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Julianne Malveaux Speaks at King Celebration

By Robin Arnette
February 2008

MLK Celebration Speaker Julianne Malveaux
MLK Celebration Speaker Julianne Malveaux (Photo courtesy of Wanda Mobley and Bennett College)

On Wednesday January 16, NIEHS employees celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a standing-room-only event held at the neighboring Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Main Auditorium. Attendees were treated to a program that reminded everyone of the movement for change that King passionately believed in and how much more needs to be done 40 years after his death.

Each year NIEHS and EPA employees gather together to hear a distinguished speaker deliver the keynote address for the King celebration. This year they continued the tradition with nationally known economist, author and commentator Julianne Malveaux, Ph.D. Exit NIEHS Website( Malveaux, a native of San Francisco, California, has written several books on race, gender and economic issues, and her name is widely recognized from her weekly syndicated column that ran until 2004 in newspapers across the country.

In addition to her writing, Malveaux has appeared on many national radio and television programs, serves on several boards, including the Economic Policy Institute, and is the founder and thought leader of Last Word Productions, Inc., a multimedia production company headquartered in Washington, D.C. According to Malveaux, her most important job, however, is centered on education. She is the 15th president of Bennett College for Women Exit NIEHS Website( in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Malveaux opened her remarks with a story that King mentioned in his January 1965 interview with Playboy Magazine. The theme of the anecdote was a major focus of King's work-dignity and equality for all, especially in the workplace. Malveaux said, "King was sitting on a plane that had been delayed due to mechanical difficulties. While he was waiting, he looked out of the window and saw a group of people scrambling around the plane, attempting to fix it. The flight attendants served drinks and peanuts to the passengers while the pilot gave regular updates over the intercom. After awhile the pilot said, 'We've fixed the plane and we're going to leave in a few minutes.' Everyone applauded, but King said to himself, 'What about the ground crew?'"

Malveaux pointed out that the crowd was applauding the pilot, but they failed to realize that the pilot hadn't fixed the plane. The ground crew had. "Indeed it was the 'ground crew' that so frequently propelled Dr. King to do the work that he did," she said.

Malveaux then centered the audience's attention on King's historic words spoken in his "I Have a Dream" speech during the August 28, 1963 march on Washington. Many people focus on his imagery of true brotherhood, but she reminded the group of what led him and the marchers to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She stated, "In that very same speech, Dr. King said, 'We have come to the nation's capital to cash a check and that check has been marked insufficient funds.' If every time someone said I have a dream and someone else responded, cash the check, imagine how different our discourse and ideas would be." Malveaux echoed King by declaring, "You cannot have racial equality unless you have economic justice."

King had hoped this poor people's campaign would bring people of all ethnicities together to place demands on government agencies that would bring about change in health and human services, employment and the environment. Malveaux pointed out it was also King's tireless efforts for the poor that brought him to Memphis, Tennessee that fateful day in April 1968. "King reluctantly entered the garbage workers' strike, but he went because he thought he could make a difference," Malveaux said. "King didn't die dreaming; he died trying to raise wages and improve working conditions."

Malveaux ended her talk by challenging the audience to contribute to King's legacy of restructuring society through service. "When Monday comes and you take a day on and not a day off, think about the 'ground crew.' The service you give won't change lives unless you're willing to talk about what you do the rest of the year."

Our Friends across the Lake: The EPA-RTP MLK Celebration Organizing Committee

Several employees representing various offices within the EPA were responsible for organizing this year's MLK event and several of them spoke or participated in the event:

  • Lillian Bradley, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS)
  • Rosalina Rodriguez, OAQPS
  • Steve Page, OAQPS
  • Brodwynn Roberts, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL)
  • Hal Zenick, Ph.D., NHEERL
  • Wanda Pemberton, Office of Administration & Resources Management (OARM).

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