As we mark the end of Black History Month, which U.S. embassies and consulates commemorated worldwide in February, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In January, U.S. Embassy Mbabane joined with some of Swaziland's most talented musicians, artists, and poets for a special event held at my residence. We invited the artists to create original works reflecting Dr. King's values and the current situation in Swaziland and the world today. The result was an amazing afternoon of music, poetry, and art that brought together government officials, opposition members, youth leaders, business people, and artists, to commemorate Dr. King's legacy through Swazi eyes.
Through hip-hop, spoken word, Swazi soul, and the harmony of Swazi tenors, the audience was inspired to think about Dr. King's aspirations, the challenges facing Swaziland, and how they could create change in their communities now. We chose to celebrate Dr. King through the arts, because during the Civil Rights Movement music sustained activists. They used hymns to uplift their spirits and created folk songs that told the story of the movement. Artists were integral to the movement for justice and equality in the United States.
Just as American artists did during Dr. King's time, Swazi artists created songs, poems, and artwork that promoted the principles that inspired Dr. King's work. We hoped their work would focus attention on and raise questions about human rights issues in Swaziland and lead people to think about what their dreams for a better Swaziland would be. It also underscored that everyone has a role to play in creating change. Each of the artists created moving pieces that provoked thought, laughter, and tears. Most significantly, the youth of Swaziland were given a unique platform to speak their minds to their countrymen and women, as well as the American audience, on the kind of Swaziland they would like to live in.
Our Martin Luther King program underscored that the work we do in our embassy's Public Diplomacy Section pays tremendous dividends in building people-to-people connections and promoting strong bilateral relationships, as many of the performing artists were alumni of our International Visitor Programs. But it also spotlighted the impact our programs have on the lives of participants. One attendee raised a question that I am sure many were contemplating as they watched the performances: “What would Swaziland be if our people would be free to use their creative skills and express themselves freely without any fear or intimidation?” If our audience went away imagining that possibility, our commemoration of the legacy of Dr. King was a resounding success.