Martin Luther King Exhibit & Concert
February 19, 2019, 1800 – 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good evening and welcome. Tonight is a very special night for me and Judith, as it marks the last time we will host an event at the Ambassador’s residence. I am very happy and touched to see such a large number of friends, colleagues, and partners here tonight.
In the U.S., February is the month when we celebrate Black History Month. It is an occasion to reflect on the extraordinary contributions that African-Americans have made to the history of our country. One of the most towering figures in African-American history – in fact, in all of American history – is Dr. Martin Luther King. As an activist for peace, justice, and equality, King profoundly changed the direction of American life and left behind a legacy that continues to inspire people around the world today.
To honor this legacy, we have installed an exhibition about Martin Luther King’s life and message in the garden this evening. I hope you have already taken a look at the panels. I am proud to tell you that in the coming weeks this exhibit will be traveling to Sokode, Kara, and Dapaong, so that schoolchildren all over Togo can learn about and draw inspiration from King’s story.
The civil rights movement led by King galvanized Americans from all walks of life to think deeply about inequality and injustice – school teachers and bus drivers as well as poets and artists. Musicians, especially, were inspired by the civil rights movement to create some of the most popular and iconic songs in American history. Tonight we are going to present you with a selection of these songs, performed by my good friend David Kokoroko and the Dunamis Band, accompanied by the University of Lome choir. And we also have a special guest singer who has come all the way from the U.S.: Heather Maxwell. Heather is a singer, songwriter, and DJ who hosts Voice of America’s Music Time in Africa program. Heather, thank you for joining us!
Now, concerts and exhibits are wonderful, but the truth is, the most important way we can celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy is by trying to follow his example by promoting peace, justice, and reconciliation in our communities. I want to take a few moments to congratulate a group of young Togolese who are doing just that. They are 18 young people who come from all regions of the country. Just this morning they participated in a training funded by the U.S. Embassy on how to resolve conflicts peacefully and strengthen social cohesion. Soon they will return to their communities to pass on this knowledge by training others. We are calling them “The Heroes of Living Together,” and I hope you will join me in applauding them!
Ladies and gentlemen . . .
One of Martin Luther King’s most famous quotes is: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” As I come to the end of my stay in Togo, I have been thinking about this quote. It seems to me to capture an essential optimism, a faith in the possibility of progress that is at the heart of all King’s writings. When I think of Togo, I feel this same sense of optimism and faith. The arc of Togo’s history is long, but it bends towards progress.
I know it can be hard to see the progress at times, and I do not neglect or underestimate the challenges that exist. But I believe the potential and the promise of this country are immense, above all the creativity and dynamism of the youth who will be the leaders of the future.
And so, I will close by echoing the words of another great optimist and believer in Togo, the president Sylvanus Olympio, who said in his speech 59 years ago that proclaimed the country’s independence:
But young Togo is here,
Proud of his strength, eager to enter the arena.
He bears on the forehead the pride of a free people
And his ardent heart fills with enthusiasm before the task,
Certainly rough but so exhilarating, which is offered to him.
It has been one of the joys of my life to serve here. Thank you for the warmth and the friendship that you have always shown me and my family. Long live Togo, long live the U.S.A., and long live the cooperation between our two countries!