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Opening Keynote Address – Kay Coles James

Opening Keynote Address – Kay Coles James


– [Emcee] And now please
welcome to the stage, Mandela Washington
Fellow, Sinetemba Twala. (upbeat instrumental music) (audience cheering) (audience cheering) (Sinetemba speaking in foreign language) (audience cheering) – Good day, everyone. My name is Sinetemba Twala. I’m a South African fellow and
(audience cheering) a proud Mandela (mumbles). (audience cheering) As a young black woman doing her best to navigate her way towards becoming positively influential
within my own community, it always brings me great joy to know women who have already conquered the mountains I am here to climb. The speaker I’m introducing today is a true embodiment of a title we call (speaks in foreign language) back home. She is influential, she is powerful and she
is inspiring beyond words. She is president of one of the most influential think tanks globally, called The Heritage Foundation, a foundation dedicated to promoting and formulating conservative
public policies. A former member of the PNC
Financial Services Group, she has served on numerous
boards and commissions during her nearly 30-year career. A graduate of Hampton University and a recipient of
numerous honorary degrees, and my personal favorite, she
is an author of three books, namely, “Never Forget,” “Transforming America from Inside Out,” and “What I Wish I’d Known
Before I Got Married.” (audience laughing) And as if that is not enough, this woman is a wife, a mother of three, and a grandmother to five grandchildren. Back home we would say she is basically doing the things that
make the parts to be done. (audience cheering) Ladies gentlemen, help me welcome on stage Mrs. Kay Coles James. (audience cheering)
(upbeat instrumental music) – Wow!
(audience clapping) I have been listening from backstage and you guys are rockin’ the house! (audience cheering)
(chuckles) I wanted to pick out my own walk-on song, but they didn’t let me. (audience laughing) Have you ever heard “She’s A Brickhouse”? That’s me, that’s me.
(audience laughing) Well, welcome. I understand that you have
had a phenomenal time, true? – [Audience] Yes. – Well, I wanna thank you so much. It’s been an absolute delight
to listen from backstage at my very very dear
friend, Secretary Carson. Is he not phenomenal? Oh, such an inspiration to all of us. I wanna thank the US State Department for inviting me here today and for bringing all of you together to learn, to exchange ideas, and Lord knows we need it right now to help make this world a better place. I wanna start out by telling you a little bit of my own story as an African-American
woman here in America. A nation with a history of slavery, a nation that did not
recognize black people’s full rights as human
beings until my lifetime, and even today, we are not
without our challenges. I wanna tell you about what allowed me to get where I am today serving as the President of a
public policy think tank that has been ranked the most
influential in the world. Yes.
(audience clapping) As a black woman, I have experienced both the inequality and the opportunity that this country has, and even with all that I love this country and I’ve dedicated my life
to serving this country and I just wanna take a few
minutes to tell you why. Despite their flawed
nature as human beings, America’s founding fathers laid out the principles for forming a nation based on humanity’s highest ideals. Nowhere else on earth had
that ever been done before. Those founding principles have guided this nation and created a framework that has allowed our society to recognize the error of our ways. Yes, we are a flawed nation, but yes, our founders put in place those very necessary things to address those flaws. As a matter of fact, the fact is we abolished slavery, we even fought a war over it, took us a while, but we ultimately recognize women’s right and minorities’ rights. We have endeavored through our laws and our actions to eradicate
the unequal treatment of fellow Americans for any reason. So one of the messages that I
need for you to take home is yes, we are a flawed nation, but we have been gifted by our founders with the tools that we need in order to address those flaws and in order to be the freest and most prosperous nation on earth. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to host you here, that hopefully you can take some of those things back,
but more importantly, I think it was important for us to have the opportunity to interact from you, to be challenged by you, and to learn from you. This has been a two-way
street, an opportunity, not just for you to learn from us, but for us to learn from you. Unfortunately, this country had
to grow into our principles. Our founders knew what we aspired to be, but the country wasn’t there yet, and in all honesty, as I
stand before you today, we are not totally there
today and we know it. So we’re not here to say, come, look at us, look
at all that we have, all that we do, come learn from us. We’ve had many mistakes,
many issues, many problems, and we are so glad that you are here and we have the opportunity
to be reminded from you and to learn from you. So what was it like for me? My story is not all that
different than Doctor Carson’s, but I think in understanding my story you understand all of what
this great nation has to offer and there may be some tidbits there and some encouragement for you. I was born to a welfare mother, an alcoholic father. We relied upon public
assistance in order to make it. I was born on a kitchen
table because my mother couldn’t afford the health
