Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
August 25, 2022
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me start by thanking you, Dr. Roundtree and Professor Bernard, for your gracious and hospitable welcome to this university. It is really my honor to be here among you and your student body and your faculty, and it really is great for me to be with you all today and to be back in Chicago.
And more specifically it’s great to be in Chicago in the summer. [Laughter.] The first time – the first time I came to this city, before any of the students were born – their parents probably were – they weren’t even a figment of their parents’ imagination. I came here in 1980 the first time. It was in January. I vaguely recall January 6, but I don’t know that it was January 6 since January 6 is so blazoned in our memory. And I was here to take the oral portion of my Foreign Service Exam. I remember it like it was yesterday because it was so cold. [Laughter.]
And you may have heard, I’m from Louisiana. So coming to – I was studying in Wisconsin at the time and coming to Madison, Wisconsin, was my first experience with winter. So it was really kind of devastating to feel it on – in Chicago in January and the wind was blowing, and as I walked to the Federal Building, I was nervous about the exam because I was told that this was going to be one of the hardest exams I had ever taken. I was unfamiliar with the place. And worst of all, I was freezing. [Laughter.] And I was walking around in brogan boots that were entirely ill-equipped for the slush and the snow that I had to get through to get to the Federal Building.
But none of that really mattered. Because in the end, what I knew was that if I passed that exam, the doors of the world would be wide open for me.
And I won’t hold the students in suspense: I passed the exam. [Laughter.] I wasn’t sure, to be honest. I wasn’t sure that I was going to pass. And even after I finished the exam, I wasn’t sure that I’d passed it. It really was the hardest oral exam I had ever taken. You have these four guys – all four white guys, I have to say – [laughter] – who are grilling you about what you know, trying to dig out from you whether you were of the quality and the capacity and capability to be in the Foreign Service.
And when they finished with me and the five other people who took the exam with me at the same time, I came away with a clear understanding that I was not of the caliber to be in the Foreign Service. I really was traumatized by the experience. That has changed now. But I was totally traumatized by the experience. So I have to admit I was absolutely shocked that I passed the exam, and I found out later from the other five students who took it with me that I was the only one of that five who passed – of the six who passed the exam.
But I was granted entry into the Foreign Service, and I joined the ranks of public servants – public servants charged with advancing America’s foreign policy around the world. And it doesn’t get any better than that.
And as a result, I had to – I had the chance to pursue an opportunity that I never dreamed of. And I am hoping that there are some of you here in the room who will see this as an opportunity you never dreamed of. And I’d like to – I’m going off – all off my remarks now, so I apologize to the speechwriter. [Laughter.]
But the – President Sirleaf, who was the president of Liberia when I served as ambassador, gave a commencement address. And in her commencement address – and I quote her all the time – and what she said: If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. Your dreams have to be bigger than your capacity to achieve them.
And that’s where I ended up. I never dreamed of this. And to end up in a place that you never dreamed of, and to love it, is not – it ended up not being a nightmare. It was actually a dream come true. I had only lived in Louisiana and Wisconsin, and I did have a small opportunity to travel to Liberia in 1976. Again, your parents probably weren’t even born then. I went to Liberia in 1976 to do research there. And to be in the Foreign Service, it really opened up extraordinary doors for me. And as you heard, I lived in Switzerland, I lived in Pakistan, I’ve traveled to Afghanistan, I lived in Kenya, I lived in The Gambia, in Nigeria, in Jamaica, and then went back to Libera as the ambassador 30 years after I had studied there as a student, serving there interestingly – and I didn’t even realize it until the day I arrived that I was the first female ambassador ever to serve in Liberia. And Liberia had had ambassadors from the 1800s, and we’d never had a female ambassador. There is a long wall of all of the ambassadors that have ever served there, and the wall was filled with men – many African American men because it was the one place African Americans could go – but not a single woman until me. And they were all in black and white, and I decided when I hung my picture I was going to wear a bright-red suit – [laughter] – and lighten up the place a little bit.
