The following article was originally published in Politic365 on March 31, 2011:
Nearly 13 years ago to the day, on March 28, 1998, I was in South Africa with President Bill Clinton to celebrate the opening of the Ron Brown Center in Johannesburg. We shared the joy of dedicating a place that truly epitomized the realization of former Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown's vision of building stronger bonds between United States and the world through commercial diplomacy.
Ron viewed free trade as a powerful tool for spurring many nations, particularly in Africa, to open their markets and expand their economies. His inspiration was fundamental in my sponsorship of the African Growth and Opportunity ACT (AGOA) that became law in 2000, and has since helped strengthen South Africa, a nation once deeply torn by social and economic injustice.
Ron's tireless pursuit of equality fueled his success throughout his career. He was a champion for progress during his tenure as deputy executive director of the National Urban League and as chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- the first African American to chair either national political party. His outstanding leadership from 1989 to 1993 helped the Democratic Party rebound from defeat in the 1988 election to capture the Presidency in 1992. Following his achievements at the helm of the DNC, Ron became the nation's first African-American Secretary of Commerce.
I am fortunate to have witnessed firsthand many of Ron's groundbreaking accomplishments over his lifetime. Ron is, as I am, a son of Harlem. I have known Ron since my law school years, when I worked as a desk clerk at the famous Hotel Theresa where his father was the manager. Growing up across the Apollo Theater and around America's most famous politicians, writers, athletes, and musicians, including frequent celebrity guests of the hotel such as Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Muhammad Ali, and Lena Horne -- Ron was surely destined for greatness. He was bound to carve out a name for himself as his intellect, charisma, and compassion shined through at a very early age.
My dear friend's life was tragically lost in a plane crash on April 3, 1996, while on a mission to boost economic reconstruction in Yugoslavia. Yet I know Ron died doing what he loved most - representing our country in aiding those who most needed help and support.
Ron Brown's passion for diplomacy through commerce is why I authored a bill to designate a new State Department building in New York City in his honor. Two years after its passage, I could not have been more gratified to join President Barack Obama with President Bill Clinton, and other elected leaders and friends in the dedication of the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building in New York on Tuesday, March 29, 2011.
I am proud that our nation remembers a dedicated public servant who devoted to promoting the basic American principles of equal opportunity and democracy throughout the world. It is only fitting that Ron Brown's name and legacy as one of the greatest ambassadors of what defines the United States now adorns the international building in his hometown, New York City.