The Department of State, as part of its longstanding commitment to supporting equality throughout the world, partnered with civil society, the private sector, and law enforcement to discuss challenges, opportunities, and tools to advance racial equality in the Americas. Several hundred viewers participated in the series of three interactive, Spanish language web chats through embassy and civil society-hosted viewing parties across the region. In order to achieve shared prosperity and long-term security in the region, it is essential that all members of society, including people of African descent, can participate in political, economic, and social life and have access to opportunities. The series was developed in support of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (Decade), a global initiative focused on recognition, justice, and development.
Approximately 200 million people of African descent live in the Americas and are present in every country across the region. Despite progress, people of African descent continue to suffer from higher poverty rates and less access to education and basic health services. Women and LGBTI persons of African descent often face multiple forms of discrimination, making them even more at risk when conflicts arise. U.S. Embassies in the Western Hemisphere have used the Decade as an opportunity for a positive discourse on U.S. civil rights, highlighting over 50 years of progress under the U.S. Civil Rights Act, and to share our narrative of common challenges following high-profile incidents in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and Charlottesville.
While we are proud of the progress we have made toward reducing discrimination and inequality, and ensuring equal opportunity for all, we know that we are not yet where we need to be. Yet, we remain aware that combatting inequality and discrimination is not just a domestic issue; it is a challenge every nation faces and a challenge we can all work together to overcome.
In order to better discuss these challenges locally, U.S. embassies, consulates, and civil society organized over 35 local viewing parties for the Decenio Afro series. After the webchats, many embassies and local experts facilitated discussions for participants to share their own ideas, concerns, and solutions.
In Honduras, both Embassy Tegucigalpa and the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Commerce participated in the November webchat discussion on women’s entrepreneurship within the Afro-Latino community. Building upon that webchat, the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Commerce launched in February the first cohort of its Entrepreneurship Diploma program for People of African Descent. That new program will provide a pipeline of future entrepreneurs within Honduras’ Afro-Latino communities, leading to greater inclusiveness and economic prosperity.
The political participation and leadership webchat program generated an exchange of ideas and increased awareness of the importance of inclusion in censuses of people of African descent to ensure representation and access to public policies and programs. In Panama, the Embassy is supporting efforts to strengthen the capacity of Afro-Panamanian civil society organizations and key Government of Panama entities ahead of the 2020 Panamanian Census. With the upcoming censuses in Panama, Mexico, and the United States, there is opportunity to continue to share best practices regionally and build upon these efforts.
In May, the Department hosted an inclusive security and community policing webchat program. For many participants, the webchat was the first time members of civil society and law enforcement had met with one other. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, the Consulate hosted a follow-on session at the binational center, including a robust exchange on best practices with one of the U.S. speakers. This exchange was key to building trust and mutual respect among civil society and police participants, who pledged to work together to develop joint activities in their communities. The Consulate will assist in maintaining the relationship with the U.S. speaker and will encourage using the binational center as a place for community events.
During this year of the Decade, consider (at least) one tangible way in which you can promote racial equality: whether in the workplace by hosting a discussion on unconscious bias, providing networking space for entrepreneurs of all backgrounds, recognizing leaders of African descent in your community, or holding discussions on security while ensuring all stakeholders, including historically marginalized groups, get a seat at the table. As Rosa Parks once said, “Stand for something or you will fall for anything.”
About the Author: Kerri Sjoblom serves in the Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.