I have enjoyed my career advocating for getting food to the hungry, medicine to the sick, and homes here in America for those persecuted abroad. And I met with refugees today, some of them from Afghanistan, from Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Ethiopia, from Ukraine even, from Afghanistan, from Syria, who have found a home after living under persecution in the countries that they felt they had to escape for, and that has been an extraordinary experience for me seeing that we – our country has provided opportunities for other people.
I’ve followed in the footsteps of some amazing diplomats before me, all the way back to our first diplomat, first African American diplomat, Frederick Douglass. In the current job that I’m in right now, I follow in the footsteps of Madeleine Albright, who just passed away, but was our ambassador to the United Nations and the first woman Secretary of State. I’ve followed in the footsteps of my own mentor, Ambassador Ed Perkins, who also served as ambassador to Liberia, also served as director general of the Foreign Service, and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. And it really doesn’t get better than that, to be able to really step in the shoes of the person who mentored you. And I can’t imagine what he had to feel knowing that he had really laid out that path for me.
As the director general of the Foreign Service, I helped to ensure that future generations of diplomats would look more like the America we know, that there would be more diplomats who looked like those of us here in this room. Passing that exam even opened the doors for my current job: serving as the Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of the President’s Cabinet.
I tell you this because I want you to know that that door is a door that is wide open for you. It wasn’t wide open for me. It was cracked for me, and we talked a little bit about that before we came in. For me it was just a little crack, and I kind of worked my way through that crack in the door. The door is wide open for all of you, and I encourage you to look at those opportunities. You can rise to the highest ranks of our government, you can travel the world, you can serve your community and you can serve your country.
So I’m here today, in part, to talk to all of you about your careers and what it’s like to have a life of public service, and I look forward to the Q&A part of this where we can get down into the deep and dirty.
What we’re doing at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and across our government to open doors for historically underrepresented people to participate in public service – that’s why I’m here. It’s why I believe that everyone should spend some portion of their life serving others, doing public service. And it doesn’t have to be in government. Sometimes young people say, “Well, what should I do when I graduate?” I think you should all go the Peace Corps. I never did it. It was something I always wanted to do. I feel like I’m a failure because I never did the Peace Corps. But the Peace Corps gives you extraordinary skills; it gives you a sense of service; it gives you a route, a small one, outside of your own country that opens up many, many doors for you.
In 2013, while serving as the director general of the Foreign Service, I was called back to Chicago because we lost one of our own. And her name was Anne Smedinghoff, and she grew up in one of the suburbs around Chicago. Anne joined the Foreign Service immediately after college – and for her second posting, she volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, despite the danger.
And why? And I’d like to read to you – read to you what she wrote in her application. She said, “I take seriously the word ‘service’ in our job title, and I want to be sent where I am needed most, where my work has the potential to do the most good.” And she did just that.
The day that Anne was killed by a suicide bomber, alongside four others, she was on her way to deliver books to a school in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan. She was doing what she wanted to do when her life was so brutally taken away from her, but also away from all of us. Until her very last moment on this Earth, she was doing good – and that’s why public service is so important.
I told a group of people today that one of the things that I know every single day, and particularly when I was working on refugee and humanitarian issues, I always knew every single day that I did something good. And sometimes people would say, “Well, what did you do?” And I couldn’t answer the question. I just knew I was doing good because I felt good about what I was doing, and I felt like it was having an impact on other people’s lives. And it really doesn’t get any better than that.
We all don’t get the opportunity to go to places like Afghanistan, and there are many ways that we can serve in our community and serve our country. But my question to all of you is: how can you do the most good in your lives?
And here’s a question that I think you can ask me: how can we help? How can we help you get to where you need to be where you can do the most good in your lives?
So I’m here to talk to you about that, and anything else that you all want to discuss – global affairs, career questions, deep dish pizza, gumbo diplomacy. [Laughter.] I’m here to answer all of your questions and hopefully give you some guidance about how you might pursue a career in the Foreign Service, in foreign affairs. And I will say that when I talk about foreign affairs, now, since I’ve been at the United Nations, I think we need to do a better job of getting more Americans, and more Americans of color, into the United Nations as well because that’s also about service. So I will answer those questions for you.
