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News : International : Organization of American States (OAS) Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

OAS Holds Black History Lecture in Washington
By Oswald Brown
Feb 27, 2016 - 11:15:39 PM

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Attentively listening to one of the speakers at “Afro-Diaspora in the Americas” lecture at the OAS on Thursday are, from left to right: Mrs. Francoise Torchon Newry; His Excellency Dr. Eugene Newry, Bahamas Ambassador to the United States; Ms. Julia Hyatt, Minister/Alternate Representative, Permanent Mission of Jamaica; and Jean Josue Pierre Dahomey, Minister/Counselor, Permanent Mission of Haiti.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Organization of American States (OAS) hosted a lecture on “The Afro-Diaspora in the Americas” as part of the celebrations of Black History Month and the International Decade for People of African Descent .on Thursday, February 25, in the Hall of the Americas at the OAS headquarters at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W.

The Bahamas was one of the seven countries along with National Geographic Magazine that were recognized as the primary sponsors of the event, with Miss Tracee Dorestant, Second Secretary/Vice Consul and Alternate Representative to the OAS, representing The Bahamas on the organizing committee.

Other organizing countries included Columbia, the United States, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The event, which was very well attended, included a welcoming message from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro; an address on Black History Month at the OAS by Assistant Secretary General Nestor Mendez; a presentation by Miguel Vilar, Science Manager for National Geographic’s Genographic Project; an update on the work of the OAS working group on Afro-descendants by H.E. Andres Gonzalez, Permanent Representative of Columbia to the OAS; an address on “The Afro-Diaspora in the Americas” by Mr. Jesus Alberto Garcia, Consul General of Venezuela in New Orleans; an address by H.E. Bocchit Edmond, Permanent Representative of Haiti to the OAS; and closing remarks by Ambassador La Celia A. Prince, Chief of Staff of Assistant Secretary General Nestor Mendez and former Ambassador of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the United States.

A common thread among all of the presentations were references to the rich history of Afro-descendants in the Americas.

As Ambassador Prince noted in her closing remarks, “The presenters have left us with a wealth of information today: We heard the historical context which gave rise to the recognition for Black History Month; we heard of the ongoing challenges and struggles against discrimination; and we also learned of work being done in the field of science to bring to life the history of our ancestry; an ancestry which shows our inter-connectedness.”

National Geographic’s Scientific Data Manager Dr. Vilar presented each member of the organizing committee with the magazine’s Genographic Ancestry Test Kits, and Ambassador Prince told the recipients that they were “on a wonderful path of self-discovery” which  “for some people can be cathartic, and even empowering.”

“Migration--both voluntary and forced -- has been a global phenomenon for hundreds of years,” Ambassador Prince said. “Tracing one’s roots is a fascinating journey of self-examination and for most, it is a challenge even to establish family connections beyond a generation and a half.  And particularly for Afro-descendants in the Americas, the legacy of slavery, lost parentage, economic and social disenfranchisement have made it even harder for families to document lineage which is easily identified by today’s generations.”

Miss Tracee Dorestant, Second Secretary/Vice Consul and Alternate Representative to the OAS for The Bahamas, being presented with National Geographic’s Genographic Ancestry Test Kits by Dr. Miguel Vilar, National Geographic’s Scientific Data Manager. Miss Dorestant represented The Bahamas on the lecture’s organizing committee.

The former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ambassador to the United States  said she was speaking  “from the perspective one who has been doing research into my own family tree for nearly 20 years, arriving at many dead ends, and left with numerous questions unanswered.”

“Although those links on my family tree may never be found, my experience having taken the Genographic test last year has been profoundly enriching,” Ambassador Prince said. “Since taking the Genographic test, I no longer wonder or speculate from whence came my ancestry; I now know. I now know that my ancestry comes from three continents and that the dominant part of my genetic make-up is firmly rooted in the Luyha and Bantu-speaking peoples of Kenya. Awareness-- self-awareness--is elemental to identity, and identity elemental to empowerment.”

She added, “The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will be inaugurated in September of this year by the United States’ first Black president, is also something to look forward to, which will help preserve the legacy of the Afro-Diaspora in this country.

“At the OAS, Secretary General Luis Almagro has mandated a central theme for his Administration and that is: more rights for more people. And he has also been an ardent advocate for more social inclusion. It is very meaningful, particularly to the Assistant Secretary General and the seven countries co-sponsoring today’s event, that National Geographic has partnered with the OAS, at a time when this Organization is about to embark on elaborating a Plan of Action for the International Decade for  People of African Descent.”

Ambassador Prince encouraged the eight recipients of the Genographic test kits “to share their results with us so that it can be a subject of discussion within the Working Group elaborating the Plan of Action.”

“Our work here at the OAS must aspire to remain true to the three pillar foundation on which the United Nations has crafted the International Decade for people of African descent, i.e. (I) recognition, which includes awareness and inclusion (ii) Justice, and (iii) the right to development and measures against poverty,” she said. “Once again, let me thank the co-sponsors of this event: The Bahamas, Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, The United States and Venezuela, along with support from Canada, for bringing Black History Month to the OAS for the first time. Our thanks to National Geographic and Global Political Solutions, and of course, the test kit recipients for their participation.”

Following the lecture, a reception was held featuring Afro-inspired cuisine and entertainment by Afro-inspired music from the countries of the Americas.
National Geographic’s Scientific Data Manager Dr. Miguel Vilar presented each member of the organizing committee of the lecture on “The Afro-Diaspora in the Americas” hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS) on Thursday, February 25, 2016 with National Geographic’s Genographic Ancestry Test Kits. Pictured from left to right: H.E. Andres Gonzalez Diaz, Ambassador of Colombia to the United States and Permanent Representative of Colombia to the OAS; Ms. Tracee Dorestant, Second Secretary and Alternate Representative of The Bahamas to the OAS; Mr. Henry Jimenez; Representative of Colombia; Ms. Maria G. Perez, Representative of the Permanent Mission of the United States to the OAS; Ms. Ariel Dominique, Community Affairs Specialist at the Embassy of Haiti; H.E. Ralph Samuel Thomas, Ambassador of Jamaica to the United States and Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the OAS; H.E. Francisco Campbell Hooker, Ambassador of Nicaragua to the United States; H.E. Bocchit Edmond, Permanent Representative of Haiti to the OAS; H.E. Nestor Mendez, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS; Dr. Miguel Vilar, National Geographic; and H.E. Luis Almagro Lemes, Secretary General of the OAS. (OAS/Photo)

Mr. Jerry C. Butler, Alternate Executive Director at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), representing The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Mr. Butler is pictured with fellow-Bahamians Miss Krissy Hanna (center), Second Secretary/Vice Consul/Alternate Representative to the OAS, Embassy of The Bahamas, and Miss Tracee Dorestant, Second Secretary/Vice Consul/Alternate Representative to the OAS.

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