care to go into a hospital and I was delivered by a nurse midwife. What I want you to know is that I grew up in substandard housing, called public housing in this country. Thank God we have people
like Doctor Carson who are overseeing those programs now and making that housing
situation better and better. I can remember lying in the bed at night hearing the gunshots in the community, falling asleep, not by counting sheep, but by counting the roaches
on the concrete floor. Why do I paint this picture for you? I paint this picture
for you because I think it is important for you to understand that with the right values,
the right principles in place, and with the right forms of government, we all can make it and your job is to take home all that you have learned and all that you have gleaned and make it better for the people
that you want to serve. So yes, coming out of that situation, one of the things that I learned that there’s nothing, and I will repeat, nothing more important
than the family unit. When the government couldn’t
step up and provide, it was that close-knit
community and family that made it possible for me. My mother taught us at
an early age that we were not victims of a
racist, horrible country. My mother taught us
that we were survivors, just like your moms and dads taught you. We are survivors. We’re a bold people. We survived slavery in this country. We survived segregation. We served the lynchings. We survived so much, and with a positive attitude,
we were able to do that. It didn’t take a slogan to say that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. My mother knew it and
she said at an early age, “You will be educated. “You will dress well. “You will speak well “and you will learn
all the skills that are “necessary in order to lead this country.” Now there are a few things that I have gleaned from my own experience that I want you to take back with you. These are things that I
think you already know, but they bear repeating this morning. You do know that we are counting on you. You do understand that you have a tremendous responsibility. You have been given much through this program and I will tell you the same things that I
tell my own children. You know that to whom much is given, (audience chattering)
well… (chuckles)
(audience cheering) So because you have been given much, you can’t take all of
what you have been given and be mediocre. You can’t take all
(audience clapping) that has been invested in you and go home and do nothing. I am encouraging you to
take all of what you have, all of what you have been given, all of what you have been blessed with and go home and do something
totally disruptive. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) Too much has been given to you to be mediocre. Be disruptive. You have an obligation to the people who have sacrificed
so that you could be here. You have an obligation to live up to the standards of leadership. I’m expecting nothing less than people of character,
people of integrity. We don’t have time to play. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) This world is yearning for people with character and integrity and tenacity and people who are doing the right things for the right reasons. Be that person. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) And while I am encouraging
you to be transformational, I’m asking you not to be that person that destroys tradition and excellence. I’m asking you to be the person that remembers the core tenants and you go back determined
to make your country, your organization, your company, your community and your families better. (audience clapping) Couple of things that
I have learned is that, being on the outside now and not actually being in government, I have a whole lot more freedom to say the things that I wanna say. (audience laughing) Please, people, do not reject the things that
got you where you are today. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) (man cheering) Go ahead, now.
(audience cheering) All right, all right, all right, yeah. I do this on occasion. How many of you all come
out of a church experience? You know you get a better sermon
when you talk back, right? – [Audience] Yeah. (laughs)
(audience cheering) – [Woman] Amen. – I heard it, amen. (audience laughing) The guy in the back with
the clock is gonna say, “Bring it on home now!” (audience laughing) (chuckles)
(woman speaking off mic) What is one of the main things that got us where we are today? Our faith. Don’t reject it. Don’t reject it as you take
on the mantle of leadership and think that you are
too big and too important to remember where you came from. – [Audience] Amen. – Remember that it is your responsibility to reach back and pull along once there. Remember that the people that you surround yourself with are key, are
important, and are vital, so they should share your values. Only surround yourself with people of character and integrity, and people who wanna bring about
transformational leadership in your communities, in your countries. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) I think one of the main things I wanna share with you as emerging leaders is you can’t take everybody with you. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) That one of the most hurtful and discouraging things
that I had to learn as God raised me up and provided these opportunities for me and you need to be okay with that. – [Audience] Yes. – You be you. You assume this mantle of leadership. You do what you know
that you are called to do and remember what my young son told me ’cause this is gonna come back to you in a couple months in another situation and you’re gonna say,
that woman told me this: haters always hate, up. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) – [Man] Idol, mama. Mama!