I want to introduce my dip in – our dip in residence. Can you stand up and just introduce yourself?
MS. FALATKO: Hi, I’m Susan Falatko and I am the diplomat in residence for the Midwest. I cover Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. And I would be happy to talk to any of you after this. We can do emails. We can have conversations. I can do an information session on all the opportunities we have.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And we have an amazing website that was developed. It’s much better than it was when I was DG, but I was part of developing the first stages of that website where you can learn everything about – that you want to know about the Foreign Service, learn who your diplomat in residence is, how to contact her, but just look for internships, all kinds of opportunities.
So I look forward to this conversation and thank you so much for having me here. [Applause.]
DR. BERNARD: Thank you so much for your remarks, Madame Ambassador. And definitely, Susan, we are definitely looking forward to being in touch with you. We’ve got a lot of students here with keen interests, and we’ll share information.
So we will now turn to questions from our students, our panel of outstanding CSU scholars. Madam Ambassador, we are all inspired and intrigued by your progression from humble beginnings in Louisiana to a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, a master’s degree from University of Wisconsin, and now the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
So here to start us off with a first question about your journey is Stride Dezir.
QUESTION: Thank you once again, Ambassador, for coming to Chicago State University. When I heard I would have the opportunity to speak with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, I wanted to know what I could do to prepare myself in some ways. The Army ROTC has trained me to always be prepared as a commissioned officer for the United States Army. But knowing as an African American that we are underrepresented in leadership, I always wanted to do more. What are three things that help you excel in your career as a leader and international diplomat, and what would you recommend as the next step for me if I wanted to become a leader in the Foreign Service?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a very loaded question. [Laughter.] And I always have answers that are written, sometimes, that I’m supposed to look at, but I like to make it up all the time. And I’m not going to make it up.
I think for me, it was being open to new ideas. I didn’t know anything about the Foreign Service and living and working overseas, but I was open to the possibility and the idea once I was introduced to it. And so that allowed me to lean in when the opportunity presented itself.
And secondly, my view on any job that you have is that you do your best. So the reason I’m a great cook is because my first job was as a cook, working for my grandmother when I was 12 years old. So whether my job was a cook or to be the USUN Ambassador or whatever I had to do, I leaned into that as well. I – nothing was beneath me.
So I meet a lot of young people and they get a job that they don’t really like, and they think it’s beneath them, and they keep coming to me saying, “But I really don’t want this job,” whatever this job is; “I really think I ought to be up here.” But what they’re not doing is what they have been given to do down here. So I don’t know that you’re capable of doing anything up here because you haven’t done what you’ve been assigned to do down here. It’s about commitment. So whatever job you do, whether you think it’s beneath you, you give it your all.
And then third, for me, it’s about how you deal with other people, and that is about showing respect and kindness to the other people you have to work with.
So combining all of those three things I think contributed to my success both when I was an entry-level officer and now as a member of President Biden’s Cabinet.
DR. BERNARD: Excellent, thank you. Sorry, I was waiting for more. So if somebody did, like, want to take their next step, is it that they should contact Susan at this point?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, contact Susan, but I also – just get online and start reading. Look up careers in the Foreign Service. Read some books that are about people who – a lot of our Foreign Service people have written amazing biographies. That’s on my to-do list at some point. My mentor, Ed Perkins, who was born in Louisiana, who was in the Marines and had a distinguished career, came into the Foreign Service at a later life, has written an amazing book called “Mr. Ambassador.” I recommend his book.
Bill Burns, who is the current head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Bill came into the Foreign Service with me. We came into the same Foreign Service class. And now I’m forgetting the name of Bill’s book. What is Bill’s book?
MS. FALATKO: “The Back Channel.”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: “The Back Channel.” I was about to say “Out of Bounds” or something. [Laughter.] And I just finished reading it, and again, it describes his own trajectory in the Foreign Service, going from an entry-level officer with me in 1982 to becoming the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. And there are very few people who’ve had careers like Bill’s career in the Foreign Service.
So start reading. Just pick up a book and start to read. And then I always tell everyone, what’s good preparation for the Foreign Service? If you’re not getting A’s in your English class, take them over again. [Applause and laughter.] For the English teacher in the room. [Laughter.]
