I served my full term, it will have been 12 years since the United States of America had a white male Secretary of State, because my predecessors were, of course, Colin Powell, the first African American Secretary - male Secretary of State, and Madeleine Albright, a white woman. And so it shows something that an America whose chief diplomat has been first female, then black, and then black and female has come quite a long way since our friend, Ernest, integrated Little Rock High. (Applause.)

Now we are, of course, in foreign policy, building on the shoulders of greats: Carl Rowan and Ralph Bunche and Terence Todman and Patricia Roberts Harris, Colin Powell himself and of course, people who continue that tradition like our great ambassador, Ruth Davis, who we all keep in our prayers and wish well and of course, Harry Thomas, who is a trailblazer in his own right. They're all testament to the doors that have been opened along our nation's path to a more perfect union.

Now I'm very proud that the State Department has been a part of that tradition since our diplomatic corps was diversified in 1949 when Edward Dudley went to serve in Liberia as the first African American Ambassador. And the Department of State is, of course, the first Cabinet agency to establish the position of Chief Diversity Officer, very important because we have been trying very hard to double the number of people at the Department through the Rangel Fellows program here at the Department. We've doubled that fellowship program. We've had great success with Congressman Rangel in trying to target students at schools with large minority populations. We've got diplomats posted at places like Howard and Florida A&M and Morehouse and Spelman College so that senior Foreign Service Officers can talk about what it means to be a member of this Foreign Service.

Now I want to tell you why we do that. We do that because our country has come to recognize the value of diversity. There is no doubt about that. We also do it because there is a moral obligation to make certain that our ranks are open to America's finest no matter race, color, creed, nationality and that's why we do these things. But we also do it for a very important reason. It is essential to who we are as the Department of State, the representatives of American foreign policy.

When I go out around the world and I go to places - I was just in Africa yesterday and I'll be in Asia tomorrow - and when I go around and I look at places trying to make that journey from conflict perhaps, from, in some cases, civil war, in other cases, just repression and tyranny, I recognize that one of the hardest things to get right is the relationship between people who are different. We all share a common humanity. We all share a universal desire that we will be treated with dignity, that we will be able to educate our children, boys and girls, that we will be able to speak our conscience and our mind, that we will be able to worship freely, that we will be able to select those who are going to govern us. Those are all things that we share in our common humanity.

But for some reason, we look different on the outside despite the fact that that core is very much the same. And one of the hardest things that human beings have had to come to terms with is that that inner core is what counts, not what is on the outside. And so as I go around the world and I watch countries trying to come to terms with difference and when I sometimes go to places where difference has, in fact, been a license to kill, I'm reminded that there is no more important lesson than the journey of America, a great multiethnic democracy that started out with the birth defect of slavery and that, today, has come as far as it has come, but recognizes that even our journey is not complete.

And so when I go into these rooms, I want our diplomatic corps to look like America. I want our diplomatic corps to show all of the faces of America, to speak with the voice of American, but to look like the world because that's who we are as a country. And it just doesn't work to go into a room and see very few people who look like me in our diplomatic corps.

And so I'm going to close with an appeal maybe to some of the young folks in our choir, maybe to some of the young folks who are interns here or are sitting here and listening: Come and join America's Foreign Service. Become a part of the diplomatic corps that represents America and its ideals, because we can talk about equality evolved, we can talk about diversity as a strength, we can talk about the fact that difference should not be a reason to separate, but a reason to unite. But unless we look like we mean it, we're never going to be fully believed. And so I'll admit it's a commercial. (Laughter.) When you talk to young people, when you mentor young people, tell them what a great career you can have in representing this great country. Because there is one thing that we know: It is a country that rewards now merit; it is a country in which you can achieve; it is still a country that is trying to get right its very, very special principles of equality for all, of justice for all, and for inclusion of all.

And so if I have one thing that I hope I can continue to work for long after I've left this post, it is that when America greets the world, she will greet the world with her full glory of diversity and difference, but her common humanity and belief in the great values that have made this country possible and which so many others still seek.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Released on February 22, 2008


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