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Celebrating the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC
January 18, 2007

Thank you Dr. Moten. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. It is a pleasure for me to be here to welcome all of you to this ceremony commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are gathered here this morning in tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the ideals he held and to the life he lived. We remember a man who contributed so much to this Nation and also changed world history. Dr. King lifted the lives of millions of Americans and set lasting and universal standards for human decency and nonviolent social reform.

A consistent theme in observance of Dr. King’s birthday, “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On…Not A Day Off,” reiterates the importance of remembering Dr. King’s work and legacy; celebrating his birthday as a national holiday and acting on his teachings and principles of nonviolence and human rights.

As Corretta Scott King so eloquently conveyed in her writing on the Meaning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday:

It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood. Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.

Now, Dr. King’s life and memory will be preserved through the creation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial in our Nation’s capital – the first for an African American and a non-president. In November 2006, the groundbreaking ceremonies began for the memorial that will be constructed on one of the most prestigious sites remaining on the National Mall - in direct sight of the Lincoln Memorial not far from where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963, at the March on Washington, which drew a record crowd of 250,000. During the groundbreaking ceremony President George Bush remarked, “On this ground, a monument will rise that will preserve his legacy for ages…we give Martin Luther King his rightful place among the many Americans honored on the National Mall.” The memorial is scheduled for completion in 2008, forty years after King’s assassination.

Dr. King lived the qualities he preached.

They are qualities that too often are in short supply in our world, the qualities of equality, justice, courage, compassion, non-violence and love.

Dr. King reminded us time after time that everyone can serve in some way, no matter what his or her background may be. It is one of the many ideas of Dr. King that deserve celebration, not just on his birthday but every day, and not just in this country, but also all around the world.

Mrs. King also conveyed that “The King Holiday celebrates Dr. King’s global vision of the world house, a world whose people and nations had triumphed over poverty, racism, war and violence.”

We in the foreign affairs community, both civil service and foreign service, understand Dr. King’s vision. I’m proud to say that “each of us who works at USAID is driven by the belief that peaceful societies, where healthy and well-educated people are free to provide for themselves and their families, are aspirations of human beings regardless of ethnicity, religion, or geographic location.” Everyday, we carry Dr. King’s work forward by helping people around the world. This is our commitment to Dr. King’s vision of the global “world house”.

And on the home-front, we recognized the national holiday as a ‘day-on’ and not a ‘day-off’---USAID staff reached out to others in need here in our local community and volunteered their time and energy in support of a pro bono legal clinic and area food bank. Some donated blood through the local Red Cross. Let’s strive to follow the example of this day, and make volunteering in our communities a year long commitment.

Thank you very much.

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