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January 15, 2008

MLK '08

Last week I gave welcoming remarks at EPA's Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance.  Some folks suggested I post them. Here you go.

Good morning, thank you all for joining us today as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In particular, I welcome our distinguished guest speaker, Reverend Clifton Davis. Reverend Davis has been on television, in the movies, and on Broadway.

Of those three media, I must admit Broadway is my favorite. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to see the musical Wicked on Broadway. It's a very good show. It's a prequel to the Wizard of Oz story. It describes what happened before Dorothy arrives in Oz. 

One reason it's so good is it's disorienting. I'm not going to ruin the show if you haven't seen it but I will say all the folks you thought were the good guys are the bad guys and all the folks you thought were the bad guys are the good guys. If you've seen the Wizard of Oz a gazillion times, it takes a while to get your head around this. What you thought was right, isn't right. What you thought was wrong, isn't wrong. The hero of the story, at great cost to herself, shows everyone the truth.

But that's just a Broadway show. That sort of thing never happens in real life. In what kind of world is right wrong and wrong right? And in what sort of situation is someone willing to give their life to setting the world straight and educating the rest of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr. peeled back the façade that made wrong look right and showed people the ugliness that was underneath. His story, and the sacrifice he made, is fact, not fiction. He is a bona fide hero. He instilled the ideal that no matter what kind of people we are as individuals, we are all Americans with the same rights and responsibilities. The right to determine our own lives and the responsibility to make sure others enjoy that right as well.

As EPA employees we have a responsibility to help clean up the air, water, and land for everyone – all our citizens. That is a responsibility we share. As Americans we also share the responsibility of toleration and ensuring equality for all people. That's not just something that happens on its own. We have to step up to it every day. 

In the words of Dr. King, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism, or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” That's why this year, on January 21st, when offices across the country close, I encourage you to make the holiday created in his memory a day on, not a day off. For instance, you can honor Dr. King and his dream of building a better America by spending the day taking part in a service project in your community.

Whether it's volunteering to feed the hungry, cleaning-up a local park, or helping a neighbor in need . . . together we can continue building the community he imagined. We can continue the story he started. A story that isn't fiction and isn't finished and profoundly affects the world we live in.   

Thank you, and enjoy today's program.

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