PARTICIPANT: Chair of English and foreign languages.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes. [Laughter.] Because you’ve got to know how to communicate. And to communicate, you’ve got to know how to write, and you have to know how to write well. And you also have to know how to listen and you have to know how to talk. Communication is about talking and listening.
And when I taught a class at Georgetown, I had my students do four papers. The first one was a one-page paper, and that was always the hardest. People practically fail that because to be succinct is very, very hard. Like, I want a one-page paper on a subject that you intend to do a longer paper on. So basically, it’s the summary. So you can do – you can write a book, but if the first chapter is boring, nobody is going to go and read the rest of it.
So your summary in your paper is more important than the body of the paper. So learn how to write well. It’s harder to write a shorter paper than it is to write a longer paper. So that was the first paper that they had to write was this very short one- to two-page paper.
And so thank you – [laughter] – Madam Chair. But I wasn’t a great writer when I came into the Foreign Service. I learned to write in the Foreign Service. I wish I had been a better writer, I had paid attention to my teachers. Because in order to pass your political science class you’ve got to be able to write. So English is really the foundation of preparation for any career that you want to pursue. You want to be a lawyer? You’ve got to write.
DR. BERNARD: Yes, thank you so much. And —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: But also reach out to our dip in residence. [Laughter.]
DR. BERNARD: So we are looking forward to your book and we are hoping you put the gumbo recipe in the first chapter. [Laughter.]
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The gumbo recipe is in The Washington Post. So if you do “gumbo diplomacy” and put “Washington Post,” I don’t know what else – people tell me – you can pull up my gumbo recipe. And since you asked me about it, I always tell people it’s the only thing that I’m not humble about, and that’s cooking. I was traveling in Ghana two weeks ago and the ambassador in Ghana had a dinner, and on her dinner card she had “LTG’s Gumbo.” And I’m like, oh, God. She’s like, “My chef used your recipe,” and I’m like, oh, God. I have never used the recipe. I made it up. [Laughter.] It was like, okay, we want your gumbo recipe, and I just kind of made up something. It was the best gumbo I’ve ever eaten. [Laughter.] It really was. It was better than any gumbo I ever made. So now I have to use my recipe. So I encourage you to use my recipe.
DR. BERNARD: We will all go to The Washington Post.
Well, Madam Ambassador, we also know that throughout your career you have been dedicated to issues impacting women and girls, and this is an issue that is also very close to the heart of D’Mya Bradley.
QUESTION: Hello. Good evening. Ambassador Greenfield and everyone in the audience, I consider this opportunity a great honor. My name is D’Mya Bradley. I am a CSU senior. I’m a member of the Honors College. I am the dean’s list 2019 through 2020. Also, I am a criminal justice major and a sociology minor. I do a lot of volunteer work in my community and other communities with restorative justice, and especially Peer Jury.
Peer Jury is a Chicago Police Department program where youth assist other youth with staying in their community, in their homes, and making viable relationships with other community members. This is a very important topic for me because I am very interested in women’s rights and understanding what women stand for, even across the world.
So this leads me to my question for you. The UN’s Decade for Women helped to increase women’s access to education, health care, employment, and political representation, yet girls and women remain more likely than men to live in poverty. We have yet to reach the goal of women representing 30 percent of parliamentarians, and at least one in five women and girls age 15 through 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and some end up incarcerated defending themselves and their children. Can you tell us about the UN’s most promising work to address the needs of women? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That is a truly important question. And let me start by saying during COVID, the statistics on abuse of women, the statistics on childhood pregnancy and sexual abuse actually went up significantly because young children were at home. And particularly when you look at low-income countries where girls were not in school, they found themselves in situations of abuse beyond any expectation that we had. And I saw in Kenya, for example, I was talking to one of the ministers, and right at the beginning of COVID she told me that hundreds of young girls under the age of 15 had become pregnant because they were sitting at home and being in situations where they couldn’t escape the abuse that took place in their communities and in their families.
