OAS and UN Celebrate Global Contribution of Afro-Descendants

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  October 19, 2017

Celebrating the contributions and legacy of people of African descent in the Americas as well as their resilience and adaptability, the Organization of American States (OAS) partnered with the United Nations and Afrodiaspora Inc. for the premiere screening of a film along with a panel discussion at OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

“Familiar Faces/Unexpected Places: A Global African Diaspora," an eye-opening documentary produced by noted cultural anthropologist Sheila S. Walker, explores the contributions of the Afro-diaspora to technology, gastronomy, art, religion and culture. The film spotlights communities of African peoples in all the countries of the Americas, as well as in some unfamiliar places such as Turkey, India, Vanuatu, and Reunion Island and emphasizes Afro-descendants not as oppressed and marginalized but as pioneers and luminaries and proud descendants of one of the world’s most advanced and intellectual societies.

The documentary itself provided a fitting entrée to the panel discussion that followed, while “Remember Slavery: Recognition, Justice and Development,” a companion exhibition, was mounted in the OAS Hall of Heroes just outside the Hall of the Americas where the event was taking place.

OAS Assistant Secretary General Nestor Mendez hailed the documentary for showcasing “the resolute spirit of the African Diaspora to thrive regardless of the circumstances.” He underlined the OAS’ own lead in tackling racial discrimination, citing its landmark Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance that specifically addresses the protection of the rights of Afro-descendants, among other groups historically discriminated against. Ambassador Mendez said the OAS was doing its part to celebrate the African Diasporic experience in the Americas, where people of African descent number an estimated 200 million. “Afro-descendants are in every single country of our hemisphere and have impacted our societies in innumerable ways. They play an instrumental role in shaping the social, economic, political and cultural spheres of our societies.

Introducing her documentary, Walker underscored its significance in giving visibility and recognition to countless Afro-communities found in unexpected parts of the world. She was also part of the panel discussion afterwards.

The panel discussion focused on the situation of people of African descent, their challenges and achievements. The debate was moderated by the OAS Secretary for Access to Rights and Equity, Mauricio Rands.

Besides Walker, the other panelists were Omyma David, Focal Point of the United Nations Remember Slavery Program; Ariana A. Curtis, Museum Curator of the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian, Director of the OAS Department of Social Inclusion.

The discussion centered on the importance of recognizing the influence of the African-diaspora and the ways in which each of the respective institutions is helping to educate and highlight the contributions of African descendants.

The jointly-organized event was part of activities to recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent, and drew a wide-ranging audience – OAS member state ambassadors and representatives, civil society, international experts and others.

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