Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard's Remarks During the Black History Month Art Exhibition
As prepared (not as delivered)
I would like to first extend my appreciation and gratitude to the many people who came together to organize today’s art exhibition.
I would like to also personally acknowledge Dr. Desta and Tsione Wolde for lending their experience and artistic insight. Their creative vision helped bring today’s exhibition to life.
I would like to especially recognize Addis Fine Art Gallery for hosting today’s exhibition. Addis Fine Art Gallery has succeeded in showcasing modern and contemporary artists from Ethiopia and the diaspora at some of the most elite art fairs around the globe. We are very proud to partner with Addis Fine Art Gallery for today’s exhibition.
Last, I would like to acknowledge the following organizations for their contributions and support: The African Union’s Citizens and Diaspora Directorate (CIDO), Jesuit Refugee Services, Good Samaritan, UNAMID, OHCHR, and UNHCR.
Artistic expression can give a voice, or view, to the most difficult and painful of human experiences, helping people understand in a more profound way the terrible journeys and hardships endured.
The art work displayed represents the visions and perspectives of everyday Africans from 15 countries across the African continent. Their work reflects their artistic response to a part of American history that is deeply connected to the African continent—the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration in human history. Out of the 20 million people who were forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery, nearly half did not complete the journey.
Of those 12.5 million who survived to be trafficked across the Atlantic and disbursed throughout the New World, roughly 350,000 were brought to the present-day United States. Their story is one of pain, survival, resistance, and resilience.
The narratives that shape the Transatlantic Slave Trade still have meaning today. It is an important part of American history that carries unique significance to the people of Africa and the African diaspora.
February is recognized as African American History Month in the United States. African American History Month began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 and became a month long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
In recognition of African American History Month we celebrate through art the stories of resilience, narratives too often placed in the margins, which connect and unite us all. We celebrate the men and women who helped raise the pillars of democracy, even when the halls they built were not theirs to occupy.
Africa’s history is a story of resilience. It is made up of a diverse tapestry of narratives that extend beyond the single narrative of continuous hardships, and a constant struggle for peace. In order to build the Africa we want we must reflect on the stories of the past that have given rise to the resilient stories of triumph so eloquently depicted in the art work you see today. Let this inspiration infuse our visions and actions as we move forward together.
Since its creation nearly ten years ago, the U.S. Mission to the African Union has been working in close partnership with the AU and UNECA, to help ensure that the democratic values that the United States celebrates and continues to refine is one that can be realized across Africa.