And this is something that is truly important for the UN. We have a resolution that requires that in all of our peacekeeping operations, in all UN programs, that gender equity has to be a core part of the work that the UN is doing. And it’s something that we – it’s something that we focus on very closely in the United Nations. The Secretary-General, if he is interviewing for any high-level position in the United Nations, requires that there be women on the list of people who are being interviewed. And he has done some really extraordinary work in appointing senior-level women to positions in the United Nations.
But our peacekeeping forces have to also be conscious of the impact of insecurity on women and to make their focus on protection of women a higher priority for themselves. I had the honor of serving in Liberia with the first woman ever to be elected president in Africa, and she was elected by women because in her campaign, she empowered women. She empowered women to vote, and she empowered women to be engaged politically, to run for political positions. And we saw, I think, in Liberia during the 12-year tenure that she was president significant progress for women across the board. And we need to push for that.
I rarely will sit in the room when I sit in the room and I don’t see women in the room, I don’t see women at the table. If I have a meeting with an African head of state, if he doesn’t have women at the table, I don’t hesitate to ask, “Where are the women in your country?” And we have to be bold about it. We have to engage. I won’t throw out what we saw today in a meeting in a public space, but we saw it and my team came to me and said, “Can you believe there are no women at this table?”
And so again, your consciousness, the work that you’re doing, every single one of us – and I say to our male colleagues: you have to do it too. We can’t be, as women, the only ones that are pressing for equal rights for women. We have to be bold and open about others. And if men are not conscious about this, then we’re going to constantly be at odds with you. So thank you for what you are doing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DR. BERNARD: Thank you so much. I just – I don’t know if anyone else feels the need to applaud. [Applause.]
So in addition to gender equity, there’s lots of lessons to learn about peace and peacekeeping. One of our CSU scholars, Malachi Spells, is very interested in issues about peace and particularly human rights.
QUESTION: Bienvenue à Chicago State. That was a warm welcome to LTG from the Francophones of Chicago State, because we have a lot.
So in the future, I want to become a human rights lawyer, hopefully with the UN. So human rights abuse, violations, war crimes, have always been a topic that I’ve always been interested in, especially with my peers. So I want to know: What do you think the UN could do, even here in the United States as well as globally, to spread awareness about human rights violations?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, certainly this is a core value of the United States. And unfortunately, for four years we were not on the Human Rights Council, and our leadership on the Human Rights Council was missed. It doesn’t mean that the Human Rights Council is a perfect institution, but it needs to have people who care about human rights on the council. And sometimes we’re sitting at the table with people who are on the Human Rights Council who don’t care about human rights. So we, as a country, as people, need to stand up for human rights wherever we see violations being committed.
And that can include our own country. So I have no issue talking about racism in America, talking about the killings of black men in this country, because we live in a country where we can express our disagreement with our country without worrying about the fact that we might be thrown in jail or possibly even killed. And I think we, in order to be able to address our own human rights, to address human rights issues in the world, we have to be able to acknowledge our own shortcomings and work as people to address those shortcomings around the world.
I am so excited about what you want to do in your career because we see human rights violations being committed all over the world. Right now, human rights violations are being committed in Ukraine. And Ukrainians are working hard to make sure that they document what is happening and that their documentation is usable in a court of justice so that when the time comes and we want to hold Russians accountable for crimes against humanity, the documents, the proof is there and it can be used and held – and it holds up in a court.
So we all have to work to do that wherever we see it in the world. And we can’t turn a blind eye to human rights when it’s being committed, because if you turn a blind eye, you are complicit in the commission of those human rights. So we can’t turn a blind eye to what is happening in Ukraine. We can’t turn a blind eye to what is happening in China as it relates to the Uyghurs. We can’t turn a blind eye to what is happening all over the world. I could just go on and on about where we see human rights violations being committed, and we need U.S. leadership. We need the U.S. – we need our voices. And we need to educate our people about human rights so that we have young people like you who will be engaged on these issues in the future.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DR. : Thank you so much. Our final question from CSU scholar Brooklyn Johnson is about one of our most important issues that are increasing – that’s increasingly affecting all life on the planet: climate change. Brooklyn?
