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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks for Black History Month, As Prepared

As prepared for delivery.

Thanks, Karen. And thank you for the hard work you and your staff put into making today possible. A round of applause for Karen and the Office of Civil Rights, please.

And a round of applause for our keynote speaker, Ms. Donna Brazile. It is an honor to have such a distinguished veteran political leader, strategist and educator join us as we celebrate the contributions of African Americans in our country. As the first African American to lead a presidential election campaign – Donna is part of that history. And I’m personally honored that you took time out your day to join us.

Again, welcome to all of you for joining us for today’s Black History Month Program. Welcome, also, to colleagues in the regions and labs and others who could not join us here today – who will all watch this on telecast.

Before we move on – let me take a moment to recognize the centennial of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, and to express my gratitude for all that they have done to promote equality and freedom.

If it is true that we stand on the shoulders of giants that have gone before us, then clearly I stand on the shoulders of the NAACP’s founders and all its members who have worked tirelessly for civil rights, equity and fairness during the past hundred years.

Being here, as your administrator, has special meaning for me. The inauguration of the first African American president, and my subsequent confirmation as the first African American Administrator of this Agency, has forever changed the face of environmentalism in this country.

Think about it: there was a time when I would have been forced to drink unsafe water from an inferior water fountain – because of my race. Now, in 2009, I have the responsibility of ensuring that *everyone* drinks clean water – regardless of race. That is powerful and speaks to the amazing progress and change our country has seen.

But that change won’t be more than symbolism – if not supported with real, tangible measures that advance our mission to protect human health and the environment.

Much of the world looks to the United States for leadership on human rights, civil rights and the rule of law. Similarly, much of the world looks to this agency to set the standard – the highest standard – for what it means to protect and preserve our air, water and land.

During the past few days, I’ve been speaking with stakeholders and reporters about the direction of this agency and I’ve shared one clear, consistent message with all of them: EPA is back on the job!

But, we have much to do in restoring the country’s faith in our abilities to protect the nation’s air, water, and land - now and for future generations.

Not only that, we have much to do to ensure that communities directly impacted by environmental degradation – particularly communities of color that have long been under-served – have not only a voice, but a seat at the decision-making table.

I’ve shared this story with many of you, but when I finished graduate school there was only one place for young people who were talented, smart, and passionate about protecting the environment – and that was EPA.

We must return to that. And I want to make sure we are recruiting the best, the brightest, and most diverse EPA ever. We want EPA to be the top destination for young graduates from Harvard and Howard; Georgetown and Grambling; Stanford and Spelman. And we must ensure that these young recruits have a clear pathway to management and senior leadership positions within the agency.

I will look to all of you, to join me in making this a reality.

Thanks again to Karen and her office, for coordinating not only today’s program, but all of EPA’s special observances events.

And thanks to you all for joining me for today’s program.

Many years ago, critically-acclaimed performer Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall – a grand building mere blocks from here. Not only that, the D.C. Board of Education then denied her the right to sing in the auditorium of a white public high school. Yet today, in this grand building, we can join together and sing “Lift Evr’y Voice and Sing.”

Change has certainly come to this agency.

It has come to this town.

And let’s continue the work of bringing environmental change to this country.

Thank you.