Remarks by Ambassador C. Steven McGann: United Negro College Fund Leadership BreakfastRemarks by Ambassador C. Steven McGann

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Pleased to speak this morning representing the Association of Black American Ambassadors.

The UNCF Leaders Breakfast hosted by The Cornerstone Group is an important opportunity to
share the future direction of ABAA.

The African-American Community needs to know ABAA and its goals.

We are a senior-level group that understands how policy-making works. Our objective is to share that knowledge and advance the interests of the community we serve.

 We have to build within this framework to identify policies, programs and people that the African-American Community would support as we begin to define and expand our agenda.

There must be a clear, identifiable African-American perspective on foreign affairs issues as we participate in defining the United States foreign policy goals.

Moreover, we have to strengthen the cohort of Black Americans who seek careers in foreign affairs in civilian agencies, the intelligence community, military, private sector and academia.

Let me begin by explaining the ABAA’s mission.

                                                                                                 MISSION STATEMENT    

The Association of Black American Ambassadors is a national organization incorporated in the District of Columbia whose purpose is to bring together African Americans who were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate as Ambassadors of the United States in order to advance public understanding of diplomacy, to promote diversity within the various government agencies responsible for foreign policy, and to put their knowledge at the service of the national interest.    

The goals and objectives of the organization are:

  • To provide a forum for an exchange of views between its members and various arms of government responsible for shaping foreign policy;
  • To make available to the government and to the people of the United States the knowledge, experience and perspectives gained during their ambassadorial service;
  • To assist new ambassadorial appointees and other Foreign Service personnel in preparation for their assignments;
  • To identify and recommend individuals to appropriate foreign policy agencies of government for selection and appointment;
  • To be involved in the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service candidates, recognizing that a truly diverse Foreign Service is in the national interest; and,
  • To serve as a source of counsel, encouragement and collaboration for institutions and organizations seeking to develop interest in foreign affairs in young persons, particularly minorities.
  • To engage, on issues of importance to the ABAA, with other foreign affairs organizations that advise the U.S. Department of State.
  • To advance public understanding of U.S. diplomacy by writing or speaking about issues of international significance that affect the foreign policy of the United States.

ABAA has small steps and big obstacles ahead. We begin with a base of 60 member with appointments ranging from each previous Administration regardless of political party comprising career Foreign Service Officers and political appointees.

If we can strengthen partnerships, increase social media and obtain additional funding then we can expand outreach.

The African-American community needs a credible foreign policy voice that reflects its priorities. That already is our mandate and we have the gravitas.

I believe we can achieve these objectives while pressing our concerns about Foreign Service, civil service and military recruitment, retention and promotion.

In the coming months, you will see ABAA opinion pieces on the Situation in Haiti, the African Leaders Summit, Ukraine and Global Food Security, the Role of African Women in Economic Growth and Development, Artisanal Miners in Congo Impact on the Global Economy, the Growing Prescence of African-American Expatriates in Africa as well as other topics important to our community.

These will be short pieces but enough for the broader African-American community to have “talking points” to discuss among ourselves and promote within the foreign policy arena.

For example, early in the Ukraine war when African refugees were being turned away at the border, it should have been made clear that US humanitarian assistance was unconditional and discrimination unconstitutional.

That said, we plan to ask our members to draft short 1000-word articles under an ABAA byline that are important to them. We also want mentoring to include aspiring Black foreign affairs professionals co-authoring these articles with ABAA members. [GU1] 

Writing and mentoring should be synonymous. We plan to reach out to HBCU faculty and students for policy drafts.  It is critical that we build a record of performance not only as an organization but also to provide aspiring foreign affairs professionals in government and private sector with additional skill sets.

Recently, the ABAA joined several organizations in signing a letter to Congress proposing legislation to block a future Administration from imposing a Schedule F executive order that would politicize the civil service. The Biden Administration rescinded the previous order.

However, from an ABAA standpoint a Schedule F executive order would be the existential threat to African-Americans in government since Woodrow Wilson segregated the civil service.

Starting from Wilson’s order we could draw a line tying the gap between Richard T. Greener’s 1905 appointment as the Consul General in Vladivostok to AMB Edward Dudley’s 1949 Monrovia assignment to AMB Terrence Todman’s 1972 breakthrough tenure at State to previous ABAA Executive Committee efforts and our ongoing concerns about Foreign Service recruitment, retention and promotion.

The social media campaign is the first step in establishing a credible voice. Again, our objective is to strengthen partnerships, increase social media and obtain additional funding then we can expand outreach.

Today’s discussion is the first step in that process. We hope to have in early 2023, a strategic plan that our members can endorse and for you to support. Thank you for listening.

Notes

  1. Since 1983 when the title and rank of Ambassador was first officially used for the head of the nation’s diplomatic missions, there have been more than 3,500 ambassadorial appointments. Of those appointments, only 162 Black Americans (less than 5%) have held this title and rank, as appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
  2. To date, President Biden has only appointed 14 Black Americans to ambassadorial posts; 10 have been confirmed by U.S. Senate, while four (4) still await confirmations.
  3. Of the 162 Black American U.S. Ambassadors, 57 have been women and 105 men
  4. Of the 162 Black American U.S. Ambassadors, 90 have been Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and 72 have been Non-Career Appointees (NCAs)
  5. Since several individuals have been appointed on multiple occasions, to multiple ambassadorial postings and by multiple Presidents, the total number of times a Black American has been appointed and confirmed is 233 total times.
  6. Republican Presidents have appointed a Black American to the U.S. ambassadorship 108 times, while Democratic Presidents have done so 125 times.

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