Secretary Jackson's Farewell Ceremony
PREPARED REMARKS FOR
ALPHONSO JACKSON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2008
I just want to say a few words from the heart today-which should be easy, because my heart is full, seeing so many friends and family members here, including our HUD family.
I cannot thank everyone individually, unfortunately.
But I do want to recognize my colleagues in the Cabinet.
And I want to thank President George W. Bush for giving me this great opportunity to serve the nation I love.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside some of the most dedicated civil servants in America.
I like to say that HUD is in the business of building dreams. Well, it was a dream come true to lead such a fine group of people. You have made a positive difference in countless lives, including my own. And I will miss you all.
Now, I believe one of the great mistakes a person can make is to feel sorry for themselves.
I think back to when I was 12 years old and I asked my father if I was poor.
This man who worked three jobs, day and night, looked me straight in the eye.
He asked me if I had clothes on my back. I said yes. He asked me if I ever missed a meal. I said no. "Well, then," he said, "you're not poor."
So when I reflect back on my time here at HUD, I ask myself a few questions.
Did I get to work with some wonderful people? The answer is yes. Did we accomplish some great things together? Yes. Did we make a difference? I believe we did.
"Well, then," my dad might have said, "how can you have any regrets?"
I do not regret trying to change attitudes toward low-income persons-and the attitudes of low-income persons.
All my life I fought against the attitude of paternalism that said, "Government knows best and so you must depend on it, forever." I fought against the condescending notion that the American Dream of home ownership is just that-only a dream.
Homeownership is one of the surest paths away from dependence and toward lifelong wealth creation and opportunity. No temporary economic downturn will change that fact.
And so we made a major push to increase homeownership, especially among minority families.
Today, I am pleased to report, homeownership remains at near-record levels, despite the housing slump. The minority homeownership rate is above 50 percent.
Last summer in Memphis, I had the privilege of visiting a grandmother named Bobbie Wallace.
She lives with her two school-age grandkids. With HUD's help, she finally achieved her goal of owning a home.
"I just throw my hands up and say, 'Oh God, you've been so good to me,'" she said. "Sometimes it feels like I'm dreaming."
It's no dream, Bobbie, it's real.
We should be proud of our accomplishments. And I want to thank my predecessor and friend, Senator Mel Martinez, for his contribution.
I know that HUD will continue to do what it takes-cut red tape, simplify paperwork, improve financial literacy-to prepare Americans to buy a home, so they know what it takes before signing on the dotted line.
I also do not regret fighting against the predatory lenders who have been giving homeownership a bad name.
Years ago, we saw the wave of foreclosures sparked by the subprime explosion about to crash on the heads of homeowners, and devastate their neighborhoods.
Some downplayed it. "...It's Not a Mortgage Meltdown," read a Washington Post headline from last September.
By then we were taking action. By then, our bill to modernize the Federal Housing Administration was winning bipartisan votes on Capitol Hill.
By then, we had launched FHASecure, which has given more than 158,000 homeowners a safe, affordable alternative to exotic subprime loans.
By then, we had created a new Fair Lending Division to go after the scam artists who prey on the poor.
And, by then, we were working with Congress on an economic stimulus plan and mortgage debt forgiveness, both of which passed in bipartisan fashion.
One of the single best ways to prevent foreclosure is through housing counseling. We've increased funding for it by 150 percent since 2001-because it works!
In the first three quarters last year, 96 percent of homeowners in trouble who completed a HUD-approved counseling program kept their homes.
This is great news. And you all deserve a great deal of credit.
Our work is just the latest chapter in the story of America's long transformation into a true land of opportunity for all.
I started as a foot soldier, literally, in the civil rights movement, registering voters in Marion County, Alabama, for Bernard Lee, one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s close aides.
When we got to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we faced an army of police armed with dogs and clubs.
One of those dogs left a permanent mark in my left leg. It hurt for awhile. But doing nothing would have hurt far more.
I saw the best and worst of humanity that day. So did my friend, now-Congressman John Lewis. And after the march from Selma, I heard Dr. King give one of his greatest speeches on the steps of the Montgomery State House.
"How long," he asked, before we live in "a society at peace with itself"?
"Not long," he answered, "not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
And so, every time we reclaim a housing development from the criminals and drug dealers, that day becomes a little closer.
Every time we say no to discrimination by enforcing our fair housing laws, that day is a little closer.
Every time we help a person overcome chronic homelessness, that day is a little closer.
Every time a person realizes what is possible in their lives, rather than accepting the lie that things won't change and neither will they, that day is a little closer.
You are taking this nation from "I Have a Dream" to "I have achieved the American Dream." And I was proud to be a small part of it.
As I've said many times, it may be insane to live with a dream, but it's absolute madness to live without one.
So, in closing, thank you all for your prayers and compassion.
It has been an honor to serve with each and every one of you. I want you to know that I did my best to make a difference.
And so I leave this position, with no regrets, and anger toward no one, knowing that I've worked with some of the best people I've ever known.
Thank you for the time and work we shared together. God bless you and God bless America.