SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Hey, good afternoon, everyone. So the secret is that this entire trip to Chicago was actually an excuse to come here to Eli’s. (Laughter.) And I shared that with the Schulmans.
It is actually wonderful to be here. This is an iconic place, an iconic product, and it’s been a real pleasure to meet the family that’s behind this and the entire team here. And it’s iconic in two ways. It’s iconic because – and I’m not supposed to advertise products, but, boy, is that incredible cheesecake, and I think that’s something well-known to people around the world as well as, of course, the United States; but also iconic because what Eli’s has done over decades is to create a family that is making this extraordinary product. Thirty percent of the team here is a refugee coming from some other distant part of the world, coming to the United States and making their future here. It’s an incredibly powerful thing to see as you walk down the line and talk to people who are coming from all over the world, coming to the United States as their beacon of hope, and then making their future here.
As Marc Schulman told me and would tell you, this is not a work of charity to bring people here to work at Eli’s; it’s actually smart, good business because this team with their energy, with their ingenuity, with their drive, with their determination, it’s a core part of the business. It’s what makes it such a success. As Marc was saying, it is all about the people, and I could see that even in the brief time that I was on the floor here talking to people and hearing their passion, their gratitude for what the Schulman family has done to bring them in, but also our gratitude to them for now being the next generation of Americans who are carrying our story forward. That’s what this is all about.
It doesn’t just happen, though, magically. It takes the extraordinary commitment of a great company. It takes the incredible work of our resettlement agencies to help connect refugees with places of work. And here RefugeeOne has been such an amazing partner to Eli’s and to so many others; we’re grateful for that. And ultimately, it takes individual Americans who want to carry on the extraordinary tradition that we have as a country in welcoming people from around the world to become part of our country, part of our future.
We just announced at the State Department a new program to tap into that energy, to tap into that desire that we’re finding around the country to help, to support people coming to the United States. The Welcome Corps is now a way for individuals, organizations, various groups, alongside the resettlement agencies that are already there, to themselves help welcome refugees to this country, to help them get on their – get on their feet, to connect them with jobs, to help get their kids to school, to help them figure out how to sign up for the various services that they’re entitled to as refugees.
And what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing and feeling as I talk to people from across our country is an absolute energy, desire to help, to be part of this ongoing story that is our country. Welcome Corps is now a new way to do that. So we’re incredibly excited about that, and I’m incredibly excited about the fact that I’m actually going home not empty-handed but with a couple of cheesecakes too. Thank you. (Applause.)
And it’s great to be here with Congressman Quigley as well. He represents this district and has been such a strong supporter of everything that’s going on here. Congressman?
MR QUIGLEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for coming to Chicago. I told the Secretary and Marc earlier that when I come to Eli’s with the food and the spirit of the place, I’m not sure whether to put my hand over my heart or my stomach. (Laughter.) Somehow those two are intertwined.
One of the favorite days I have every year is being at a ceremony swearing in new U.S. citizens. Right? It is Frank Capra-esque in a world sometimes of a harder – a harder place. And it means the world to me. And when I speak to them, I always quote Walt Whitman, who talked about when there’s life going on and that you may contribute a verse. And the thing that strikes me about every class being sworn in is they have a verse in mind. Right?
Just this last August, I welcomed at North Park Village some refugees who had been brought up here and unceremoniously dropped off. And when we met them, what struck me is they had just been treated rather coldly. They had just gone through extraordinary efforts to get here. But they were still upbeat, optimistic, in a good mood, grateful. And what they were messaging to me was they just wanted a chance. They just wanted to contribute their verse.
So let’s keep that in mind in the tough days that come ahead, and that which gives us optimism and hope for this country and all that we are, strong, and the reasons, and who we are as a country – and the Statue of Liberty is not holding up a stop sign. And we need to work toward that end. Thank you so much. (Applause.)