Remarks at the UN General Assembly Annual Observance of Nelson Mandela International Day

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis
Senior Advisor for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
July 21, 2021


Mr. President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, the United States is honored to participate in this important day, as host country, to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela – one of the most inspiring leaders of our time who left an imprint on generations to come.

As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield recently highlighted, “the essence of Mandela Day – to act and inspire change – is grounded in President Mandela’s lifelong struggle to advance human rights, freedom, and democracy in the face of extraordinary challenges.” Nelson Mandela’s vision for a world free of injustice transcends generations, cultures, languages, and groups. His powerful work continues to inform us all. He bent the arc of history toward justice, and in doing so inspired the world. While today is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our commitment to serving our communities as agents of change, it is also a call to action to fight injustice and inequality every day, and to support youth activists who seek to positively impact their communities and the broader global community.

Around the world, young people are following President Mandela’s footsteps and driving change with resilience and creativity. Young people have been at the frontline of global movements against systemic issues like racism and climate change, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are driving campaigns to ensure that the most impacted and vulnerable communities have access to vaccines, decent housing, and educational opportunities, and a voice in political decision making on their future.

Young activists are also disrupting outdated standards of professionalism, calling on companies and organizations to create welcoming and inclusive environments, and forcing them to take a public stance against racism and racial discrimination. In the United States, youth activism and political participation has held government leaders and institutions accountable. And President Biden has underscored U.S. commitment to root out systemic racism and to champion equity and equality for all people. In universities, students are demanding more inclusive and diverse curricula, and forcing their administrations to address legacies of racism in academia.

Organizations are bringing together young and seasoned activists to eliminate systemic issues, including voter suppression and excessive police violence, and demand that companies not profit from the spread of hate online. And since 2010, the Young African Leaders Initiative has graduated more than 24,000 young innovators from all countries in sub-Saharan Africa from the Mandela Washington Fellowship exchange program and its four Regional Leadership Centers located across the continent, ensuring President Mandela’s legacy remains truly universal.

Sadly, around the globe today, countries are facing political, social, and economic challenges, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. It is in times of such adversity that we must remember President Mandela’s lessons. As we continue to work towards solving injustices around the world, and achieving peace, justice, and equality for everyone, let us be guided by this conviction from President Mandela: “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”

Mr. President, the United States reaffirms its dedication to propel Nelson Mandela’s vision for a more just and freer world, where peace and prosperity for all reigns.

Thank you.