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Doan Addresses GSA Tribute To Dr. King

 

Remarks by
Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
MLK Celebration
Washington, DC
January 1, 2008

Thank you David, and thanks to all our performers and guests here for GSA’s tribute to Dr. King.  One of the challenges and responsibilities for my generation is to make sure that we keep Dr. King’s powerful legacy current -- that we make certain today’s young people understand what it meant to be alive in the Sixties … what the battle was all about, who fought it, what was at stake … and that they pass this knowledge and understanding on to their children and their children’s children. The battle for equality and civil rights is not over, but it has taken a different, more subtle form.

No longer do we see black children barred from all-white schools, or separate drinking fountains and rest rooms. Sure, there are exceptions, like the Jena 6 last year in Louisiana, but it is nothing like the rampant violence of the Nineteen-Sixties.

So I think it’s hard sometimes for today’s young people to understand.

Many of us lived through the Civil Rights era.  But for the infants and toddlers in our “Fingerprints” day care center across the hall, it will just be another chapter in a thick history book they’ll have to lug back and forth to school.

In fact, six months before he was assassinated, Dr. King spoke to junior high students in Philadelphia about buildings and blueprints – something we know a little about at GSA.

A building is not well erected, he said, without a good, solid blueprint. He told the students:

“Each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.”

The advice is as fresh as when it was offered in October 1967.

These words also touch me in a special way, as I am, as David mentioned, the second African American and first woman to head GSA.

Dr. King told the students that:

“Number one in your life's blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity.”

Second, he said, is the determination to achieve excellence. He urged the students to stay in school and prepare themselves for “doors of opportunity” that were not open to their mothers and fathers.

Before my appointment, I started a small business that grew into a big business specializing in government security and surveillance technology.   In so doing, I kept up a tradition of family entrepreneurship that dated back to my great-grandmother, who sold pralines on the docks of New Orleans shortly after President Lincoln ended slavery.

From family role models and others, I learned to see opportunity as something that must be grabbed when it appears, because the opportunity may not happen again.  I also learned that not everyone recognizes an opportunity when it appears.  I learned that, as human beings, we have an enormous capacity for rationalization:  we convince ourselves, “Oh, I can’t take advantage of that opportunity because I’ve got a family to support,” or other such explanations. One of our greatest gifts to ourselves might be a willingness to accept opportunity when it appears. 

From Dr. King, I also learned another truly valuable lesson: most people like to talk about innovation and change -- and most of us like to think of ourselves in this way.  But for most, what is really meant is, strategize “a little,” change “just a little,” innovate, “just a bit.” Truly transformational change requires that a person think, not of himself or herself, but of an ideal -- of a future success, sometimes independent of one’s personal well-being.

Because true innovation is scary, change is scary.  And, innovation and change usually require some degree of sacrifice, sometimes, as in the case of Dr. King -- extraordinary sacrifice.

I also learned from Dr. King that you can’t always expect everyone to be willing to make an extraordinary sacrifice.  That’s okay too.  Sometimes it’s enough if they’ll walk just a little of the way with you.

And, as Dr. King proved, if just a few walk, just part of the way with you, and you, yourself, are willing to stay the course, then great things can be accomplished.

Dr. King understood the meaning of excellence and sacrifice, for he said:

“When you discover what you will be in your life, he said, set out to do it as if god almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it … if it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, then sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures..."

Begin with a solid design.  Commit yourself to excellence… simple messages carved from the turbulent sixties by one of history’s most influential and revered figures.

Like our nation’s legacy buildings, Dr. King’s words need no adjustment or redesign.

They remain a blueprint for success at the start of another year, filled with promise and potential, thanks to the sacrifice of those who came before us.

Thank you so much…