Remarks to Mayors’ Day Breakfast
Thank you, Mayor Johnson and Mayor Bell for your inspiring remarks, and for hosting this special event. And thanks also to Tom Cochran and the U.S. Conference of Mayors for inviting me to speak to you on the behalf of the U.S. State Department.
We are here to commemorate a somber occasion, as this upcoming Sunday will mark the 50th anniversary of the day that four young girls were killed in a senseless act of brutal violence at the very church where we will be gathering later this morning. And yet, as so often happens, this tragedy became a catalyst for tremendous positive change in our country. Less than one year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.
The United States is committed to working with our global partners in the fight against racism, ethnic and other forms of discrimination, and xenophobia. As part of President Obama’s renewed engagement within the UN system to promote fundamental U.S. values, the State Department set out to partner with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to reinvigorate a global discussion on issues of race and tolerance. And so, in 2011 we began working with UNESCO on two major initiatives designed to bring these challenging issues to the forefront of the global conversation.
For the first project, the United States partnered with Brazil to launch “Teaching Respect for All” – where we are helping develop an anti-racism educational curriculum for the 21st century. Through this program, UNESCO is creating policy guidelines and educational materials to help educators and policymakers integrate anti-discrimination information/programs into existing curricula. The goal is to assist schools in removing barriers to social inclusion based on differences in race, culture, and ethnicity.
And today marks the launch of the second initiative: the U.S. network of UNESCO’s International Coalition of Cities Against Racism and Discrimination. We are so pleased to have found the ideal implementing partner in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, without whom this project never would have gotten off the ground. And UNESCO, with a mandate as laid out in its Constitution to “build peace in the minds of men and women,” presents the ideal venue for international cooperation in this area. Programs like this one show that strong U.S. engagement in the UN system is indispensible for supporting and furthering American values around the world. We are fortunate to have Marcello Scarone from UNESCO here with us today, and he will provide more detail on the history of the Coalition and its good work in other regions around the globe.
The United States has a long and difficult history of dealing with issues of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and exclusion. Certainly, we still have a long way to go before we can say we’ve got it right. However, we do have a wealth of experiences to share with each other, and with other countries around the world. And no one is better placed to share those lessons than you: the Mayors and local officials who live among and work with citizens whose real-life issues and struggles you strive to address each and every day.
And so, while this is a somber occasion, it is also an occasion to celebrate. The Ten-Point Plan of Action that you have developed presents those core American principles that reflect “the better angels of our nature.” I am so pleased to see that 50 cities have already signed on, and I look forward to watching the list grow throughout the coming days and weeks. On behalf of the State Department, congratulations to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and to UNESCO for forging this innovative partnership so that American cities may continue to build bridges on this critical issue – not only with each other, but with cities around the world.