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Administrator Doan Joins GSA African American History Month Celebration

Remarks by
Lurita Alexis. Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
African American History Month
Washington, DC
February 12, 2008

 

Thank you, Bruce; I’m very pleased to be here; thank you all for coming out. I also want to say a special thank you to our featured guest speaker, Dr. Russell Adams, and to our emcee, Bruce Caughman, Chief of Staff at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

During African American History Month, we reflect on what came before, not what’s coming next.

But how far back into history do we reach?

When we stop and think about the very early Africans brought here against their will, the picture is pretty bleak.

Their concern was survival, not opportunity.

And equal opportunity? Generations would pass before that seed was even planted.

Last October, I had the privilege of representing GSA at a very inspiring and emotional event in New York. We went to lower Manhattan to dedicate a memorial to the men and women of the African Burial Ground.

If you remember, GSA stumbled upon an unmarked cemetery in the early 1990’s during construction of a new federal building. As it turned out, this was the largest Colonial-era cemetery for enslaved Africans in America.

Today the burial ground, including the memorial, is a powerful symbol. It represents the critical contributions that enslaved African men, women, and children made to the economy, development, and culture of New York and, indeed, to our young nation.

But let’s be honest. Those poor souls never approached anything close to what Dr. King would later call “new windows of opportunity.”

That we have at long last come to terms with the role they played in building this country – a role that for decades was ignored - is some cause for celebration.

It is not easy to challenge, let alone correct history. It forces acknowledgment that critical and verifiable information was omitted from the official record.

Or that myth has been passed off as fact.

But it is equally important that we do not spend a lot of time or effort in the blame game of who did what to whom, or how unfair such treatment might have been.  The blame game is rarely productive, rarely advances any cause and focuses on the past rather than the present or the future.

Abraham Lincoln put it best in his second inaugural address when he said:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

That’s what we are doing now—following in the steps of  Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King, and I am so proud to be an appointee of a President who is making history—who has appointed more African Americans to senior leadership positions in his Administration than any previous president.

During African American History Month, as we celebrate our diversity at GSA and throughout America, let us make sure that we do not succumb to the blame game. Instead, let’s make sure we celebrate and pay tribute to those who took the first painful steps toward freedom and equality.

For though they did not know it, their fingers were the first to begin prying open the window of opportunity.

Thank you very much.