Global Leadership and Citizen Diplomacy

Keynote Address by Bonnie Glick, Senior Vice President of Meridian International Center on Global Ties Alabama Annual Meeting – October 25, 2016
Bonnie Glick, Senior Vice President of Meridian International Center
Keynote Address by Bonnie Glick,
Senior Vice President of Meridian International Center
Global Ties Alabama Annual Meeting – October 25, 2016

When Jacqui Shipe asked me to speak with all of you today, I was thrilled. That may have surprised her because I think that she sometimes runs into headwinds when she tries to sell the idea of bringing the world to Alabama’s doorsteps. But I was an easy sell. Huntsville, AL and cities like it across the United States, are the reason I love the work we do together.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m here in my role representing Meridian International Center in Washington, DC. Meridian is an international non-profit that focuses on global leadership through short term exchanges, training, and cultural programs. Each year, Meridian welcomes thousands of foreign leaders to the United States to learn about our country and to meet with their counterparts here – in government, business, education, industry, the arts, or civil society. But we at Meridian are located in Washington, DC. The point of welcoming people to AMERICA to learn about our country is NOT to set them up with a bunch of meetings with people in DC, rather it’s to spread them out across the country to meet with, network with, and really get to KNOW people who make our country great and strong. We want the rest of the world to meet with leaders across our country. Sure, it’s great for them to visit DC, New York, LA, and Chicago. But it’s also great for them to see Detroit, Reno, Albuquerque, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Louisville, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Raleigh, Miami, and yes, Huntsville!

As many of you know, we are embarking on an exciting but often divisive season in the US. We are living in a historic period with strong opinions on each side. We are seeing regional divides. We hear historians, pundits, and experts talking about which side will win. The bookmakers in Vegas are laying odds on who will emerge victorious. But the truth is, the best side will win. Talent, stamina, loyal supporters, and an element of both timing and luck will prevail.

Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Of course, I’m talking about the World Series which opens tonight in Cleveland, Ohio and will pit the American League’s Cleveland Indians against the National League’s Chicago Cubs.

Now, I’m not going to take any polls, but I want to take a moment for us all to step away from the rhetoric of politics and to focus on a more pure form of competition – from the mounds to the bats to the bases to the stands and beyond – to millions of television screens across America.

I think that baseball, its history, and its significance are highly representative of us as Americans. And some of baseball’s greats have been among our greatest citizen diplomats in the way they carried themselves with grace, courage, love of the sport, and gratitude for their loyal fans.

We call baseball our national sport, but it is more than just a game. The history of baseball and its awesome players reflect who we are as a country – a country that honors talent and recognizes heroes, and occasionally has to call out cheaters.

To paraphrase the great Lou Gehrig, I am the luckiest woman in the world to be here today to meet with all of you. In his 17 years in ballparks, he said he never received anything but kindness and encouragement from fans. It’s significant to note that he represented the VISITING team 50% of the time! Yet, as a visitor, and one likely to wreak havoc on his challengers, those very challengers and their fans showed him kindness. He represented his team, the league, and the people of New York City each time he played ball in another city. And each time, he showed and was shown a special American kind of gratitude and welcome.

Moving forward in time, our country was not always so congenial. Another baseball great, and my personal hero, Jackie Robinson, also traveled to ballparks across the nation. He was the first African American to play baseball in the Major Leagues, and he opened the door for talented men who were recognized for their greatness not based on the color of their skin but based on their talent. He loved baseball, but he knew that his role in it, as an African American player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, was larger than the team, larger than the League, larger than the sport itself. He exercised calm and restraint in the face of incomparable hostility. His non-violent approach to each game, each fan, each angry opponent – on and off the field – represented America at a time of transition. Baseball was its messenger. Civil rights legislation and integration followed baseball’s lead. As a citizen diplomat, Jackie Robinson led the way for countless other greats and wanna be’s. He showed fans of all colors that the color of one’s skin should not be one’s limitation. His determination took great courage, great strength, and internal fortitude that most of us probably could not muster, but he did it with grace and good will.

Jackie Robinson opened doors through which other heroes have passed. One of baseball’s greats left us too soon, before he was able to realize his full potential and to set countless records, but achievements remain legend across the US and into the Americas. Puerto Rican, Roberto Clemente, was, by all accounts, an exemplary baseball player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. He represented the best of America to the world during the off-seasons as well. He was involved in charity work in Latin America and the Caribbean, often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need. He was tragically killed in a plane crash that some of you may remember – he was en route to Nicaragua at the time to deliver much needed aid to earthquake victims. Roberto Clemente represented citizen diplomacy at its finest – selflessness, pride in one’s country, and engagement with the world around him as well as with the world much farther away, but with which he felt a kinship through both baseball and the Spanish language.

Now, I know I’m in football territory. Roll Tide! Go Tigers!

But you can probably guess that I love baseball. There’s someone else here who probably loves it even more than I do – Jacqui Ship.

Jacqui’s grandson, Ronnie Dawson, plays Minor League ball for the Tri-City Valley Cats in Albany, NY. This past summer, Ronnie, who is a terrific ballplayer, also showed that he has learned some important lessons from his grandmother, and he is also a true citizen diplomat. We had a group of ten high school girls from Pakistan visit Albany for a STEM program. I knew Jacqui’s grandson plays for the Valley Cats, so I asked her if she might ask him to meet with the girls after his home game that we would be attending. The answer from both Jacqui and Ronnie was an instant, “Yes, of course!”

The girls, who knew nothing about baseball and everything about celebrity (as all teenagers everywhere on earth do), were thrilled to meet not only one baseball player, but two! He brought one of his teammates along! They answered questions, signed autographs, posed for endless photos and selfies, and made their new international fan club feel like the center of the world.

Ronnie and his teammate proved that you don’t have to be a Hall of Fame baseball player, nor do you have to be someone with the title of Ambassador, in order to be a citizen diplomat. You can be a FUTURE hall of famer and a great citizen diplomat as well.

So what is the point of this discussion?

The point here is that we, in the United States, are often presented with unique opportunities to share our world with others. Here in Huntsville we are hosting 10 young entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the President’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative – known by the shorthand of YLAI. We also have a group from Kazakhstan through the Open World program. Can I ask these visitors to please let us know you’re here?

These visitors, all courageous and hoping for success in their own countries, have undertaken a journey to the US, to Huntsville, to share their citizen diplomacy skills with us. We can learn from them about their countries, their businesses, their social ventures, their cultures, their families, their lives at home, and yes, in many cases, we can even learn about their baseball teams!

It is incumbent on us, as leaders in our own communities, to welcome visitors to ours. We here represent the openness and engagement with the world that Americans are known for. We are fast talkers (at least those of us from up north are), we are direct, and we are proud. But we are also a nation that is curious about others, warm in its reception of people from around the world, and absolutely excited about the upcoming partisan cheering that will be heard across the country when people shout, “Go Cubbies” or “Go Tribe!” And the greatest thing is, we can all celebrate our victory or lick our wounds or just revel in sheer talent, all before November 8. Aren’t we all the luckiest men and women on the face of the earth?

Thank you all so much for coming here today, and thank you to Global Ties Alabama for inviting me here to share some thoughts with all of you.


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