Fourth of July Reception

Your Excellency, Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali;
Your Excellency, Minister of External Relations Moukoko Mbonjo;
Your Excellencies, Members of Government;
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Heads of International Organizations, and other members of the diplomatic corps;
Distinguished guests and friends from all sectors, the media, arts, academia, the private sector, and alumni;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Colleagues and friends;

Bienvenue!  C’est un grand plaisir pour moi de vous accueillir ce soir pour se joindre à nous pour célébrer la Journée de l’Indépendance américaine.

Today we wish to celebrate 239 years of effort to build a peaceful, just and prosperous society in America, and highlight the promotion of civil rights as the key to the success we have enjoyed so far.

Helping us celebrate tonight are two great examples of the musical arts.  I want to offer a special thanks to the University of Buea choir.  When I first heard them sing several months ago, their beautiful voices brought tears to my eyes.  I am honored today by their superb rendition of America’s national anthem.

And it is also my privilege to welcome American musician Bobby Ricketts, whose sounds of jazz will be our feature entertainment tonight.  Bobby has traveled extensively throughout the world under the Department of State’s Arts Envoy Program, and will partner tonight with Cameroonian artists in a great jazz ensemble.  Thank you for joining us Bobby!

In 1776, the American “Declaration of Independence” was signed and a new nation was born.  Our Founding Fathers firmly believed that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  As President Obama eloquently said, “America began as a daring idea . . . our Founding Fathers . . . took a bold chance on an improbable experiment in democracy.”

And now, 239 years later, we can point to significant success in building a society based on freedom, equality and equal opportunity for all Americans, native-born and immigrant alike.

But the American journey has not been perfect.  After the adoption of our Constitution, it took 15 more years to adopt our Bill of Rights.  Sixty-nine years after that, we fought a bloody Civil War to finally end the evil of slavery.

It then took another half century from the end of the Civil War for women to gain the right to vote.  It took 100 years from the end of the Civil War and slavery for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to be signed into law.  Thus, it took almost two hundred years after independence for all men, including African Americans and women, to be guaranteed by law the full rights enjoyed by all citizens.

America’s journey on civil rights has been long and hard.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains the most prominently known of our civil rights heroes 47 years after his death at the hands of an assassin, yet his powerful message, that “an injustice against one is an injustice against all” echoes resoundingly around the globe.

Aujourd’hui, nous dévoilons une exposition de photos à partager avec vous de l’histoire des leaders de mouvement américaine des droits civiles.  Une de ces personnes extraordinaires est Cesar Chavez, le plus important chef hispanique dans l’histoire américaine.

Fifty years ago, Cesar Chavez began a farm worker movement in the United States.  He inspired millions of supporters to engage in nonviolent campaigns to improve the lives of farmworkers.

Following the example of Gandhi, Cesar announced he was fasting to rededicate the movement to nonviolence.  The photo in today’s exhibit is a snapshot of Cesar during that fast where he went without food for 25 days, only drinking water.

At the end of the fast, Cesar was too weak to speak, so his statement was read for him.  It ended with, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. The truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.  To be a man is to suffer for others.  God help us to be men.”

Exemples d’héroïsme et de personnes qui risquent leur vie pour les autres peuvent également être trouvés ici en Afrique.  Nelson Mandela a émergé comme un géant du 20ème et 21ème siècle, et propose aujourd’hui aux jeunes Africains un exemple de leadership et d’humilité à imiter.  Voilà pourquoi l’initiative des jeunes leaders africains du président Obama  (YALI) a été co-nommé “Mandela Washington Fellows Program.”  Are there any YALI alumni here tonight, raise your hand! (PAUSE) Welcome!

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 26 years on Robben Island, yet he forgave his captors, was elected as President of South Africa, and rebuilt his nation.  He said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  He was forever motivated by his one belief, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Dans cet esprit, les leaders des droits civiques dans notre exposition luttaient pour récupérer la dignité de ceux qui sont marginalisés par les sociétés de leur époque.

Whether it be Martin Luther King Jr. fighting for equality for African Americans, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, or leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities fighting for religious tolerance, they all had one common message:  freedom is a universal right, discrimination is a cancerous evil, and diversity is our strength.

The U.S. Embassy to Cameroon stands by this commitment to civil rights.  We are here to partner with Cameroon, as our friends the Cameroonian people strive in their own journey to build a peaceful, just and prosperous society.  We applaud Cameroon’s religious tolerance.  We marvel at Cameroon’s wonderful diversity.  We celebrate Cameroon’s centuries of rich culture.  We salute Cameroon’s courage in fighting the brutal oppression of Boko Haram.  We see a common trajectory, and we wish to build an ever stronger partnership between the American and Cameroonian people, based on our commitment to shared values.

Nos valeurs communes sont la base de notre partenariat.  Ils renforcent encore notre détermination à respecter les droits de l’homme, lutter contre le terrorisme, et accelerer la croissance de nos economies pour le benefice de tous nos citoyens.

And so, my distinguished guests, America’s Independence Day celebration honors the American people’s journey towards a more just and fair society.  We recognize that as humans we are imperfect, but we must perfectly seize the moment to champion the rights of all citizens so that all and not just a few share in the promise of a better future.

I would like now to offer a toast.  May I invite the Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali to join us here on the stage.  Please raise your glasses:

To the partnership of the Cameroonian and American people!  On est ensemble!

Let us now enjoy this evening of friendship. I  look forward to meeting many of you tonight.  Merci pour votre aimable attention.