Thank you all for coming here today. Thanks especially to Deputy Mayor Fadil Nura; Skenderaj Director of Education, Jashar Lushtaku, and of course, all of the School Directors, guests, friends and students.
We have a program we are going to start in a few minutes.
Since Monday is the beginning of African American history month, I wanted to tell you about a particular hero of mine: Thurgood Marshall. Has anyone heard of him? He lived from 1908 to 1993, witnessed, and participated in a fascinating and turbulent period of American history.
Thurgood Marshall was a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, he was the first African American ever appointed to the Supreme Court. But becoming one of the most respected judges in U.S. history and serving on the highest court in our land was not the future you might have predicted for him as a youngster.
He was the son of a railroad porter and a school teacher, and the grandson of a slave. He grew up during a shameful period of discrimination in my country. During that time, attending a nice school like this would have been about as likely as his traveling to Mars. But, Justice Marshall had a mother who taught him to love the law and love our Constitution. With her encouragement, he worked hard and did well in school.
Because this was at a time in our history when African Americans were still not allowed to attend school with whites, he could not attend a law school of his choice. Instead, he went to a law school for African Americans, graduating first in his class. He then dedicated himself to civil rights and fighting the injustices faced by African Americans in our country.
It was Justice Marshall, as a lawyer, who argued successfully before the Supreme Court that our schools should be desegregated — that separate schools for blacks and whites were not equal. His work literally changed my entire country and helped bring about the education system we have today, where black and white children go to school together. He helped create a much more just, and far better country.
In 1967, President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court. Now we have nine justices on our Supreme Court at any one time. Only a few come to national prominence, and fewer still are remembered beyond their lifetimes. But Thurgood Marshall is in a different category. He is an American figure whose prominence endures to this day, more than twenty years after his death.
He is an inspiration to me because he started with so little, during a time when African Americans were horribly discriminated against, and rose to one of the highest offices in our country based on his intelligence, education, and hard work.
His life is a demonstration that we do not need to be limited by the poor circumstances of our birth. Your future, your path, is in your hands. It is for you to decide what you will be, where you will go. With determination, hard work at school, and support from your families and friends, you can succeed and excel.
There are forces who will tell you that you have no future here. There are some that will tell you that your future rests in finding some way to steal from your fellow citizens or that there is no future at all for you here in Kosovo. There are even those particularly frightening voices that will tell you the only future for you is fighting someone else’s war in Syria.
I am here to tell you those voices are wrong. Not only is your future in your hands, not only is your future what you make of it, but Kosovo will be what you make of it. Your country is counting on you to make the most of your education and find your own path so you can make a contribution to Kosovo’s future.
It sounds hard — maybe out of reach. But you aren’t in this alone. I am happy to be here today as a part of “America with Kosovo.” This program brings together not only different sections within the U.S. Embassy, but also the Kosovo Security Forces, Kosovo Police, ICITAP, IPKO Foundation, other NGOs, and Government of Kosovo.
The purpose of this program is to help you. Today, you will hear people talk about domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, human trafficking, countering violent extremism, suicide prevention, as well as building relationships with community police. These are serious subjects. But that does not mean we are here to make you depressed. The point of all of this is to show you are not alone. There are tools here to help you and people ready to assist you in building the future you want and the kind of Kosovo you want.
And this will not be a one-time event. Not only will we be back, but we will also be offering you tools like free legal assistance, university courses, and public gatherings and discussions.
Take advantage of them. They are here for you and for your country. I believe there is another Thurgood Marshall among your ranks, just waiting to build a better future in Kosovo. We are here to help you do that.