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SFRC Chairman Menendez Statement for the Senate Record Applauding Contributions of Black Americans to U.S. Foreign Policy

WASHINGTONSenator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, submitted the following statement for the Senate record marking the end of Black History Month and in celebration of the immense contributions of Black Americans to U.S. foreign policy:

M. President,

I rise today as Black History Month comes to a close to pay tribute to Black Americans who have played pivotal roles in shaping American foreign policy and advancing national security abroad. As leaders and change-makers who have served the American people around the world, translating their own experiences fighting for justice and freedom in the United States into their passion for advancing democracy, human rights, and the rule of law overseas.

From the first Black diplomat Ebenezer Bassett, who served as Ambassador to Haiti from 1869 to 1877, to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who today serves as U.S. Representative to the United Nations, Black Americans have been at the forefront of advancing U.S. foreign policy.

Black Americans like Nobel Laureate Dr. Ralph Bunche, who mediated the 1949 Armistice Agreement and assisted in the creation of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration for Human Rights; Ambassador Edward Perkins, who was instrumental in the 1992 creation of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship; and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, who advanced the 2009 reopening of programs in Colombia, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia, have broken down barriers and made our world a better place.

And yet, while we have made great strides in increasing representation throughout our diplomatic and development corps’ ranks, our work is clearly far from over. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s first-ever government-wide diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) report, released earlier this month, Black Americans comprise just 12 percent of the Senior Executive Service (SES) workforce. And these findings are not limited to our domestic agencies. As I said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s first-ever DEIA hearing convened last year, between 2002 and 2021, the overall proportion of Black employees at the State Department decreased from 17 percent to 15 percent. At the time of our hearing, there were only four career Black ambassadors serving abroad.

This failure to harness America’s diverse talent pool is not only a grave error, but it also places us at a significant disadvantage when we seek to engage our allies and counter our adversaries on the world stage.

That is why, as the highest-ranking Latino in the U.S. Congress and the first Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of Latino descent, one of my top priorities has been to promote and expand diversity in our domestic and international affairs agencies, including in our most senior levels.

That is why I introduced diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) provisions as part of last year’s State Department Authorization bill, which passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023. And, why it is so important to support paid internship programs and fellowships in Congress, the State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and all of our international affairs agencies. Because without these opportunities – many students of color would be unable to afford to come work in Washington DC.

Our diversity continues to be our nation’s greatest source of strength, and we must act on this moral and strategic imperative to cultivate a representative workforce. Because in every single world crisis that the United States faces, a more diverse and more representative United States diplomatic corps would be a valuable asset.

A few years ago, when I was traveling in China, the diplomat in charge of democracy and human rights programs at our embassy had participated in the civil rights struggle.

His personal history, his personal eyewitness accounts of trying to change the course of events in our country as an African American man, were a powerful example to those fighting for democracy and human rights in China.

I can recount easily dozens of moments in different parts of the world where Americans from diverse backgrounds have made a powerful case for our country.

These life experiences cannot be replicated, they cannot be purchased, and they cannot be bought.

So, as Black History Month comes to a close, let us not only remember the critical contributions of African Americans in the formulation and execution of United States’ foreign policy, let us also recommit to doing our part to prepare the leaders who will strengthen and secure our national security in the future.

I yield the floor.”



Juan Pachon