Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice Cormier Smith Opening Remarks
Permanent Forum for People of African Descent
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
December 5, 2022
Thank you Madam Chair and congratulations on your election as Chair. I’m Desirée Cormier Smith, the U.S. State Department’s first ever Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice. I am so proud and honored to be here. I am proud to be here for the inaugural session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent on behalf of the United States.
My position was established to ensure that U.S. foreign policy advances the human rights of members of marginalized racial, ethnic, and Indigenous communities, including people of African descent, and that our government is working to counter systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia globally – not because we are perfect, but because we recognize that these are global scourges that will require coordinated and sustained global solutions.
Part of that work means acknowledging and addressing the ways in which anti-Black racism and the global devaluation of Black lives has plagued the world for centuries. African descendant communities around the world are still grappling with the devastating and lingering impacts of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.
The United States championed the creation of this Forum as a necessary space to promote the collective engagement of all people of African descent and other relevant stakeholders to address the persistent inequities that result from anti-Black racism globally as a means to a more just and peaceful world.
As a Black American woman who is the descendant of enslaved people, this work is deeply personal to me.
We are here because of centuries of people of African descent’s activism and demands for justice and equality. Let us never forget that we stand here on the shoulders of our ancestors. My grandfather wrote a weekly column in Los Angeles’ oldest and largest Black newspaper for 30 years on issues impacting our community. He died only two weeks before the horrific murder of George Floyd. So it’s only right that I invoke him today with a quote from one of his last columns in which he said, “Black Americans [are] proud of their heritage and confident of their future. And wherever you look, you will find them working, playing, worshiping, dreaming, creating and expressing their cherished freedom in the spirit of the country they would like to help make a model for democratic peoples everywhere.” While he was talking specifically about Black Americans, I think this rings true for people of African descent everywhere around the world.
What an honor it is to witness the launch of this historic Forum. As we celebrate this moment, let us not forget the enormous responsibility we bear given the urgency of this work, the rarity of this moment, and what’s at stake.
The United States strongly supports this Forum and we are incredibly proud to have nominated Justin Hansford to serve on this inaugural body. We look forward to working with the Permanent Forum towards a more just world where all people are valued and included, and no one is prevented from living up to their fullest potential because of their race or ethnicity. A world where there is no doubt that Black lives do indeed matter.