Structural racism weakens societies. When communities lack opportunity, countries fail to reach their economic potential. When people lack access to vaccines, disease spreads. And when individuals don’t see themselves reflected in government, faith in democracy suffers.
“Racism, discrimination — these are not only morally wrong; they make our world less safe, less stable, less prosperous,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at an August 9 ceremony honoring the winners of the 2023 Global Anti-Racism Champions Award.
The inaugural award is part of the U.S. government’s commitment to advancing racial equity and support for marginalized and underserved communities at home and abroad.
The Department of State works to incorporate the experiences and challenges of people from marginalized racial, ethnic and Indigenous communities in policy, ensure U.S. foreign assistance empowers marginalized people and support partners who are working to end discrimination in their home countries.
At the ceremony, Desirée Cormier Smith, the State Department’s first special representative for racial equity and justice, encouraged attendees to draw inspiration from the awardees’ example and to pursue their own anti-racism efforts.
“I hope you all leave here inspired and with a deepened commitment to creating an anti-racist world,” she said. “The work they do to promote dignity, safety, and human rights is not only good for their own communities, it is good for all of us.”
During the ceremony, Blinken commended the “extraordinary courage and commitment” of the six award winners who work to promote equity around the world.
Tunisian activist Saadia Mosbah founded Mnemty (“My Dream”) to expand legal protections and promote socioeconomic development of Tunisia’s Black communities. In 2018, her efforts helped lead to a law criminalizing racial discrimination in Tunisia.
Sarswati Nepali defends the human rights of the Dalit and other marginalized communities in Nepal. For more than 20 years, she has pushed to allow Dalit to worship at popular Hindu temples, abolish bonded labor, secure land rights for Dalit families, and obtain successful prosecution of discrimination cases.
Rani Yan Yan, a leader from the Chakma Circle, brings international attention to violence, land grabs and other forms of discrimination against Indigenous people in Bangladesh. She also works to advance climate resilience and promote the political inclusion of Indigenous women and youth.
Human rights lawyer Victorina Luca started the Roma Awareness Foundation and serves on the Equality Council of Moldova. She operates Radio Patrin Moldova, which shares Roma language and culture with global audiences, and has advised international organizations, including the United Nations, World Bank, and Council of Europe, on advancing inclusion.
Kari Guajajara works to defend Brazil’s Amazon from illegal miners, loggers and poachers. A member of the Guajajara-Tenetehára People, she advances the rights of Indigenous communities and protects their traditional territories and heritage.
For decades, Oswaldo Bilbao Lobatón has fought for the rights of Afro-Peruvians. He helped convene the first meeting of Peru’s Black communities in 1992 and worked to promote inclusion of ethnicity in Peru’s 2017 census, informing more inclusive government policy.
‘The path to justice’
The recipients will meet with U.S. government and civil society representatives in Washington to share expertise on promoting inclusivity and combating discrimination. The Foreign Policy for America Foundation also will provide each of the award winners a $5,000 grant.
In remarks at the ceremony, Yan Yan said racism and xenophobia will not be defeated overnight. That progress will come only through continued effort and support for the rule of law and democracy.
This award is “a recognition of our collective effort, our achievements,” Yan Yan said.
“The path to justice is never meant to be easy,” she added. Yet “we are here standing our ground, and we are determined to strengthen and uplift the next generation of leaders.”