Remarks as prepared
Delivered on Thursday, April 13, 2023
Let’s have another round of applause for tonight’s honorees!
It’s good being back at Oxford. I spent my grad school years here, and it’s the place where I learned that some of the best conversations don’t happen in class, they actually happen in pubs! It’s also the place where I learned that warm beer does not get better with time!
I’m so happy to be with the Skoll community – and thankful to consider Don not only a leader in this work, but a friend. This is a community on the front lines of change: fixing what’s broken and transforming our world. You remind me why I got into government in the first place. Because I wasn’t destined for public office…
I’m the son of a single mom who didn’t get her first job that gave her benefits until I was fourteen. I felt handcuffs on my wrists when I was eleven. I’ve never held public office before now…
So my presence here is pretty improbable:
As the only African American governor currently serving in the United States of America – and only the third in our nation’s history... As someone responsible for 6.2 million people and close to a half a trillion dollar economy.
When I reflect on how I arrived at this work, I’m brought back to THIS community. The world of philanthropy and social entrepreneurship – my community long before I decided to run for office.
THIS community fueled my spark.
I felt that spark when I ran one of the largest poverty-fighting organizations in America, working in partnership with many of you in this room.
I felt that spark when I was a social entrepreneur, founding and building a social enterprise that helped underserved students succeed in college.
And I also felt that spark when I deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army – and served in the White House – and wrote books on issues of race, equity, and opportunity.
That spark often brought me to conferences like this one.
I remember sitting in the audience – watching the politicians come on stage. I used to listen and think: “Wow! … These guys have no idea what they’re talking about!”
Some of the politicians would talk about how government was the only way to get stuff done. Others would talk about how government couldn’t get anything done at all. But those of us in the audience knew neither was true.
Government CAN’T solve all our problems – but government CAN bring people together to come up with solutions;
Government can offer scale no other group can muster;
And government can reshape the systems causing the brokenness in the first place.
When I ran the poverty-fighting organization Robin Hood, we raised and invested over $600 million in philanthropy.
And the reason we funded food insecurity organizations is because we had so many people who were food insecure;
The reason we funded schools is because we had too many kids neither getting the education they needed for the jobs of NOW – nor the education they needed for the jobs of the future.
When people would say to me that poverty was a choice, I would simply say: you’re right, it is a choice – but not of the person who sits under its oppressive weight. It's a societal choice. It's a policy choice.
The climate crisis is a policy choice.
Disparities in health care is a policy choice.
Inequality is a policy choice.
I entered government because I wanted to offer NEW policies:
Policies that could do more than paint over the cracks that could actually fix the foundation.
Policies that could help build a coalition of public sector leaders, private sector leaders, philanthropists, mechanics, nurses, nonprofits, and others – so we can solve these issues: not one at a time, but all at once.
Because the only way you deal with societal break-down is with societal build-up.
I have a true belief that we can get there. Because I’ve seen the hope in our communities with my own eyes.
You see: when I ran for governor, I traveled across my state, and whether someone was from a city, or a farm, or the suburbs – EVERYONE understood the challenges we faced.
But they didn’t reach out to offer criticism – they wanted to be part of the solution! Yet so often, those same folks who wanted to serve didn’t know HOW. As governor, my team and I are working together to make sure they CAN.
THAT’S how we create change: by bringing people together to serve.
One of my first acts as governor was to create a new agency in the State of Maryland called the Department of Service and Civic Innovation – and it’s going to be the headquarters of our mission to bring people together and recruit volunteers to help fix what’s broken in our state and our world:
Engineers who want to build seawalls that will protect our communities from the impacts of climate change.
Lawyers ready to donate their time to give formerly incarcerated individuals a fresh start at life.
Social entrepreneurs who want to help us build a more just and more equitable future.
Of all the people we want to recruit, our secret weapon is our young people: young people who want to get involved and solve big problems.
That’s why Maryland is going to be the first state in America to offer a year of service for high school graduates – to provide every young person in our state with the chance to serve! <
After high school, students can go to college – go to trade school – join the workforce – join the military…
Well in Maryland, we now have another option: you can choose to serve the state!
We’re going to recruit young people to help us solve challenges in our communities, and we’ll help them see there’s far more that unites us than divides us: because people who serve together stick together.
We aren’t telling our young people HOW to serve. You can serve in conservation; you can serve in education; you can serve in housing; you can serve our veterans; you can serve in re-entry work for folks returning from incarceration – it’s your choice!
We just want to offer people the chance to make our state better – and give youth a pathway to do something that makes their heart beat a little bit faster: <
To light that spark, that can help a young woman in West Baltimore – or help a young man on the Eastern Shore – or help the child of a single mom, like me, see more than what is directly in front of them.
But we need people to join our coalition: a coalition that believes in our young people and believes in the power of service. Today, I’m calling on the Skoll community to come make the world a better place with us! In Maryland, we’re already doing things differently – we’re already moving with a different set of ideas – and we are just getting started.
I want Maryland to be the best place in the world to change the world: where everyone can participate in the movement we’re building – where no problem is too big to solve, because we’ll be working together.
And when the next chapter in the story of our state and our country and our world is written, I want your hands on the pen! I want your ink on the page! I want your names on the cover! And together, we can write a story unlike anything anyone has ever seen.
So I want you all to be bold – I’m just here to say that in Maryland, we want to be your partners in that work.