I challenge you to infect others with your voice…The voices in your head don’t have to be a silent and personal affliction; they should be an epidemic on the grounds of our campus. Because you are the revolutionary, you are the difference. And I know from experience that once someone catches wind of your emotion and listens to your thoughts and ideas, the virus of your voice is chronic and incurable.

ITORO ATAKPA, junior in mechanical engineering — Student speaker at the 42nd MLK Celebration

2016   42nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration


Black Student Leaders present recommendations for a more inclusive MIT

Members of MIT’s Black Students’ Union (BSU) and the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) believe that at a moment of great national pain around the question of how black and other minority students experience life at universities, MIT has an opportunity and an obligation to take a firm stand in favor of inclusion. Toward that end, they are working together with MIT’s senior administration to find ways to make MIT more welcoming and inclusive for all. (MIT News, 9 Dec 2015)




MIT Homepage, 18 Jan 2016


Truth & Power: Students Leading for Change


Freeman A. Hrabowski III
University of Maryland, Baltimore County President


Ethan Zuckerman
Director, MIT Center for Civic Media
Cofounder, Global Voices

Barbara A. Johnson
IT Service Provider & Consumer Support Engineer,
MIT Information Systems & Technology

Rasheed K. Auguste '17
Nuclear Science & Engineering
Political Action Co-chair, Black Student Union

George Chao 'G
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

La-Tarri M. Canty
Director of Multicultural Programs/Assistant Director of Student Activities,
MIT Student Activities Office

Fossil Free MIT

MIT Black Graduate Student Union


All-MIT Diversity Forum 2016
Reflect, Understand, Act


IAP MLK Design Seminar


Hrabowski recalled a time when he was 12, sitting in the back of a church, and he heard an inspirational talk from Dr. Martin Luther King himself. “I was absolutely transformed” by King’s words, Hrabowski said. Photo: Bryce Vickmark, MIT News 2016

Hrabowski recalled a time when he was 12, sitting in the back of a church, and he heard an inspirational talk from Dr. Martin Luther King himself. “I was absolutely transformed” by King’s words, Hrabowski said. Photo: Bryce Vickmark, MIT News 2016

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, has served as President of UMBC (The University of Maryland, Baltimore County) since 1992. His research and publications focus on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance. He chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the recent report, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads. He also was named by President Obama to chair the newly created President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

In 2008, he was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked UMBC the nation’s #1 “Up and Coming” university for six years (2009-14). In 2015, U.S. News ranked UMBC fourth on a newly created list of the nation’s “most innovative” national universities. For the past seven years, U.S. News also consistently ranked UMBC among the nation’s leading institutions for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” – in 2015, other universities on the list included Princeton, Brown, Stanford, and Yale.   TIMEmagazine named him one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009, and one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012.  In 2011, he received both the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award, recognized by many as the nation’s highest awards among higher education leaders.  Also in 2011, he was named one of seven Top American Leaders by The Washington Post and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.  In 2012, he received the Heinz Award for his contributions to improving the “Human Condition” and was among the inaugural inductees into the U.S. News & World Report STEM Solutions Leadership Hall of Fame.

He serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, and universities and school systems nationally. He also serves on the boards of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, France-Merrick Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation (Chair), T. Rowe Price Group, The Urban Institute, McCormick & Company, and the Baltimore Equitable Society.  He served previously on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Maryland Humanities Council (member and Chair).

Examples of other honors include election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; receiving the prestigious McGraw Prize in Education, the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, the Columbia University Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service, the GE African American Forum ICON Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Public Service Award, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) William D. Carey Award; being named a Fellow of the AAAS, Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) by the BEYA STEM Global Competitiveness Conference, Educator of the Year by the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC, and Marylander of the Year by the editors of the Baltimore Sun; and being listed among Fast Company magazine’s first Fast 50 Champions of Innovation in business and technology, and receiving the Technology Council of Maryland’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  He also holds honorary degrees from more than 20 institutions – from Harvard, Princeton, and Duke to the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Haverford College, and Harvey Mudd College.

With philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff, he co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in 1988. The program is open to all high-achieving students committed to pursuing advanced degrees and research careers in science and engineering, and advancing underrepresented minorities in these fields. The program is recognized as a national model, and based on program outcomes, Hrabowski has authored numerous articles and co-authored two books, Beating the Odds and Overcoming the Odds (Oxford University Press), focusing on parenting and high-achieving African American males and females in science. His most recent book, Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement (Beacon Press, 2015), describes the events and experiences that played a central role in his development as an educator and leader. He and UMBC were recently featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes, attracting national attention for the campus’s achievements involving innovation and inclusive excellence.

