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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Office of Justice Programs
Black History Month

Blacks in Leadership: Then, Now, and Tomorrow

Thursday, February 3, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Carl, and good morning. I'm so pleased to welcome all of you to this OJP celebration of Black History Month. I especially want to welcome our guest speaker, the Reverend Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd. I'll have the pleasure of introducing her in just a few minutes.

     First of all, let me thank everyone who had a hand in organizing today's program. I know lots of people were involved, but let me single out Kevin Jenkins and the Program Committee. There's not time to individually single out everyone on the Committee, but please know how much we appreciate all your hard work.

     I also want to thank Carl and the staff of our Equal Employment Opportunity Office for their work in organizing the program - and for all they do to ensure diversity and inclusion here at OJP.

     And thanks also to my wonderful special assistant, Rhea Walker, who's so talented in so many ways, and to the Orr School Chorus, who'll sing for us later.

     The theme of our program is "Blacks in Leadership: Then, Now, and Tomorrow." This has personal resonance for me. I think back to when I was a kid, growing up in Virginia during the 60s. I remember, sadly, the signs of segregation that were everywhere then - the separate schools, the separate public facilities still.

     My parents had come from the Midwest; they were products of the New Deal, and when they moved to the D.C. area and Virginia, they were frankly shocked at the bias and discrimination they saw here, and they were determined that my sister and brother and I would grow up free of that.

     And I remember vividly several years later, when I was a student at Brown University, of having the incredible fortune of seeing Dr. Martin Luther King. It was 1967, and I was managing editor of the Brown Daily Herald. Dr. King had come to campus to deliver a speech at Sayles Hall. Afterward, he held a press conference in a small room there, and I was among the media covering it. The others were from the major news media.

     As he spoke and fielded questions from reporters, I sat there - this young college kid. I was just a few feet away from him - but I was shy and didn't ask any questions. It was a pretty overwhelming experience - hearing him speak so eloquently and passionately about our responsibilities to the poor and dispossessed. I knew this was a great leader.

     I think often about that experience - and about his words - and they have particular meaning for me now, serving in the Administration of our nation's first black President and working for the first black Attorney General. And as I watched the State of the Union, I saw the number of other African Americans who occupy prominent positions in government. - Charles Bolden, the NASA Administrator; Ron Kirk, the U.S. Trade Representative; Lisa Jackson, the EPA Administrator; Susan Rice, Ambassador to the U.N.; Regina Benjamin, the Surgeon General.

     To see them in these positions, just a half-century removed from the Civil Rights movement, was truly inspiring, because I have lived through that. And when I listened to President Obama talk about the struggles people are facing in today's economy, I thought of Dr. King's fight against poverty 44 years ago, and I reflected on how extraordinary it is that African Americans are helping this country meet its challenges, not as outsiders but as the very face of our government.

     Speaking of leaders, I'm very pleased to introduce our keynote speaker.

     Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd is an engineer and Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. She's the first African American to earn a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering at Yale University.

     She also serves by appointment from the President of Johns Hopkins University as Chair of the Johns Hopkins Institutions Diversity Leadership Council. And she serves on the Advisory Council for the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Physical Science for Tuskegee University.

     In 2009, President Obama nominated her - and she was confirmed by the Senate - to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

     Dr. Boyd also earned her Master of Divinity with Honors from Howard University and is the Executive Minister for Church Operations at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington, Maryland. And from 2000 to 2004, she served as the 22nd National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. And I just want to mention that I know there are several proud Delta Sigma Theta members in OJP, and they're in good company. Leaders like Dorothy Height, Shirley Chisholm, and Alexis Herman - to name just three - are members, too.

     So Dr. Boyd is part of a proud tradition, and I'm very happy she could join us today. Please welcome, the Reverend Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd.


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