The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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To Soar Like A Phoenix


The following is excerpted

fromAmb. Davis’ acceptance

speech. For a video of the

event, visit video.

Counselor Kenney, President

of AFSAAmbassador Barbara

Stephenson, colleagues, rela-

tives and friends who have

traveled from throughout the

United States to be with us…

I am particularly pleased to

have been selected to receive

AFSA’s Lifetime Contribu-

tions to American Diplomacy

Award because, AFSA and I

have always been on the same

wave length. Even in instances

when I was Director General

and we didn’t agree on the

means of achieving our goals,

we agreed on the fundamen-

tal principal that the key to

enhancing the effectiveness of

the Foreign Service is through

a focus on its people and the

resources needed to achieve

U.S. foreign policy goals and

objectives. Thank you AFSA!

You all know the legend

of the phoenix—the bird

that rose from its own ashes

and was more beautiful and

magnificent than ever.Well, I

was born in Phoenix, Arizona,

and was raised in Atlanta,

whose symbol is the phoe-

nix. So I always believed that

from ashes you could make

beautiful things, from chaos

you could make peace and

from despair you could bring


As a proud child of the

South, I bear the scars of seg-

regation and discrimination,

but these scars ignited in me a

passionate desire to make the

world a better place.

And so it came to pass,

about half a century ago,

when I was a student at the

University of California at

Berkeley, early one morning

I was out on the picket line

protesting for a Black Studies

program. At mid-day, I put

my sign down, rushed to the

airport, boarded a plane to

Washington and entered the

U.S. Foreign Service.

The first thing I was

required to do was sign an

oath that I would not strike

against the U.S. government.

Oh my! I’ve been co-opted, I

said, and never looked back!

Everybody who knows me,

knows that I love the State

Department, that I believe it

is a wonderful institution, and

that the greatest honor of

my life has been to serve this

organization and the people

in it …

I learned early on what a

valuable resource the people

of the department are and

fully agree with my former

boss, Secretary Colin Pow-

ell, who said: “Organization

doesn’t really accomplish

anything. Plans don’t accom-

plish anything, either. Theories

of management don’t much

matter, since endeavors suc-

ceed or fail because of the

people involved.”

Someone once said that

diplomats must think twice

before saying nothing.Well,

that formula just won’t work

in this complex, tumultu-

ous, rapidly changing world.

The international challenges

today are much more varied

and seemingly more intense

than when I joined the Foreign

Service at the end of the

1960s …Today’s diplomat

must be prepared to practice

not just diplomacy, but mega-


It is not enough to recruit

the best and the brightest.

The department must do

everything possible to culti-

vate the talents and grow the

capacity of its people. That

means continuous education

and training sustained across

an entire career.

Nancy McEldowney, direc-

tor of the Foreign Service

Institute, told me: “We often

say our people are our most

important asset. But far too

often we fail to put reality

behind the rhetoric.We still

push people out to post and

into new jobs without giving

them the benefit of full train-

ing and preparation.We still

have a culture that minimizes

the value of study and reflec-

tion. And we still do not put

the necessary resources into

training and education.”

When AFSA President

Ambassador Barbara Ste-

phenson was dean of FSI’s

Leadership School, she drove

an effort to build a culture of

leadership throughout the

department. I applaud that

effort and hope it continues.

I also hope that more work

will be done to strengthen a

culture of learning, so that

training is deeply valued, not

just by individuals but by the

department’s principals and in

its operational policies.

Good leadership recog-

nizes that diversity is essen-

tial in utilizing the best of

America’s intellectual capital.

It is incumbent upon the State

Department, and those of you

who are in leadership posi-

tions, to continue and step

up efforts to promote equal

opportunity and inclusion for

all American employees of

the Foreign and Civil Service.

I enjoy my continued “volun-

tary”work with department

officials on this issue. I hope

they enjoy my help ...

I thank AFSA for the

singular honor of the Lifetime

Contributions to American

Diplomacy Award. I will value

it and this day forever. I close

by saying of my amazing

career in the Foreign Service

and my love for the Depart-

ment of State that, short of

being a multimillionaire, there

is nothing that I would rather

have done than to be a U.S.

Foreign Service officer and

an ambassador extraordinary

and plenipotentiary of the

United States of America—in

a career where I could soar

like a phoenix.