A child-leader in the Civil Rights Movement, Hrabowski was prominently featured in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, Four Little Girls, on the racially motivated bombing in 1963 of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama, Hrabowski graduated from Hampton Institute with highest honors in mathematics. He received his M.A. (mathematics) and Ph.D. (higher education administration/statistics) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Source: Office of the President, University of Maryland


Photo: Williams College

Photo: Williams College

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab. His research focuses on the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media, the use of technology for international development, and the use of new media technologies by activists.

With Rebecca MacKinnon, Zuckerman co-founded international blogging community Global Voices. Global Voices showcases news and opinions from citizen media in over 150 nations and thirty languages, publishing editions in twenty languages. Through Global Voices and through the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where he served as a researcher and fellow for eight years, Zuckerman is active in efforts to promote freedom of expression and fight censorship in online spaces.

In 2000, Zuckerman founded Geekcorps, a technology volunteer corps that sends IT specialists to work on projects in developing nations, with a focus on West Africa. Previously he helped found Tripod.com, one of the web's first "personal publishing" sites. He blogs at https://ethanzuckerman.com/blog. He received his bachelor's degree from Williams College, and, as a Fulbright scholar, studied at the University of Ghana at Legon.

Source: MIT Media Lab

Ethan Zuckerman: How to listen to global voices

Sure, the web connects the globe, but most of us end up hearing mainly from people just like ourselves. Blogger and technologist Ethan Zuckerman wants to help share the stories of the whole wide world. He talks about clever strategies to open up your Twitter world and read the news in languages you don't even know.


From MIT News, 28 April 2015
by Joanne Larrabee | Information Systems and Technology

Photo: Barbara Johnson

Photo: Barbara Johnson

Barbara A. Johnson has a story that deserves to be heard. [She] has worked with energy, creativity, and humor to educate and improve the day-to-day experiences and long-term prospects for people with hearing loss and other disabilities. While working as an information technology service provider in Information Systems and Technology, she has made MIT more welcoming and inclusive in many ways.

Cochlear implant leads to so much more

In 2012, Johnson had surgery to implant a neuralprosthetic hearing device — a cochlear implant — to communicate directly with her auditory nerve. Johnson had lost her hearing over the course of adulthood, and with minimal residual hearing, she was found to be deaf. The cochlear implant restored a functional level of hearing and allowed Johnson to hear certain sounds for the first time — the scratch of beach sand under her feet, bird calls, rain on leaves. Her delight in interacting with others as she spoke and heard in a new way ignited a spark of advocacy for others with significant hearing loss and ultimately for those with other kinds of disabilities.

Johnson began by sharing information about her deafness with colleagues and those on campus who knew her. She helped them understand the sense of isolation that can occur when you can't hear what's going on.

“As a hard-of-hearing person with a severe loss I’ve been 'hidden,'” she says. “Having grown up as hearing person and fully mainstreamed without any special hearing assistance, my loss has been largely invisible to others. It’s as if I’m on a raft and the sea is very calm. Slowly, slowly but surely I drift farther from shore, where all the hearing people are. I’ve been gradually moving into a sort of hearing limbo, neither fully hearing nor fully deaf.”

Johnson’s efforts to help those around her understand her experiences led several colleagues to disclose that they, too, couldn’t hear well or had other kinds of communication restrictions. They couldn’t fully participate in activities ranging from staff meetings to lunch-table conversations. Johnson researched various amplification devices, transmitters, and receivers for certain kinds of hearing loss. She convinced Information Systems and Technology to routinely use microphones and amplification, with assistive devices on hand for meetings.

Methods that work in smaller spaces aren't suitable for large lecture halls and auditoriums, so Johnson began testing services that provide simultaneous captioning for speeches and lectures. She enlisted support from MIT's Audio Visual Services, which now provides live captioning services for events, as well as for video production.

Educator and guide

Johnson soon extended her reach beyond her department by documenting and presenting her experiences and successfully reaching out to academic circles on campus to support her work.

She is the author of a compelling blog called "The Year I Hear: A personal account of hearing loss and one woman’s journey to a cochlear implant". The site, visited by thousands, provides an honest account of all that's involved with a major decision to have surgery with no guaranteed outcome. It also provides an overview of the science behind her sensorineural hearing loss and an introduction to the mechanisms by which cochlear implants work.