(audience cheering) – So as you assume your leadership and the haters come out, remember that they are
hating up, not down, (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) and continue to do you. – [Audience] Yes. – And don’t step away from your calling, and there are many that
you cannot take with you. I would be remiss if I
came and spent some time with you today and didn’t share with you a little bit about The Heritage Foundation and the reason I want you to
know about this foundation is because I want you to know that we are here for you in your roles. For four decades, The Heritage Foundation
has served as a think tank dedicated to the principles
of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values and a
strong national defense. It is a conservative
public policy think tank. By the way, let me get
this out of the way. Someone always ask me, “how in the world as a black person “can you be a conservative?” I always go straight to the issue, and for me, it’s simple. My definition of a conservative,
particularly a black one, is someone who has the audacity to believe what their grandmother taught ’em. It ain’t deep, it ain’t complicated. It’s not controversial and it’s not hard. – [Audience] Yes. – The audacity to believe
what my grandmother taught me ’cause my grandmother was one smart lady and she knew some stuff. We have long advocated for the economic benefits of free markets, whether they be in
North America or Africa. We’re committed to developing
and promoting policies that ensure safety,
security, and prosperity. Earlier this year at
The Heritage Foundation, I did something that had
never been done before. First of all, there’s never been an
African-American female as head of The Heritage Foundation, I’m just saying, (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) and a dear friend of mine
told me a long time ago, write this one down too, “one of the only “really bad abuses of power “is to have it “and not use it for good.” – [Woman] Yes.
(audience clapping) – So I decided since I was the first African-American female president
of The Heritage Foundation and we had not spent as
much time as I thought was important or necessary
on the African continent that I was gonna fix that. So at that event, I hosted many of your ambassadors, from Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Mozambique, Tunisia, Cameroon, Uganda,
(audience cheering) South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia, Malawi, the Republic of Guinea, and several other nations. I’ve invited them all for dinner. Next time I’m gonna cook ’cause I can. We had a first ever meeting there to talk about the things that we share in common and how we can support each other. The Heritage Foundation wants to see, not only America and not
only African nations, but every nation on
Earth grow and prosper. Because we are such an
interconnected world, that success helps all of us. We have policy experts
who research solutions in health care, the environment,
energy, economics, taxes, constitutionalism, national defense, foreign affairs and so many
other areas of public concern. We assist the United States
government in solving problems, but we also have foreign
cabinet secretaries, finance ministers, ambassadors, and heads of state visiting
our offices every week to discuss how we can find solutions to some of the most pressing problems that our world faces today, and I want you to go back knowing that all of those tools
are available to you. As The Heritage Foundation president, I wanna work together with you to ensure that our nations are free, democratic and prosperous. I am here for you. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) There are nations around the world who depend on us and rely on us for the research and
the data that we produce and those who can’t provide for themselves and rely on government
and charitable assistance, those individuals benefit
as well from what we do. As societies have become more prosperous, they’ve been better able to
provide assistance to the poor so we want to see nations prosper. When nations prosper, they’re able to take
care of those individuals who so desperately need their governments. Countries that have the
most economic freedom also have more individual freedom. We got the data to show this. Think about this: economic freedom translates
into individual freedom, healthier citizens,
greater life expectancy, more educational choices and
even cleaner environments. Economic freedom also leads to innovation, leads to better jobs, better products and services,
and better societies. There is not one alternative
system, and many have tried, that has ever come close to
the record of free markets in promoting economic growth and enhancing the human condition, but economic freedom is about much more than a healthy business environment where entrepreneurs can flourish and make big money and
businesses can grow. It’s about the freedom of people to choose where they wanna to work
and what they wanna buy and what they wanna sell and
who they wanna sell it to. It’s about freedom from
excessive government taxes and regulations so that people can keep more of their own money when they make it. It’s about your right to your property and a judicial system
that protects those rights from the government or from your neighbor. Now I know that there
are some economic models being pushed on African
nations that propose giving some limited economic freedom in exchange for a repressive government. Some of your countries are
told that there’s a trade-off between economic development and freedom. That political freedom is dangerous, creates disunity and poverty. That if you want prosperity,
