As Prepared For Delivery:
Good afternoon, and thank you to the Senior Executives Association, African American Federal Executive Association, and Executive Women in Government for the invitation to speak today. It is with deep gratitude to everyone here that we mark just over one month of the new Administration—your hard work and dedication gives me confidence for all that we must accomplish in the months and years ahead.
On Day One of his Administration, President Biden challenged all of us to look at our roles in government not as stewards of the status quo, but as drivers of a more perfect union. His executive order mandating a whole-of-government approach to embed equity across federal policies, programs, and laws, makes it clear that equity is the bedrock on which we must build a government that serves all people. It is now up to us to carry that message forward through our work and leadership as public servants. I am here today to ask for your partnership and commitment to making equity a core part of our common mission.
The ambition of President Biden’s equity agenda matches the urgency of this moment in our nation’s history. We are facing a time of collective crisis that has tested our strength, our unity, and our faith in government. The pandemic, a flagging economy, the threat of climate change, the persistent stain of racial injustice—no one has been untouched by these crises. Yet, like so many times before, historically marginalized communities have carried the heaviest share of the burden.
1 in 10 Black Americans and 1 in 11 Latinos are unemployed, as Minority-owned businesses have shut down in alarming numbers. The lack of healthcare access in Indian Country has devastated Native communities as they’ve struggled to combat the pandemic. Across Appalachia, miners who risked their lives to power our economy have seen wealth extracted from the ground, leaving a wounded environment behind.
It is not enough to simply recover. As President Biden has said so many times, we must build back better than before. That is why the equity agenda is not only a matter of policy; it is a leading principle that animates all of our work. Equity boosts our economy, our neighborhoods, our very democracy. It is the opportunity for every child to realize the promise of America.
President Biden’s commitment to equity starts with a review of our federal institutions aimed at dismantling systemic racism where it exists and advancing equity where we are falling short. Every agency is called to place equity at the core of their programs and policies to ensure that government resources are fully reaching marginalized communities. And, under the Biden Administration, the federal government will become a national model on diversity and inclusion—from hiring and procurement to data and access. We must and will hold ourselves accountable.
As we all engage in this work, I want to share three equity principles with you.
First, equity isn’t just a set of values and ideals, it is concrete actions and practices that deliver real change for the American people. Communities that have been left behind should be able to feel and identify the impacts of our policies, not just hear our rhetoric.
Second, we have to realize that inequities and injustices aren’t always visible at first glance. Programs and policies meant to serve everyone may, in practice, fail to reach certain communities. By using the right tools and asking the right questions, we can uncover where these inequities persist.
And third, achieving equity must go beyond delivering “special projects” for underserved communities. Equity must be central to the decision-making process for all agency functions, from rulemaking to procurement, data collection, and public engagement.
Throughout this effort, we must also remember that equity, including racial equity, is not just an issue for Black and brown communities, it is vital to building a society that expands opportunity for all Americans. Investing in nutrition, child care, education, housing, job creation, and healthcare will directly benefit people of color who have been left behind. But it will also spark a rising tide of economic and job growth to lift up all communities facing hardship, persistent poverty, and deferred justice.
Racial discrimination has cost the U.S. an estimated $16 trillion over the past two decades; closing that income and opportunity gap could add $5 trillion to the economy and 6 million new jobs over the next five years. A dollar invested in equity is a dollar invested in the vitality, health, and unity of our whole nation. Because as a nation, we rise or fall together.
President Biden has made it clear that advancing equity is the responsibility of every member of his Administration. Under my leadership, the Domestic Policy Council is making equity a primary focus, and I will have the support of every other White House office in this effort. Together, we can meet the challenge.
For me, as for so many others, this work is personal. My family story is one of generations of Americans standing strong in the face of pernicious barriers to claim their right to equality and opportunity. My great grandfather was born a slave. He fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, earned his college degree, and founded the Bordentown School in New Jersey, which educated Black students for nearly 70 years. And while my father Emmett Rice grew up in the heart of Jim Crow, he served his country with the Tuskegee Airmen and overcame the legacy of segregation to ultimately sit on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.
My mother, Lois Rice, was the child of immigrants from Jamaica who raised their five children in Portland, ME, and sent them all to college on a maid and a janitor’s salary. My mother dedicated her career to expanding access to education and was known as the “mother of the Pell Grant program,” which has enabled more than 80 million Americans to attend college.
My grandparents and parents’ struggle, service, and sacrifice inspire me to this day. Their refusal to give up on a country that all too often gave up on them. That is why we cannot be satisfied with the pace of our progress. When prejudice still holds so many back, when your zip code determines your future, when too many Black Americans continue to lose their lives due to the color of their skin, how can we say to our children that we are doing enough?
The painful crises we are facing as a nation have laid bare our collective failure to build a truly equitable society. We now have the chance to shape a recovery that charts a different course, to build back better. If we are to succeed, it’s going to require that we come together and prove we are greater than the sum of our disparate parts. It’s going to require that each of us show the courage and bold leadership that comes with responsibility and the principles to serve. I believe in you, and I believe that together, we’re up to the task.