QUESTION: Hello, everyone. Ambassador, thank you for being here today. My question for you today is: You’ve traveled around the world and seen the faces of starving children who can’t get the food and water that they need due to climate change. Can you tell us how that impacted you and what you can do here to help? Are there ways that we can collaborate with our brothers and sisters in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America to improve all of our well-being?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are seeing a huge issue related to food insecurity. That’s part of what I am doing on this trip, to talk about food insecurity. And it is a combination of things that have impacted food insecurity. So it’s COVID, supply chains, but it’s also climate. It’s conflict – conflict that sometimes is generated because of hunger, and conflicts that sometimes generate hunger, which is what we’re seeing today.
In Africa, we are seeing tremendous climatic changes happening on the continent. If you look at a map of Africa that shows where the desert was in the Sahel, you will see that line, that brown line, over the course of decades having moved down significantly. If you look at Lake Chad – and I love comparing Lake Chad because Lake Chad was huge; it was like Lake Michigan here, covering five countries. Lake Chad has gone from a lake that looked like the ocean to a pond. And you can see it, and it has had a tremendous impact on the lives of people, people who use and survived off fishing in the lake, people who use the waters of the lake for irrigation and planting, people who use the lake for their animals.
So you’re seeing animal herders who are going further and further south, encroaching on farmland, and causing conflict because they are bringing their animals onto people’s farms. I talked to a farmer in Africa who told me that he had lost half his cattle because of – because of climate change. People’s planting seasons are being affected because the rains don’t come in a predictable kind of way, so they can’t plant their crops the way they planted their crops in the past.
So we’re seeing people start to feel the impact of climate change to the point that they are being forced to migrate. We have climate refugees now, people who’ve had to move because they can no longer survive on their land. This is a huge, huge priority for the Biden administration; on the first day of the administration, we rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement because we think that is an important platform for the globe to engage on addressing the issues of climate change.
We have re-upped our own commitments to working with other nations on climate issues. And we think this is something that is an existential threat that we have to address today, that we can’t leave for you to do. And so I am really thrilled that you have decided to focus your life on dealing with issues of climate change, that you would ask that question to me today. The question that needs to be asked is: How are you going to address this issue so that you have a future, your family has a future, and that you have not – you are able to survive despite some of the climatic changes that we are seeing happening around the world. So this is something that, in terms of peace and security, is as important as us dealing with issues of war and peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DR. BERNARD: Well, do we have time for one question from the audience? I’m getting nods from the second row.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: At least. At least one.
DR. BERNARD: Yeah. Madam Ambassador, do we have time for one question from the audience?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, I think we can take – we can take one or two questions, guys. Yeah.
DR. BERNARD: Okay. Yes, would you like to go ahead and ask —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, please.
DR. BERNARD: Please, do go up to the microphone, please. State your name and, if you’re a student, your program.
QUESTION: My name is Appreccia Faulkner. I am a Chicago State University student, a senior, political science major, history minor. And I just wanted to say welcome, Ambassador. It’s such an honor to have you here.
What I want to start by saying is that it is an honor to have you here because I work in the international space as my day job. I’m with an organization called – oh, is this on?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can hear you, though. I could you clearly, so just keep going.
QUESTION: Awesome. Thank you. I run an organization called Global Strategists Association, and we work in the city to engage black people in international global affairs. We are nine years in October. And it has been very difficult to get our local government to understand how important it is to get our community engaged beyond academia And I wonder, do you have – do you have any, like, ways to say, okay, we do know, like, Chicago, we’re dealing with a lot of issues, a lot of local issues. But at the same time, we want to build global citizens, and it’s important to get us at the UN to start teaching diplomacy in our neighborhoods, and having those conversations.
And then my second question – last question – is: How do we get the NGOs in the international space – we have a couple here in Chicago – to see racial equity in this space as something that is paramount to the work that people do across the globe? It has not been – it has not been advanced in a way that I think – and that’s even beyond Chicago, but like D.C. So how do we get the NGOs to buy into racial equity as well?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. To your first question, and again, that’s a really important question. So you need to start in the high schools, so this is not the place to do it. You guys already are interested. You know. You have your professors. We need to start to engage young people before they get influenced by thinking that they’re going to be a great football player or basketball player, and there will be some, or that they’re going to be the greatest rap singer in the world.
