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Bibb and GSA Honor Dr. Martin Luther King

As Prepared for Delivery

Remarks by
David L. Bibb
Acting Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for coming. It’s a very special honor to speak to you today as we celebrate the life, legacy, and birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This event provides an important forum for us to discuss, reflect, and perhaps act upon the ideals championed by Dr. King. I can think of no better way to pay tribute to the King legacy, or to foster the spirit of community that he advocated with such passion.

In addition to the birthday celebration, this year’s observance marks the 20th anniversary of the national holiday honoring Dr. King. His “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th Century. And the King Center in Atlanta tells us the holiday is now celebrated in more than 100 countries.

Such facts and statistics speak well to the extraordinary influence Dr. King had on all of our lives. Very few historic figures have touched us so profoundly, regardless of our race, color or creed.

Dr. King often spoke of a kind of fire no water could put out . His vision was for all people to be able to join hands - whether they are black or white, rich or poor, Jews or Gentiles, Protestants or Catholics. His life’s work literally changed the course of our nation’s long journey toward liberty and justice for all.

One example was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson in August of 1965.  As you know, the law prohibits discrimination in voting practices or procedures because of race and color, and is considered one of the major pieces of legislation that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.

So it is fitting and proper that all of us gather each year to celebrate and remember Dr. King's legacy - to remember his contribution to our country - to remember how his lifelong work led to the improved quality of life we all enjoy.

This celebration is also a time for us to rededicate our own lives … to achieve all we are capable of achieving … and do all that we can do—to help our nation toward the full realization of Dr. King's ideals. His vision was deeply rooted in the American dream as outlined by our founding fathers in documents like the Declaration of Independence. That ideal, of course, is, "a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

The theme of this year’s King Holiday is:

In the spirit of unity and service: Remember! Celebrate! Act!

Of those three, the last is probably the most difficult. Here’s what Dr. King had to say about service:

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. …  You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant."

Another remarkable thing about Dr. King was his understanding of how the struggles of the day would affect future generations. He knew, for instance, that progress made during the civil rights era would have a profound impact on the children of the sixties … that they would face different challenges … that they would have to be prepared to walk through doors of opportunity that had been closed to their parents.

Six months before his death, he urged junior high students in Philadelphia to stay in school, to work hard, and to always believe in their own dignity. And he told them that when they eventually decided on their life’s work, they should do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it!

That was Dr. King’s way of urging his listeners to dedicate themselves to high standards and continuous improvement. As you know, both of those goals are very important to us here at GSA.

In fact, I think we at GSA are particularly inspired by Dr. King’s life and legacy. Look closely at our values, and you’ll see they incorporate many of his ideals. This includes:

  • Our aspiration to always show respect for fellow associates.
  • The fact that we value the teamwork of our diverse team of associates.
  • And it includes our emphasis on ethics and integrity in everything we do.

In a 1965 commencement address, Dr. King said that our amazing advances in technology have enabled us to turn the world into a neighborhood. The challenge now, he said, is to apply our morals and ethics, and convert the neighborhood to a brotherhood.

I think GSA is helping here through our work in the area of electronic government – particularly through FirstGov.gov, the official Internet portal for the entire U.S. government. This has been especially true during times of crisis, like hurricanes and terrorist acts, when the FirstGov team has posted critical information to help survivors and family members.

We are also able to honor Dr. King’s memory in his home town of Atlanta, where major renovation work is underway on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Building. This facility is the first federal building named for Dr. King, and is also the home of GSA’s Southeast Sunbelt Region.

Last, it’s hard to believe that more than 40 years have passed since Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – so close to where we are today – and delivered his most famous speech. I’m sure many of you recall that he called upon America "to live out the true meaning of its creed." And how he called upon all Americans "to sit down together at the table of brotherhood" and stand against discrimination and prejudice. And to work together to replace that discrimination and prejudice with equality, and justice and opportunity.

In the time since Dr. King was taken from us, new generations of Americans have been born, grown up, begun careers and families, and have joined the older generations. Some know a lot about his life’s work; some know only a little.

Hopefully, this annual celebration will help all of us learn something new, or recall something we may have forgotten.  I'm sure that such reflection will give us the inspiration we need to make Dr. King’s teachings and legacy a reality for ourselves, for our children and for the generations that will follow.

Thank you very much.