you must give up freedom, don’t let anyone sell you that untruth. They will tell you, (audience clapping) “Give all power to the government “because the government knows best.” This is absolutely false and it just doesn’t hold up to the facts. Those who champion these
models are concerned that individual freedom is a threat to the power of their ruling elites. The fact is, human freedoms
buttress economic development. The proof of this is that most of the freest nations in the world are also some of the wealthiest. There’s an undeniable correlation between democracy and economic growth. Centuries of experience show
that democratic principles provide the best foundation
for building political systems that are responsive to ordinary citizens. When societies reject
democratic principles, human suffering inevitably follows. Undemocratic systems care little for the individual’s right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and ordinary citizens can do little to hold undemocratic leaders accountable. I am a living example of
what can be accomplished in a country that’s
built on the principles of economic freedom
and individual liberty. African Americans such as myself eventually gained rights in America because our democratic system couldn’t tolerate the contradiction between its founding principles
of equality and freedom and the enslavement and discrimination against an entire segment
of its own people. The Heritage Foundation and I are tasked with carrying the message
of free markets free people to nations around the world. Because we are such an
interconnected world, we want to see all nations grow and prosper because that success is success for all of us. As the United States’ global
role and foreign policy expand in new areas and in new ways, we are glad to see African countries receiving the attention
that you so rightly deserve. In the coming decades, Africa’s global importance
will only increase, given the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit in so many of its countries and the continent’s vast
economic opportunities. You represent the future
of the continent of Africa. You are the next generation of leaders who advance entrepreneurship, prosperity, good government, human rights, and a more hopeful future for
those who come behind you. I am so proud to stand with you today and The Heritage Foundation
will be proud to work with you in the months and years ahead. I cannot tell you the joy that it brings me to be here with you today and to recognize that I am
one of a last voices that you will hear as you are together
before you head back home. Head back home and do some good. We are so counting on you. Thank you.
(audience clapping) Thank you. Thank you! This makes my heart so happy! (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) Now, I understand that I have
a few minutes for some Q&A. Is this bold or what? They better be easy. (audience laughing) Any questions? – [Man] Yes. – Yes, I don’t know what
the process is here, should they just yell it
out or are there mics or, I see a microphone coming. – [Man] Hello. – Hello! – [Fernand] Fernand Castro from Angola. I advocate for children,
underprivileged children, and I’m hoping to have you in Angola. My question is, America is great. Democracy is great. When is America going to have
the women in the business because we look up to
America for many reasons, but so far you don’t have women and you talk to us about the
women rights and stuff, please.
– Sure. – [Fernand] That’s my
curiosity, thank you. (audience clapping) – Let me start by saying,
I’m not running this year. (audience laughing)
(chuckles) We have had some phenomenal women on both sides of the aisle step up. I was not shy about saying that this country was a little slow in recognizing some of the
challenges that we have. We elected our first black President, and I pray to God that I live long enough to see us elect our first woman. It’s coming, but I don’t know when, (audience laughing) so important. Who’s got the mic? You know the lights are something. I can’t see, so I’ll just
wait until I hear a voice. – [Patty] Thank you so much. My name is Patty (mumbles) from Cameroon. I’m a diplomat and I’m a peace builder. Please tell us one thing you wish you knew before getting married. (Kay laughing)
(audience laughing) – One thing I wish I had
known before I got married. I wish that I had known how incredibly difficult marriage is. (audience laughing)
(audience clapping) I am an absolute and hopeless romantic and I wish that we had spent as much time preparing for the marriage as we spent preparing for the wedding. (audience clapping) I have now been married for 47 years (audience cheering) to an incredible man. When people ask me
what’s the secret, I say, and he would too if he were here, we stood up in front of God, our families and our friends and committed to stay together forever and so the reason that we
are married 47 years later is because I said I would. It’s that simple. (audience clapping) Having said that, I will tell you that with the
rough spots along the way, and they are there, they are there, I said in year seven,
I say this in the book, in year seven in marriage, I woke up and there was a naked man in my bed and I wanted him gone. (audience laughing) I wanted him out of my life, and gone, and there were plenty of friends and relatives who encouraged
me along that way. I have to tell you that today, the ones who encouraged me to walk away have no idea the joy that we share. I wake up every single morning
next to my best friend. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) I just wish someone had
had the guts to tell me what was going to be
required to make that happen. For all of you who are
you in year one or two, it all, and I do mean all, just gets better and better. I’m just saying. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) – [Man] Thank you. Hello?