To learn more about hearing and deafness and to support research with benefits for public health, Johnson became a test subject for a PhD thesis on cochlear implants. She arranged for the student, Matt Crema, to speak about his work to an undergraduate audience to promote and encourage them to consider research in the same field.

Johnson’s experiences also led her to become an invited guest for the MIT course 6.S196 (Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology). She spoke to the challenges of hearing loss and discussed the kinds of tools and services that student “makers” could explore to improve assistive technology.

[In 2015], Johnson enlisted several departments and organizations, including MIT Global Studies and Languages, to fund the campus presentation of a five-part lecture series called "American Sign Language and Deaf Culture." Johnson was able to recruit the Massachusetts statewide coordinator for deaf and hard of hearing people as the primary instructor for the class. Given the strong interest in the series, discussions are now under way about presenting this material in a for-credit course.

Benefits of diversity

Johnson has promoted broader understanding of disabilities through her membership on the Institute's Council on Staff Diversity and Inclusion. This advisory body is charged with encouraging and informing efforts to use the diversity of staff to advance MIT’s work.

The group is responsible for the annual MIT Diversity Summit, and with Johnson’s input and participation, the program track now offers components related to disability and inclusion. One of the issues she pointed out is that many who are hard-of-hearing don’t communicate through American Sign Language, so sign language interpretation is a remedy for only some forms of deafness. For others, captioning or other assistive technology is most effective.

[In 2015], a Diversity Summit session called "Inclusive Communication and Event Planning" looked at aspects that often arise in on-campus events, such as physical access to spaces, the use of sound systems and live captioning, and above all, the awareness that not everyone communicates in the same way.

Johnson also actively lobbies for the delivery of accessible courseware. As an increasing number of MIT classes are migrated to online platforms such as MITx and edX, creators must be mindful of the needs of audiences of all kinds. Johnson has evaluated popular tools such as YouTube for delivery of online content with captions and can advise on the suitability of these products for adding captions to videos.

Informally, Johnson has befriended and supported several undergraduate students who have hearing loss. She has helped them understand the kinds of accommodation they may be able to receive in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She's coached them to explain their needs more clearly, and demonstrated ways for them to navigate through bureaucracy. Her mentorship is teaching young people to become advocates for themselves and others like them, in order to realize a full educational experience. This work also encourages MIT to expand its recognition of the forms of diversity among its students, and the ways in which that enriches the learning experience for everyone in the campus community.

Public service, public spaces

Johnson is intent on making MIT’s public spaces accessible to those with hearing loss. She seeks affordable, portable, scalable technology options that she can test, assess, and review for others. She is one of the only individuals on campus with a captioning phone, which displays every word the caller says throughout the conversation. She makes time for others to try out this phone and other equipment that may prove useful.

At Johnson’s initiative, MIT Commencement now offers assistive technology in the form of portable tablets for viewing a captioned version of the exercises. For the first time, those with auditory limitations can be seated anywhere on Killian Court and follow the proceedings, rather than missing the details of the day and the proud moment at which their graduate’s name is pronounced.

Johnson’s advocacy for those with hearing loss and other disabilities has grown beyond MIT. She’s been trained as an assistive technology volunteer advocate through a program offered by the Hearing Loss Association of America. She has reached out to online video giants such as Hulu, YouTube, and Vimeo, suggesting that they include tools for captioning their lineup. She has rallied for crowd-sourced captioning with the likes of Coursera and Khan Academy, which now provide subtitles for thousands of free online classes.

Johnson’s efforts to expand disability awareness and promote viable solutions are extraordinary. She has brought an important message to ever-wider circles and to an expanding group of beneficiaries. She has taken a personal experience and made it a channel for advocacy and service to a community she could not have imagined reaching three years ago, when she first decided to let others know she had become deaf.


MLK-award-2016-rasheed_augusteRasheed Auguste is a member of the MIT Class of 2017 and a 2016 MLK Leadership Awardee. A double major in Nuclear Science and Engineering and Physics, Rasheed is a nuclear materials undergraduate researcher, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Rho Nu Chapter, and a brother of the Chocolate City living group on campus.



MIT News Spotlight

"Nuclear engineering student advocates for change on campus and Capitol Hill"
7 December 2016


As a sophomore, he served as the secretary of the Black Students’ Union (BSU), and as a junior he became the BSU’s political action co-chair. Every year, the political action committee organizes a leadership initiative, but “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Auguste, who felt anxious about the high bar set by former committee chairs.

