May 7, 2009
Rathaus Schöneberg (city hall)
Terrence K. Williamson
Information Management Officer
Embassy of the United States of America, Berlin
Dear Professor Griffith
Dear Ms. Gün Tank (Commissioner for Integration, Tempelhof-Schöneberg district) Dear guests and filmmakers from Berlin and from around the World,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you tonight at this historic building to celebrate the opening of the 24th Black International Cinema Festival Berlin. Professor Griffith, I am quite sure that no one foresaw such a success when the first festival opened in 1986. I would like to congratulate you, your wife and all your friends and supporters for your energy, vision, and - yes - your stubbornness and perseverance throughout these many years.
"Black International Cinema Berlin": Looking back this title tells in just four short words a remarkable story of a remarkable festival. While in the early years it was mainly presenting works by black filmmakers, it soon became both international and multicultural.
"Ich bin ein Berliner", those famous words spoken by President Kennedy in front of this building, were an expression of the special relationship between Americans and Berliners that began 60 years ago at the time of the Berlin Blockade and the Airlift.
When the Griffith family came to Berlin at the end of the 70s, this was a very different city, divided and marked by the Cold War. They decided to stay and to raise their children: to become citizens of Berlin. And this meant, in the very best of American traditions, to get involved in the city's life, to contribute to the development of the community. Well, that's why we are here today...
I would like to close my remarks by citing two short quotes from President Barack Obama - well, actually one is the title of a book, written by Sammy Davis, Jr.: "Yes, I can...!"
When I grew up in the deeply segregated south and was told I couldn't befriend a young Caucasian playmate, someone else told me, Yes I can!
When I developed a speech impediment so severe that I couldn't complete a sentence without singing a really bad song, someone else told me, Yes I can!
And when my teachers educationally tracked me towards a trade and told me I would not go to college, someone else told me, Yes I can!
I stand here today as living testimony of the power of the simple phrase, Yes I can!
The second one you
will find as a motto of this festival:
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Professor Griffith embodies the essence of this motto and the results of his compassion as an agent of change are why we are here today.
I wish you a successful festival, engaging discussions and many fascinated spectators.