You want them to start thinking that, hey, you might be the USUN ambassador. And how you do that, one of the programs that I have learned to love is Model UN. And starting a Model UN program in a high school will – and it’s nationwide, and it will start young people to engage on these international issues at a very, very early age.
Get them interested in geography. Every kid ought to have a globe in their room, or at least a map, and be forced to learn about one country. And I’d say one country a day, but let’s – [laughter] – let’s give them a break and say one country a month that you got to report on, and know in detail about that country, and how that country may impact your own life.
We’re – I mean, there are – you have people in Chicago from all over the world. Start bringing those people into your classrooms, into your community organization, to talk about what they do. Why are you a refugee here in the United States? What happened in your life that you had to come to this country, you had to leave your own country? Imagine any of you one day having to flee this country, go into another country where you don’t even understand the language and the culture, and try to make a life for yourself and your family. You have people like that in this community. Start to talk to those people to again get people interested in what you do.
And then I think with the international NGOs, sometimes I have an issue with international NGOs. I’ve engaged with them on a regular basis. And it’s not that I have an issue, but I want them also to pay attention to what is happening in the communities around them. “I know what you’re doing is amazing, working to provide water and dealing with climate change in Chad. Have you thought about what you need to do to address those issues at home as well?” I met with an NGO this morning; I don’t know if the —
MS. FALATKO: Urban Growers Collective.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: — the Urban Growers call themselves an NGO? But they are doing urban farms here in Chicago, engaging with communities. And they wanted to know how they could do the similar work in Africa. So there are organizations like the Urban Growers that you might also engage with. And they had a young man with them who started working with them when he was nine years old, just kind of watching what they were doing. And I was so impressed with him because he’s so committed. That’s why we got to get them when they’re nine years old. We got to get them when they’re in junior high school to engage.
So I think maybe talk to one of the international NGOs and say, let’s see how we can work together in our community. You’re working on bringing refugees. Let’s see how we can engage your refugee program with our community program so that that refugees meet the communities that they’re living in, and the communities meet the refugees. So there are ways to do that, and that doesn’t cost anything.
And then look for speakers like me. [Laughter.]
QUESTION: Awesome. Thank you so much. [Applause.]
DR. BERNARD: I want to sincerely thank the students. You all just did a fabulous job as well. Appreciate it so much. [Applause.] Thank you, everyone, for coming this evening for this very inspiration conversation. So you know you’re in the right place when the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations calls you and says she wants to come to your house to sit down and talk with you. Okay? And where are you again? Chicago State University. That’s right. Yes. [Laughter.]
So we thank you, Madame Ambassador, for coming to our house to meet our amazing students. [Applause.] And by the way, they told me that they ain’t mad at you because you didn’t bring any gumbo. [Laughter.] But we do hope —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Gumbo diplomacy, you can always cook it and it’ll probably be better than mine.
DR. BERNARD: Well, we do hope that you will come back and consider Chicago State University your home away from home whenever you are in the Chicagoland area.
So before you go, we have a little gift. And we want to leave you with the floor, with any final words of wisdom.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I hope – thank you very much – that one of you, one of you on this stage, one of you in the audience, really got the Foreign Service bug, and that you are going to reach out to Susan and say, “Tell me how I can join the Foreign Service.” And the only thing I ask is at some point someday say, “I met this lady. I can’t remember her name, Ambassador Thomas-Greentree or something.” And you know what I’m talking about, right? [Laughter.] “And she talked to me about the Foreign Service, and that’s why I’m in the Foreign Service.” And I might not even be around to feel the warmth from that, but I want you to feel that I had an impact on your decisions about what you want to do, that you want to be public servants.
You may decide you want to be engaged in this community and work right here in this community, and really be a local public servant. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But you need to also know that what happens globally will impact you locally. So you need to know what is happening around the world so that you can prepare yourself to address it. So thank you very much. [Applause.]