“Then came everything happening at Yale and University of Missouri, which was near the Black Lives Matter stuff that had gone on, but fine-tuned to college campuses, so it was even more pressure. Now it’s not just being a black person, but a black person in an institution of higher learning, specifically at a predominantly white institution. It was definitely like ‘ok what does MIT want to do?’ It was up to me to coordinate that response.”

Students across the country began bringing lists of demands to their administrations, and as Auguste thought about how the BSU would respond, he and the leaders of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) received an email from MIT President L. Rafael Reif, wanting to meet in the BSU lounge. “It’s great because it is our space, and [he] asked how we are doing during this time of national focus,” Auguste says. At the end of the meeting, Reif inquired about what he and the MIT administration could to do improve the lives of underrepresented minority students at MIT.

In the following weeks, Auguste and his friend and fellow senior Alberto Hernandez joined with others from Chocolate City, the student community and living group that Auguste has been a part of since his first year. They began interviewing offices that deal with various aspects of student life — mental health, research, advising and academic programming — about specific things MIT could do to support minority students. But they also turned to students for recommendations.

“You have to ask people what they can do, and you have to ask people what they want,” Auguste says. He and Hernandez held office hours, circulated Google forms, and visited student groups.

“MIT does a lot of things well. We do data very very well, we listen to data very very well, and we like numbers. A pretty big chunk of the recommendations had to do with data, and how we are going to act on it,” Auguste says.

He was one of five students who presented the final set of 11 recommendations to the Institute’s Academic Council in December 2015, and he served last year on a dedicated Academic Council working group convened by Vice President Kirk Kolenbrander and consisting of students, faculty, and senior officers. The council has been working to address these recommendations as well as a related set of recommendations from the BGSA, which were also presented last December.

“An important piece of these recommendations is that they don’t exclusively focus on black students. They focus on students of all minority groups, race, religion, and creed,” Auguste says.

Many of the recommendations have already been implemented, or pilot programs are underway. For the recommendations, which involve changes at the department level, Kolenbrander and Institute Community and Equity Officer Edmund Bertschinger are working with school deans to establish school-based approaches to these recommendations.

“Everybody was very respectful and receptive to the ideas we were getting across, and very open to listening to the reasons why we had the suggestions that we did,” he says. Auguste’s efforts were recognized with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award this year.


Rasheed Auguste on Instagram 2/16/17: "When you [Rasheed Auguste '17] and best friend [Tremaan Robbins '17] win the MIT MLK Award two years in a row...Black Excellence; Truly Yours #thatsmybestfriend — at Chocolate City at MIT." Photo: Rasheed Auguste '17

BAMIT Review blog post

"Reflections of a BSU Co-Chair: A Voyage Toward Diversity and Inclusion at MIT"
28 July 2016


Rasheed K. Auguste ’17, a 2016 MLK Leadership Awardee, speaking at the annual MLK Celebration. Photo: Bryce Vickmark, MIT News





Photo: La-Tarri Canty

Photo: La-Tarri Canty

La-Tarri M. Canty serves as the inaugural Director of Multicultural Programs. She oversees the Black Student Union and the Latin Cultural Center. She advises the Multicultural student clubs and organizations at MIT.  She coordinates the Multicultural Conference; MC2, Diversity Leadership Retreat and Diversity Orientation. She also facilitates trainings and workshops on diversity and inclusion, social justice, effective communication, conflict resolution and leadership development. La-Tarri received her Masters in Student Affairs Personnel and Diversity from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She is pursuing her Doctorate in Higher Education Administration at Northeastern University. She is originally from Brooklyn, New York. In her spare time she enjoys, reading, singing and shopping.

Source: MIT Division of Student Life


Five things about the Office of Multicultural Programs

MIT News, 18 February 2012
Nick Holden | Division of Student Life

The Division of Student Life encompasses departments and offices that hit many parts of the MIT student experience. La-Tarri Canty, assistant director for student activities and director of multicultural programs, shares five things about the Office of Multicultural Programs.

That new office smell

Formed in September 2011, the Office of Multicultural Programs, or OMP, provides a safe space for students to develop and broaden their cultural connections.

OMP is the newest branch of the Student Activities Office (SAO), which resides on the fifth floor of the student center in W20-549. SAO hosts other groups that support diversity, including LGBT@MIT and Women@MIT.

