By Yolonda Kerney
The Thursday Luncheon Group (TLG), launched a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary, Feb. 2, with a festive luncheon in the Department of State’s famed diplomatic reception room, the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room. TLG was founded in 1973 by a group of Foreign Service officers from the Department, USAID, and the U.S. Information Agency, who met for lunch on Thursdays to discuss and debate foreign policy and personnel issues of interest to Foreign and Civil Service employees across the interagency. Since its founding, TLG has worked to increase the participation of African Americans in the formulation, articulation, and implementation of United States foreign policy.
In addition to its primary focus of policy analysis, TLG monitors recruitment, assignments, employment practices, promotion patterns, training, and other logistical matters of vital interest to African Americans in the principal foreign affairs agencies.
During the luncheon, two TLG Pioneer awardees were recognized: Ambassador Steven McGann and Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater. TLG Pioneers are distinguished by their contributions to foreign policy, and their commitment to mentorship. In his speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted the importance of TLG’s collective voice in urging the Department to embrace progressive foreign policy positions such as pointed opposition to Apartheid in the 1950s, support for post-colonial government reforms in the global south throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and support for environmental protections in the early 2000s.
TLG President Yolonda Kerney cited dispassionate policy examination as TLG’s legacy in the Department.
“The richness of TLG’s membership is the interplay between and among our Civil Service members who serve as the institutional brain trust, and our Foreign Service specialist and generalist members who bring the ground truth from post. This is how TLG offered nuanced perspective to discussions of Apartheid, of genocide markers in east Africa, of growing dissent movements in Cuba and Venezuela. And the Department’s analysis is more robust because of these perspectives.”
Kerney previewed the 50th anniversary yearlong celebrations promising programs focused on Foreign Service specialist expertise in the foreign policy creation process, a discussion led by Civil and Foreign Service desk officers titled “From the desk of…” and a program highlighting TLG luminaries.
Following his remarks, Blinken was presented an honorary lifetime TLG membership by former TLG president Ambassador Ruth Davis, and by Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Marcia Bernicat.
Yolonda Kerney is a senior policy advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.