MLK Breakfast Remarks by Ambassador Terence P. McCulley

Good Morning everyone,

Welcome to the U.S. Embassy’s breakfast to commemorate the life of the great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the following for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us today.

  • the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Professor Bakayoko-Ly Ramata,
  • the Minister of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Compensation for the Victims, Koné Mariatou,
  • the President of Forum National des Confessions Religieuses de Côte d’Ivoire, Ediémou Blin Jacob,
  • the Secretary General of Conseil Supérieur des Imams, Ouattara Bachir,
  • the President of Conférence des Eglises Protestantes et Missions Evangéliques de Côte d’Ivoire, Dion Yayé Robert,
  • the former Minister Sangaré Assana,
  • and the Director General of Fraternite Matin, Konan Venance.

I would also like to thank the other religious leadership joining us, the representatives of civil society, members of the media, student leaders and colleagues from the U.S. Embassy.

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to see all of you.  Akwaba!

We are gathered this morning to share a meal, enjoy some fellowship, and reflect on the accomplishments of a great American whose words and actions inspired so many throughout the world.  The photos shown this morning remind us of some the milestones from a life shortened abruptly by an assassin’s bullet.  As a young minister in Montgomery, Alabama, King helped lead the boycott inspired by Rosa Parks, a resolute African-American woman who refused to move to the back of a bus.  He led protest marches and nonviolent demonstrations that swept the American South and resulted in the desegregation of public transportation and public facilities. And in 1963, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., this very young minister captivated an entire nation with one of the most brilliant examples of American oratory ever delivered.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Those words are just as stirring today as they were in 1963.  They inspired not just Americans, but gave hope to people throughout the world, including people in the young nations of the developing world as they broke free from colonialism and sought to establish their place in the world.

The words and the work of Dr. King, the challenges he endured, the dangers he faced, continue to reverberate today in my country and around the world.  The American Civil Rights era involved thousands of Americans of all colors and faiths and affected the lives of millions, especially the forty-fourth President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.

Only a year ago to mark a seminal moment in the Civil Rights struggle, the marches in Selma, Alabama, that were brutally suppressed by local authorities, President Obama said,

“America is a constant work in progress … loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.”

I believe there are lessons for people other than Americans in those words.

In Côte d’Ivoire, President Ouattara has said that the primary goal of his second mandate will be to promote reconciliation. I could not agree more that this is absolutely essential. True, there are other important issues such as expanding economic opportunities to all Ivoirians, especially the youth and improving access to quality health care and education, but these goals cannot be achieved in the absence of meaningful reconciliation.

Regardless of place of origin, income-level, ethnicity, or religion, all Ivoirians must feel invested in the nation’s progress. I think you will all agree with this. And if you do, I encourage you to continue to spread a message of peace and gratitude for your brothers and sisters, your fellow Ivoirians, and implore them to put aside old disagreements and hostilities in favor of working together to ensure that Côte d’Ivoire realizes its potential and achieves the prosperous future it deserves.

This is no easy task.  Yet, I have seen Côte d’Ivoire make great progress over the past few years and I am optimistic that you are capable of doing much more.

Let us focus on what we know must be done to improve the lives of Ivoirians rather than focusing on the obvious difficulties.

I see an energetic and optimistic people whose prospects should be unlimited.

It is always easy to be pessimistic and to focus on the differences and past actions that divide us.

But I ask you to reflect on another phrase made famous by Dr. King and often repeated by President Obama.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The arc is long but it bends toward justice … I am convinced that is true in Côte d’Ivoire as well. The arc will bend toward justice, equality, and prosperity if all contribute to making it a reality. Let us all accept some responsibility to make it so.  Let us all work together and find strength in our diversity and differences.

Dr. King made his famous speech in 1963 when there was little reason to be confident that racial progress would be made in the United States, before the Voting Rights Act, and long before the election of the first African-American President.  Despite the obvious difficulties faced, he saw the possibility of a better future with greater freedom for people.  He recognized that men and women of good will, working together, could bring about that better day.

He said …

“when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Thank you very much for joining us this morning to celebrate the memory of this great American, and to reflect on how the universal values he fought so hard for can be applied in this wonderful country in which I have the honor to represent the government and people of the United States.