"MIT, in the bigger picture, is in a position to make the spotlight on diversity a brighter and stronger one," says Leah Flynn, assistant dean and director for student life and leadership programs, who serves as director for the SAO. "Creating this office was a step in doing just that, particularly to support our underrepresented student populations."

Inaugural OMP Director La-Tarri Canty is new to MIT, but she is no stranger to supporting those underrepresented student populations in university settings. She has a lengthy history in higher education, most recently working for five years as the assistant director of multicultural programs at the University of Florida, St. Petersburg.

Serving dozens of campus cultural groups

OMP oversees 67 diverse student clubs and organizations, from the Hong Kong Student Society to the Turkish Student Association. Canty hired two graduate interns, Jessica Faith Carter and Denise Del Aguila, for additional support of the two most active groups — the Black Student Union and the Latino Cultural Center.

"The cultural groups provide students with the opportunity to learn about and celebrate particular facets of cultures," Canty says. "They also provide a number of networking opportunities."

Canty trains and guides the many cultural group student leaders. She also taps into SAO to provide groups with a wide range of helpful resources.

A multicultural office at a multicultural institute

With students from a wide range of diverse backgrounds, including nearly 3,000 international students, MIT has long been a proverbial melting pot. OMP encourages students to embrace their own cultures while discovering more about others'.

"Students here are very smart and independent," Canty says. "Sometimes, they are concerned that if they learn and collaborate with other cultures, they may lose some of their identity. This office is here to show them that isn't the case."

An annual student conference

From Feb. 24 to Feb. 25 at the MIT Endicott House in Dedham, OMP will host the Multicultural Conference, or MC2, to bring together students from all cultural identities. With the theme "Standing Out and Fitting In," MC2 provides students with the confidence and resources to navigate MIT's diverse cultural landscape.

"The conference will provide an opportunity to talk about issues that we don't usually discuss, since people are sometimes uncomfortable bringing them up," Canty says.

On the first night of the conference, students will get to know each other and discuss how they identify themselves. The second day will feature guest speakers and nine workshops, including sessions on cultural awareness and development.

The deadline for registration for MC2 is Feb. 19. For more information, visit the MC2 website

Plans for growth

This semester, OMP will conduct a number of focus groups and surveys to pinpoint how the office can best serve students in the future. An advisory board composed of students, faculty and staff will also guide OMP with suggestions for best practices surrounding multicultural issues.

"I'm looking forward to more opportunities for collaboration," Canty says. "It's a new office and a new position, so I'm still building relationships."

"La-Tarri has been doing a fabulous job of first building relationships with students and student groups, listening to them, and then taking in feedback of what programs and initiatives are needed," Flynn says. "That is the key way to be successful here at MIT as someone in her position; to listen and engage with students first, and then to ensure that they are included within the planning processes moving forward."

A new OMP student programming board, which will host a number of events to boost students' cultural awareness, is set to launch this semester. In fall 2012, OMP will develop a robust mentoring program. As the office grows, it will focus on encouraging students to engage in meaningful, cross-cultural dialogue and activities.

"College, especially at MIT, is a great opportunity to broaden your scope," Canty says. "We are the sum of our experiences, and the more experiences you have, the more well rounded you can be."





How do we as individuals, and as members of the MIT community, make sense of the events of this past year? From the tragic to the historic, issues related to diversity, justice, personal responsibility were front and center – across the country and on our campus.

Through remarks, a panel discussion, a keynote speaker and various workshops, the 2016 All-MIT Diversity Forum will offer students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to learn from each other and discuss complex issues. Ultimately, we hope participants will reflect, understand, and act.

April 29, 2016
8:30 am – 5:30 pm
Walker Memorial (morning)
Samberg Conference Center E-52 (afternoon)



IAP MLK Design Seminar


Students work on setting up their installations for the annual MLK exhibit. The exhibit is a part of an IAP course, Martin Luther King, Jr. Design Seminar (17.922). This year’s exhibits address topics such as police brutality and lack of diversity at the Academy Awards. Photo: Lenny Martinez, The Tech, 2 Feb 2016



President Reif says that in driving social change, “students have become our teachers”

Speakers at annual MLK luncheon call for concrete actions to expand meaningful inclusiveness.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
February 10, 2016

Reviving a tradition that was dormant for more than two decades, this year’s 42nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at MIT began with a silent march by several dozen students, faculty, staff, and administrators solemnly making their way from Lobby 7 to the annual luncheon at Walker Memorial Hall.

