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February 11, 1999

Remarks of
Commissioner Susan Ness
on the
Celebration of African American History Month

Congressman Rangel, Chairman Kennard, fellow employees, and friends: I am honored to be here with you today to celebrate African American History Month.

When this tradition was initiated over 70 years ago by Carter G. Woodson, I imagine that the occasion was relevant to -- and celebrated by -- African Americans alone. But today, our vision is far greater.

The history of African Americans is part and parcel of the history of America. The story of African Americans is an integral part of the story of America.

And that story is one of strength, suffering, courage, service, the struggle against discrimination, -- and triumph.

This year's theme, "The Legacy of African American Leadership for the Present and the Future," recognizes that many gifted women and men -- from every walk of life -- have helped move our nation closer to our shared ideals of freedom, justice, and equality.

Think of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall. It is true, but inadequate, to think of them just as "African American leaders." A better description is . . . "American leaders."

They are part of our shared heritage.

Their legacy is our beacon. Each of us must strive to be our very best. We must judge and relate to people based upon who they are, not who we think they are.

And we must all strive to build upon the progress to which they so magnificently contributed.

No one is born a leader but in each of us is the potential for a leader to be born.

As we give special recognition to the contributions of African Americans to America, let us dedicate ourselves to follow the examples of those we all honor as leaders.

Thank you.