Ambassador Sullivan at the Tazama Film Festival

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to be with you today to celebrate the Tazama Film Festival. I applaud Claudia Yoka for her visionary courage in bringing together so much talent for this event.

The Women and Power Film Festival is being showcased during a pivotal time in Congo and the United States. In fact, it was just 60 years ago that another courageous woman stood up – ironically by sitting down. On December 1st, 1955, an American named Rosa Parks refused to listen to a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama when he insisted that she move to the back of a bus. Under the racist policy of segregation, African Americans in the United States were required to use separate areas in public spaces like restaurants, buses, schools and water fountains. That was the law in the segregated South during the 1950s.

When Ms. Parks refused to change her seat, she later claimed that she was not really tired, but just “tired of giving in.” Due to her efforts, she became known as the mother of the freedom movement in the United States. Her peaceful act of protest, inspired by Gandhi, helped mobilize a movement stewarded by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other private citizens who stood up for human dignity and literally changed history.

Although widely honored in later years, she also suffered for her act. She was fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store, and received death threats for years afterwards. However her situation also opened doors. Her personal courage helped inspire a coordinated movement that led to desegregation of public schools, voting rights reforms, and integrated housing laws. The civil rights movement and civic engagement resulted in productive dialogues between activists and government authorities. In the United States federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and communities engaged collectively to address the inequities faced by African Americans.

I would not say that everything is perfect now in the United States in terms of race relations and social and economic inequity. However, what a historic moment that tonight America’s first African American president will have his final address to the nation before a peaceful transfer of power which will ensue over the next year. Meanwhile one of the leading presidential candidates is a woman who could become America’s first female president following America’s first black president. What a monumental achievement in a mere 50 years!

As Ambassador of the United States of America, I am very happy to welcome Nevline Nnaji to Congo and thank her for telling the previously untold story of women’s contributions to the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks is one example of a woman who helped turned the tide to advance civil rights in America. However many more previously unheard voices contributed to this effort as you will discover in this documentary. Nevline Nnaji’s film recounts how ordinary citizens who exercise their civic rights – by voting and participating in their societies — can help shape the future to improve the circumstances of their families and societies.

Thank you for joining us today, and enjoy the documentary “Unheard Reflections: Black Women in Civil Rights.” We look forward to a discussion with the film director and the founder of the Tazama Film Festival after its conclusion. Thank you.