The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

The hill we climb - Celebrating an America of possibilities

Sunday, 28 February 2021, 08:31 Last update: about 3 months ago

Gwendolyn “Wendy” Green

On a bright sunshine filled day in February 2009, I took the hands of my then four- and six-year-old children and we began to walk across a rather nondescript bridge in Selma, in the U.S. southern state of Alabama.   In 1965, one of the most famous civil rights marches in the United States began on this bridge -- an event later memorialized on film in 2014’s Selma. The peaceful march was violently halted by police and the bloody imagery from that day remains a profound reminder of this enduring struggle. I wanted my children to walk that same path, hear stories of that day, and, hopefully, remember the lessons of heroes of that day like Martin Luther King Jr. and John Robert Lewis.

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At that time, we lived in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the civil rights movement.  It is where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger and where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the movement’s leader.  As a mom, I want my children to grow up in a world where the color of your skin is no barrier to success.  I’m raising them to help fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a day when no-one will be judged “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  I also remind them of John Robert Lewis’ famous quote, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.”  It’s a lesson we should all embrace. When we witness acts of racism, discrimination, or bullying, it is our duty to speak up.

In the United States, we struggle to live up to King’s and Lewis’s ideals of racial harmony.  Just as in Malta and elsewhere around the globe, we are a work in progress, and we keep striving for a more just world.  Fifty years after King’s speech, #BlackLivesMatter was founded after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and, in June 2020, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in the United States to call for racial justice after police brutally killed George Floyd.  Here in Malta, we witnessed outrage and protests after the murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, a young migrant father who left behind a grieving widow and three children.  These crimes are deeply horrifying.  Yet people the world over came together to protest.  In the face of racism and discrimination, civil society rallied to stir our conscience and bolster our determination to overcome marginalization.  It’s the widespread outcry holding us accountable to living up to our ideals that gives me hope.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month and urged us all to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” From Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball to Ralph Bunche earning a Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a peace deal between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbors, African Americans have been integral to our cultural, political, and economic development. 

More recently, my kids and I celebrated the film Hidden Figures, which finally acknowledged the achievements of African American women who worked as human computers in the U.S. space program.  For so many years, these women were ignored; no one knew about the sacrifices they made, the prejudice they endured.  But the barriers they broke opened doors for so many others.  In 2019, my Embassy proudly hosted Jeannette Epps, the first African American crew member of the International Space Station.  She later shared her experience as an astronaut with Maltese schoolgirls and urged them to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams. 

In January 2021, we watched spellbound as Vice-President Kamala Harris took her oath of office, smashing through the glass ceiling as the first woman and the first person of African, Jamaican, and South Asian ancestry to occupy that position.  And we were all overcome by Amanda Gorman’s stirring poem “The Hill We Climb.”  These women are the latest in a long line of inspiring African American women who prove that the United States is truly a country of possibilities.  The American dream is open to anyone of any background, color, or religion, and we share this value of equal opportunity with Malta and other democratic societies. 

In celebration of Black History Month this year, we celebrate by showcasing the achievements of some of Malta’s amazing and diverse women.  Some of these remarkable women overcame both gender and color discrimination to be successful and build a stronger, more inclusive Maltese society.  Check out our Facebook page to find out more about these inspirational women and to tune into a panel discussion with them about the hills they climbed, coming in March (https://www.facebook.com/usembmalta/).  

Our Black History Month celebrations give us a chance to recognize the contributions of a historically disadvantaged minority group in the United States.  Without them, we would be a much lesser nation.  I leave you with the words of poet Amanda Gorman, “We are striving to forge a union with purpose; to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.”  May her words resonate across the globe and strengthen our determination to consign racism and discrimination to the annals of history. 

 

Gwendolyn “Wendy” Green is the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires

 

 

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