Originally published by the Richmond Times Dispatch
March 25, 2017
By James B. Murray Jr.

When it comes to history and government, Virginia has a special trust and a unique opportunity.

Four centuries ago at Jamestown, the colony that would grow into a self-governing commonwealth and then a powerful free nation had its tumultuous beginning.

It was 12 years into that experiment before representative government got its start on these shores, planting seeds that over the centuries would blossom into the global flourishing of democracy.

It was also in the Jamestown colony’s 12th year that Africans first arrived — in bondage. Thus, liberty’s origins and liberty’s antithesis — slavery — trace their American roots to the same year and the same place. A sadly profound irony, certainly, but more than that: These are essential strands of a still-evolving American story that has always been about our abilities to overcome.

That eventful 12th year — 1619 — also saw the Virginia Company in London recruit the first significant number of women for the colony; and it occasioned the first official Thanksgiving observed in English America. Finally, that same year, the humble colonists experienced a new charter that created economic opportunities few of them had enjoyed before.

Today, we recognize around the globe the hallmarks of diverse and democratic societies — individual liberty, equality under law, government by consent, opportunity, and entrepreneurship. These fundamental values are connected in powerful ways to the American story of 1619.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” And so it is that we will use 2019 — the 400th anniversary of those seminal events — to draw lessons for the future.

Our commonwealth in 2019 will be the site of a major gathering of emerging leaders from around the world. Planning is underway to convene here in the cradle of the democratic experiment a summit of young political and governmental practitioners from mature and emerging democracies, as well as youthful democratic advocates from countries where freedom currently is denied or imperiled.

A wide range of business and social entrepreneurs, civil-society activists, scholars, and students also will be on hand to share perspectives and gain insights.

The summit’s transcendent purpose: to review the varied roads traveled in pursuit of representative democracy and other basic liberties; to share ideas for the journey ahead; and to build upon a global network of connected young leaders — millennials — who are committed to making the promise of human freedom and opportunity a reality in their own lands.

The program is being built on a solid foundation, and it promises to yield important benefits not only abroad but here at home.

Planning for the 2019 Global Emerging Leaders Summit is being led by two experienced partners: the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, through its 2019 American Evolution Commemoration sub-agency; and The Presidential Precinct, a collaboration among two of America’s premier public universities (the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary) and the historic homes of three Founding Fathers (Jefferson’s Monticello, Madison’s Montpelier, and Monroe’s Highland), along with William Short’s Morven Farm.

An unsurpassed setting for aspiring young leaders to gather, share, and learn about facets of civil society, the Presidential Precinct has extensive experience organizing and hosting this kind of international program.

Working with the U.S. Department of State, the Precinct already has welcomed 450 emerging leaders from 115 countries for multi-day conferences exploring the foundations of free institutions and opportunities for their advancement.

As one of nine signature events planned for the American Evolution commemoration, the Global Emerging Leaders Summit will be part of a broader 2019 anniversary-year program that will focus on the themes of democracy, diversity, and opportunity — and that promises to bring worldwide attention and more to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Ten years ago this spring, Virginians welcomed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to our state for the anniversary of Jamestown’s founding. Other commemorative events that year brought two presidential visits and a host of other dignitaries to the commonwealth and generated more than 12 billion news impressions worldwide.

For those tracking the bottom line, the economic return was extraordinary: The 2007 commemoration produced $1.2 billion in sales in Virginia, generated more than $28 million in state and local tax revenue, and created an estimated 20,000 jobs.

As great as 2007 was, 2019 can be even bigger for Virginia. That’s because, for the millennials who will frame our future, the 2019 anniversaries are even more compelling and more relevant.

When emerging leaders from our own and other countries gather to learn from the past and collaborate for the future, what legacies could be better suited for reflection than four centuries of struggles with representative self-government, four centuries of contributions to our diverse republic by African Americans and women, four centuries of religious liberty, and four centuries of economic opportunity and entrepreneurship?

As Virginians everywhere join young global leaders in commemorating these 400th anniversaries, they will be joined by many celebrating the University of Virginia’s bicentennial, which also will be observed in 2019.

As I said at the outset, when it comes to history and government, Virginia has a special trust and a unique opportunity. Let’s work together to put our best foot forward in 2019.

James B. Murray Jr. is managing director of Court Square Ventures in Charlottesville. He is founder of The Presidential Precinct and serves on the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia and on the First Representative Legislative Assembly Committee for the 2019 “American Evolution” commemoration.