– I hear a voice. – [Man] There’s a question here. Okay. – [Man] So, go ahead. – [Ike] My name is Ike, I’m Nigerian. – Where are you? – [Ike] I’m here, I’m here. I’m actually trying to get, there you go (chuckles).
– Oh, there you are, okay! – [Ike] Thanks for your wonderful speech. I’m Nigerian and we Africans have a
special spiritual connection to African Americans like you in the U.S. and who are privileged to
meet a few black leaders and told us some of the challenges and it was quite uplifting. So my question is simple. The current political
climate in America is one that is baffling to some of us and– – That is what to some of you? Baffling?
– Baffling, it’s surprising because,
like she said or he said, we look up to America for a lot of things and we fell to a gruesome place. So my question is simple. As a conservative woman, and
not just a conservative woman, the head of The Heritage Foundation, I never even knew she was
a woman and she was black, and we met a couple of black leaders in California where I studied and they shared some of their
personal stories with us. They are very close and (mumbles) with us. We met some, the mayor, a
couple of people, wonderful. So really the black experience for you as a conservative woman, seeing the current
political climate in America and what it portends for as Africans, because we feel bad when
some of this has happened because it reflects poorly on us. Can you really tell us… (audience chattering) – [Man] Yeah, tell us, go ahead. – [Ike] Can you tell us, sorry. – Leave the brother alone. He’s gonna get to it. – [Ike] Can you tell us why you stayed where you are and what you really feel
about this whole thing? Sorry for the– – What I really feel about? – [Ike] About the
current political climate and what you can do about it.
– The current political climate in this country is toxic and bad. I cannot sugarcoat that for you. It is indeed. If you ask me why I am who I am and why I am a conservative
African-American, it’s because, at a certain point, I don’t care if I am in a desert and I am thirsty and starving, when you offer me food and drink, first of all, I wanna know, is it clean water and
is the food good to eat, and I’m not really looking
at the hand that extends it. I believe that the policies that my grandmother taught me, to be self-reliant,
self-sufficient, independent, to protect our families, to stay married, all of those values, I don’t even know when those
values became conservative. They were just common sense stuff and I’m not going to change because of the political climate. When I look at what’s
going on in our world and in our country and in our communities, I care enough that I don’t care where
the answers come from, if they are the right answers
that will save my people. Sometimes I may despise the messenger, but if the message is
right, I gotta listen. So I would encourage you not to reject what you know to be true because sometimes you
don’t like the messenger. Stick with what you know to be true. I know that it’s important
to get an education. I know it’s important for us to form families and get married. I know that it’s important for us to be self-sufficient and independent. I know that it’s important for us to have a culture where
businesses can grow and people can earn and keep money. I don’t care who says it. If it’s right, it’s right. So I have to figure out how to take those messages and articulate them in
a way that’s outside of the political climate and environment. I don’t do politics. I do policy. So…
(audience clapping) – [Man] Hello? – Hello. – [Man] I’m on the side. Can you see me? – I see you now! – [Vital] Hi, my name is Vital (mumbles). I’m a (mumbles) fellow
from 2014, five years ago. 10 years ago– – [Woman] Only fellows are taking council questions right now. – [Vital] I’m a fellow too. – [Woman] From this year. It’s okay, okay.
– It’s okay. (audience laughing) – [Woman] Sorry, sorry. – [Vital] What a discrimination! (chuckles)
– [Woman] I’m sorry. – I’m missing all of this.
