America’s Black History Month Celebrates Human Rights for All

Chargé d'Affaires a.i. David J. Young
Chargé d’Affaires a.i. David J. Young  

February 27, 2014

In the 1960s, U.S. civil rights activist John Lewis was beaten with steel rods, knocked unconscious, and had stones thrown at the bus he was riding in, but he persevered, and his bravery helped to bring about the victories for human rights that have made the United States what it is today. As a member of the U.S. Congress in 2014, John Lewis is celebrated as a hero of the civil rights movement. Along with other civil rights champions, like Rosa Parks, who fought segregation on buses in the American South, he helped to expand the very definition of freedom and the guarantees of equal rights for all people — the ideals that inspire my country.

Every February, Americans celebrate Black History Month, and we salute the heroes who inspired others by their faith in the God-given dignity and equality of all people. Their vision, courage, and sacrifice resulted in the expansion of civil rights for all Americans. Like Zambia’s freedom fighters — Kenneth Kaunda, Harry Mwanga Nkumbula, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Julia Chikamoneka and Mama Kankansa, among others — whose sacrifices produced Zambia’s legacy of peaceful democracy – they serve as models and trailblazers for all of us, as we struggle for justice and equality for all people. Today’s civil rights leaders are those who raise their voices promoting democracy and protecting human rights around the globe.

Both the United States and Zambia this year have important anniversaries to celebrate. Fifty years ago in the United States, the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The year 2014 of course also marks Zambia’s 50 years of independence from colonial rule. Together, we celebrate our 50 years of freedom anniversaries and 50 years of bilateral relations with a commitment to the observance of human rights and the promotion of democracy. These are rights that our forebears fought for in our respective countries.

This year of jubilee celebrations is an opportunity for us to consider that a strong democracy requires respect for dissenting voices and the self-confidence to follow people of conscience in new directions. This is the example that John Lewis and other civil rights leaders challenge us to follow. We salute and celebrate those brave people inside and outside of government who speak out on behalf of others — from the church, non-governmental organizations, ministries, and foundations; activists who speak for the poor, children living on the streets, orphaned and vulnerable children and those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. These heroes – in Zambia and America — have embraced the spirit of the freedom fighters in Zambia and the civil rights movement heroes in the United States. We salute their work, and we salute their voices.

The United States proudly renews its partnership with Zambia to continue building a more prosperous and inclusive nation. Our partnership with the Zambian people is one of mutual responsibility and mutual respect. Zambia is a nation that proudly celebrates its democratic record, with committed people in and out of government who work hard to sustain the health and education of Zambia’s people and strive to govern transparently and justly.

The campaign for freedom is truly a long march. Human rights are not won in a day, and equality and justice for all have never come without dedication and sacrifice. Those of us in America challenge ourselves to continually improve and expand freedom for all our citizens; I know this is a common call for our Zambian brothers and sisters as well. Both of our societies benefit from the courageous voices who inspire us and challenge us to advance freedom’s march. John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr… they are part of our litany of heroes and heroines. Let us all commit ourselves to be part of that movement toward greater freedom, equality and human rights for all.