There, MIT President L. Rafael Reif began his introduction of the speakers by reminding the assembled crowd that here on campus, “this has been quite a year – an extraordinary year. On topics from race, inclusion and social justice, to climate change, this year our students have, in many ways, become our teachers.”

Citing one example of such teaching, Reif recalled a meeting with leaders of two associations of black students, who he said “were thoughtful, creative, persistent, specific, collaborative, constructive, and serious. … They set the tone for mutual respect — and they earned tremendous respect in return.” The groups came with a series of very specific recommendations — and then continued by getting deeply involved in the process of figuring out how to implement those recommendations. They will produce a progress report this spring, he said, which will be made public.

“I am confident that we are on a path to sustained and meaningful change,” Reif said. “As one of our student leaders put it recently, ‘It is wonderful to see the gears of MIT go to work on a problem,’ and I could not agree more.”

Reif said that student leaders “are making a powerful case that a more welcoming, more inclusive MIT would be better for absolutely everyone. They are right! And I look forward to working with them to make this vision real.”

Innovative programs

Keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski has for 24 years been president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, which was named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s most innovative universities. His innovations there, Reif said, included a mentorship program for minority scholars which has resulted in an extraordinary success rate in getting students into advanced degree programs in science, math, and technology — so much so that MIT four years ago adopted its own version of the program.

Bringing about these kinds of profound institutional changes, Hrabowski said, involves the entire university community looking inward at its basic values and saying “all of us must be involved if we are to pull people in who have not been historically represented. … We must hear their voices, we must think about who we are and who we want to become.”

Hrabowski recalled a time when he was 12, sitting in the back of a church, and he heard an inspirational talk from Martin Luther King Jr. himself, which led him to want to take part in demonstrations that he knew might lead to his arrest. His parents, who had urged him to go to the talk, were fearful about the possible consequences of that action, especially spending time in jail at his young age, but they reluctantly allowed him to go. He was indeed arrested and spent five days in jail.

“I was absolutely transformed” by King’s words, Hrabowski said, “because his message was this: That the world of tomorrow could be better than the world of today, and that I, a child, could be part of bringing about that transformation. It wasn’t just about what he would do or what my parents would do.”

Even after his horrible experience in jail, he said, he came out feeling empowered, knowing that even as a child, his actions could be part of making a real difference. Speaking to the students in the audience, he said “you do have the right and the ability to speak truth to power” — the theme of this year’s MLK lunch.

Real change has taken place, he said — the diversity represented there in the room, he said, would have been hard to find in Boston in the 1960s. Voting rights and other important legislation have made a difference, and rates of college graduation for minorities, for example, have increased about tenfold since then. “Every group has gotten better off as a result of that,” he said.

Everyone is struggling

Quoting the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Hrabowski said “the joy always comes after the struggle.” Anybody who is trying to achieve anything substantive in the world is struggling, he said. “We have to keep working at it. … Nothing takes the place of hard work and attitude.”

“I challenge MIT,” he said: “Be the best, not just for STEM but for humankind. Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. Dream!”

Itoro Atakpa, a junior in mechanical engineering, talked about her own experiences as an African-American student at MIT and urged her fellow students to be involved in improving the feeling of inclusiveness for everyone on campus. “We have to be proactive in helping each other to understand. This is the only way to identify and address the resources that are missing here,” she said.

Atakpa said that students should spread the message of inclusiveness like a kind of benign contagion. “I challenge you to infect others with your voice,” she said. “The voices in your head don’t have to be a silent and personal affliction; they should be an epidemic on the grounds of our campus. Because you are the revolutionary, you are the difference. And I know from experience that once someone catches wind of your emotion and listens to your thoughts and ideas, the virus of your voice is chronic and incurable.”

And graduate student Sergio Hiram Cantu said, “we need to help empower others.” Being accepted to MIT, coming from one of the nation’s poorest cities, “felt like winning the lottery,” he said. And when he arrived here, “to my surprise, MIT felt like a family to me.”

But he added that “even though MIT has come a long way, we still have a long way to go” in making everyone feel welcomed, included, and supported. “You have a lot more power than you realize,” he implored. Quoting from Martin Luther King, he said, “if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. Whatever you do, keep moving forward.”


MLK Luncheon 2016- MIT Video Productions




Reverend Hall


Pres Reif and Keynote

Gospel Choir