– Thank you. – So I hope you all know
what’s going on over there. – [Vital] Well what’s
going on is that because we are ancestors, they
assume we couldn’t talk. (audience laughing) Just saying. My name is Vital (mumbles). I’m from the Republic of Benin. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to
be at UT Austin for the YALI and driven by one single purpose, linking American SMEs
with African SMEs, why? I was born in a country where economic opportunity is scarce. Millions of African young people today are building incredible companies. We cannot grow because there’s no access to basic–
– Capital? – Basic, no, capital I think comes after, basic trade opportunities, being known and for the
buyer to know that you exist. So we created a e-commerce marketplace, helping African companies export, but here’s my point. In an era where Africa has the largest free-trade area in the world and where we have AGOA right now where we can ship and trade
with the United States free of tax,
(audience clapping) I believe this is the best
time for American SMEs to collaborate with African SMEs. So how can we collaborate with you to make that happen? – You can go right on the website. Look at heritagefoundation.org. I’m one of the easiest
people on the planet to find and I am ready to collaborate
and make it happen. How easy is that?
(audience clapping) And I already told you that
I’m a woman of my word, I’m married ’cause I said I
would be, so there you go. I will do two more, and then I have to go
sit my hurting hip down. (audience laughing) – [Woman] Wow. – [Woman] Okay, so hello. – [Victoria] My name is Victoria Nale. I come from Uganda. I’m differently-abled I’m stayed here. I have two question. My first question– – No, you get one ’cause she’s got one. – [Victoria] Sorry, I have one question. What inspires you everyday, the second, I want to have a hug.
(Kay chuckling) Can I have a hug with you? – Oh, of course. I give out hugs all the time. What inspires me every day? My grandchildren. I get up every morning and I go into The Heritage
Foundation and I fight because, listen to this
’cause this is important, I refuse to leave my grandchildren an America that’s less free
than the one I inherited. I care about the future for my progeny. I care about the world
that I’m leaving them. So while I am definitely
of retirement age, go ahead, tell me I look good for 70, (audience cheering) (chuckles) and I should be sitting somewhere watching I Love Lucy re-runs, I get up every day and I go to fight because I care about them, so that is my inspiration. It disturbs me what I see happening in our country today as
I see freedoms erode, and it’s not gonna happen on my watch. It’s just not gonna happen on my watch. Last question right here. – [Valeria] Yeah, so I’m
Valeria (mumbles) from Ghana. I’m an agro-processor, and then I advocate for
persons with disability. So my question is this, looking at you here,
it’s so inspiring to me, especially coming from a
marginalized community. What I want to find out is this: you have geared us up, you have
inspired us, we are ignited. How do we keep this fire on when we get to our home countries while we meet this difficult is this challenge, is this obstacles. How do we go beyond them and
keep this dream alive in us? And then, secondly, what do your foundation do
with persons with disability? Thank you.
– Yeah. (audience clapping) This is what I call a
mountaintop experience. You come and you get fired up. You get motivated. You get inspired, but it is no good at all if you don’t take that energy, that excitement, and go do good. It’s just not for us to be able to come and have experiences like this, and then go on with business as usual. That’s not an option. People are counting on us. Your grandchildren, your
children are counting on you, and then find out whatever that motivation is for you to keep going. I have told my own children
that the only difference between a failure and a success is the successful person gets up. We all get knocked down. You’re going to, when you
leave here, get discouragement. You’re not gonna get that
loan that you thought you were gonna get to
continue your education or it isn’t gonna work out as
you thought it was in business or you’re not gonna win
that local election, but if that kind of stuff
stops you in your tracks, then you haven’t proven that you’ve got what it takes to be a leader anyway. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) So the answer to your question is, how do you keep it going from the sheer sort of true
grip that’s inside of you, the thing that compels you to wanna make your countries better, the lives for people in your community better for your families? That has got to be
sufficient to keep you going because no outside force will. When you get knocked down, the only difference between you and the successful person
is you will get back up. (audience clapping) So when you go home and
you get knocked down, I want you to hear that voice
inside your head saying, get up, because that’s your charge. Get up and do good. Thank you. (audience cheering)
(audience clapping) Blessings.
(audience cheering) (upbeat instrumental music)

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