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Bibb Addresses GSA Black History Month Celebration

Remarks by
David L. Bibb
Acting Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
GSA Black History Month Celebration
February 15, 2006

 

Thank you very much, Derrick (Miliner), for that kind introduction. Good morning, everyone, and thank you all for coming. I am deeply honored to be here with you for this special celebration of Black History Month.

Although this is indeed a time for celebration, it is also a time to reflect on all who have sacrificed in the long and unfinished battle for civil rights. Among our great civil rights leaders was Coretta Scott King, whose recent passing still weighs heavy on our hearts.  The extraordinary service on her behalf last week in Atlanta was attended by four presidents and spoke volumes about the impact she and her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had on our society. As was said so eloquently by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Mrs. King wore her grief with grace, and exerted her leadership with dignity.

I’d also like to acknowledge David Reeves, regional director of the Blacks in Government National Board of Directors, for being here today. GSA and Blacks in Government have a long and productive relationship, largely because we share many of the same values.

Like GSA, Blacks in Government:

  • Cultivates a desire to succeed,
  • Stimulates personal development and professionalism, and
  • Continuously focuses on achieving equality of opportunity.

That is why it is has been easy for GSA to support the Blacks in Government (BIG) organization, and why so many of our associates have attended the BIG annual training conference over the years.

During Black History Month, we celebrate the many achievements and contributions African Americans have made to our economic, cultural, spiritual and political development.  Our thoughts turn to historic figures such as Dr. King, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington and one name that may not be as familiar, Wilma Rudolph. I’d like to take a moment to tell you about this phenomenal athlete and the impact she had on my hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee.

You know, there’s no date that marks the very end of public segregation in America. We know when civil rights legislation became law, but isolating that exact moment of change is like trying to pinpoint the first pulse of a new heartbeat.  Maybe that’s because each town where segregation was the law has a different story. We think of this era and the images that spring to mind are unpleasant reminders of all that was done to stop or slow the changes everyone knew were coming.

When I was 12 years old, Wilma Rudolph, who by the way had Polio as a child, went off to the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and came back with three gold medals.  She was the fastest woman in the world, and she was from Clarksville, Tennessee. The town wanted to throw a parade and banquet.  Wilma said fine, but she would only come if everyone could join the party. Remember, this was still the segregated south. But everyone was excited about her achievements and the town leaders agreed. The ensuing parade and banquet amounted to what I believe was the first major integrated event in town history.

Now, the pace of change in Clarksville didn’t come close to the times Wilma posted in the Rome Olympics. We did not suddenly become an integrated utopia simply because a young woman won a few races overseas.  But what she did helped.

This Black History Month, I think it’s worth reflecting a moment on Wilma Rudolph and all she taught us on so many levels. Looking back – as an adult and as Acting Administrator of GSA, a federal agency that counts “teamwork, professionalism, and respect for fellow associates” among its most cherished values -- I marvel at how she ran through every barrier she ever faced, whether it was childhood polio, world-class competition, or racism.

Once she was a celebrity, she could have cashed in on her fame, as we have seen happen with other successful athletes. Instead, she used her fame to bring people together in a small, divided corner of Tennessee.
I remember that day very clearly --

  • The truce,
  • The smiles, and
  • How for a moment an entire town was struck absolutely color-blind.

The theme of this year’s Black History Month pays tribute to the many black fraternal, social and civic groups that have long fought to improve society by expanding opportunities for all Americans.  Blacks in Government is certainly on this esteemed list. As President Bush said recently, these institutions have played a vital role in achieving justice and equal rights; they have helped strengthen communities, they have set a positive example, and they have been an inspiration to us all.

In closing, I'd like to mention something that I believe has always helped keep our agency strong, vibrant and on the road to continuous improvement. GSA is committed to a work environment free of unlawful discrimination, to an EEO complaint process that fairly and efficiently handles claims of discrimination, and to diversity. 

And we are committed to all our associates because we understand that our associates are our most valuable asset.  I think everyone here appreciates that, and why you have helped consistently make GSA one of the government’s top-rated federal workplaces.

In fact, I think our commitment to a level playing field has helped make us more than diverse. It has moved us closer to our corporate values, filled our central office and each of our regions with talent and potential, and set the stage for huge success this year and beyond – both for the agency, and for each and every associate.

Thank you very much.