Remarks as prepared; not a transcript.

Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H, FACS
United States Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Remarks for Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance
Parklawn HHS Employees
Rockville, MD
Thursday, January 16, 2003

Welcome to this year’s observance of the birthday anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.

While it has been nearly 35 years since Dr. King was killed, the truths he taught us: equality, brotherhood, respect, are as enduring as time itself.

Many of the young people in this audience may know Dr. King only through books and television, or through the stories of their parents.

My earliest memory of Dr. King was at age 12 or 13, riding my bicycle through Harlem, where I was raised, and black leaders like Dr. King, now-Congressman Charlie Rangel, and Adam Clayton Powell would come and speak to huge crowds. (Tell brief story).

Little did I know then I was watching history in the making.

Dr. King’s message was one of hope for all races. I am of Puerto Rican descent. Some of you may know my story. I was raised in a poor section of Harlem, and dropped out of high school and ran the streets. Eventually I joined the U.S. Army Special Forces, and learned some values that have lasted a lifetime: loyalty, dedication to the mission, teamwork, and self-discipline. The men I served with – all races – became my brothers. In fact, growing up in a sea of brown and black faces – we were just poor kids to each other and colorless.

One of my favorite King quotes is this: We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.

That was certainly true in the Army, where our very lives depended upon our relationships as brothers. And as Dr. King taught, it is true throughout life. It is as true at the Parklawn building here in Rockville today as it was in Harlem in the 1960’s.

I am pleased to see people here of all races celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. And I am proud of the HHS employees here who are donating to the scholarship fund for needy students.

As Surgeon General, I am busy working on many health priorities for America: prevention, preparedness, and closing the gap.

But busy as I am, I never forget the experiences that brought me to this position, or the people who helped me get here.

It is so important for us to give something back. It is so important to help bring up and mold and cultivate young people with talent who work hard. And its especially important when these young people may not have had the advantages that wealthier kids from better neighborhoods have had.

Dr. Bill Robinson told me that HHS employees right here in Parklawn donated enough money to fund scholarships for 4 students.

I’m proud of you. That’s your money, and you’re giving it freely to help those who need it.

As government employees, and particularly as employees of the ‘department of compassion,’ we have a higher standard to adhere to than the general public.

We are examples, role models for the community. It is our responsibility to mentor those generations following us not only in our immediate families, but also in our offices, and in our neighborhoods. They are looking to all of us for leadership.

One of the best ways we can honor Dr. King’s legacy is by being mentors to our children – no matter their background or family status – and helping them be the best people they can be. So that as society judges them by the content of their character, society will see young upstanding, excellent individuals.

That’s the legacy of Reverend King.

When we do that we are showing the world that, as Dr. King hoped, we have learned to live together as brothers.


Last revised: January 9, 2007