As the International Year for People of African Descent unfolds, innovative programs are shining a spotlight on the richness and breadth of African descendants' contributions to the Western Hemisphere.
The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit and Office of Caribbean Affairs co-hosted two events that linked the United Nations' and Organization of American States' designation of 2011 as the International Year for African Descent with Caribbean American Heritage Month.
In the first program on June 8, participants logged in from around the world for the second in a series of webinars on the International Year. The event, featuring Dr. Claire Nelson of the Institute for Caribbean Studies and Dr. Sylviane Diouf from the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, focused on linkages among the African Diaspora, the Caribbean, and the United States. They introduced the historic work of the Schomburg Center to share an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and information about the experience of people of African descent in the Americas and the rest of the world.
Participants, including academics and civil society members, joined the discussion from viewing parties at U.S. Embassy Bridgetown and U.S. Embassy Kingston and from personal computers as far away as Nigeria. Their thoughtful questions served as a springboard for lively discussion about common African history in the Americas, and the contributions people of African descent in the United States and the Caribbean have made to science, politics, and education. Dr. Nelson stated that Caribbean people living in the United States need to have voice, visibility, and agency, and that “Caribbean-American Heritage Month is about creating that space.” Dr. Diouf expressed the view that “In this country, history has been made by the diversity of its people," and shared information about the virtual exhibits the Schomburg Center has made available to the world through interactive technology.
That afternoon, the Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit and the Office of Caribbean Affairs convened representatives of the diplomatic community, academicians, and cultural activists for a dialogue in the Ralph Bunche Library at the U.S. Department of State. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Deputy Assistant Secretary Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli underscored the significance of this event to celebrate diversity, identity, and shared cultural experiences in the region. Dr. Nelson, Mr. Dodson, and Dr. Diouf stressed the importance of recognizing and preserving the history and culture of people of African descent in the Caribbean and around the world.
The guests made a call to action and discussed a number of challenges societies continue to face including access to quality education and historically accurate educational materials. They also engaged in a lively debate with the audience on ways to enhance U.S. engagement with our neighbors in the Caribbean and around the world to create awareness of and respect for the diverse heritage, culture, and contributions of African descendants. Mr. Dodson concluded, “It is important for us to take time during this International Year and during this Caribbean-American Heritage Month to remind people and to introduce to others the facts of this history and heritage so people do not walk away ignorant of a significant part of the human family.” You can view photos of this event http://www.caribbeanamericanmonth.org. For additional information on the Department of State's commemoration of the International Year for People of African Descent, please email RESIUNIT@state.gov.
To view footage from the webinar and related interviews follow the links below:
WEBCHAT Caribbean-American Heritage and International Year for People of African Descent: https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/p14925262/ and <a data-cke-saved-href="https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/p46988468/" href="https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/p46988468/" title="https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/p46988468/ target=" _blank"="">https://statedept.connectsolutions.com/p46988468/