So what is justice without equality? It is the hollow promise of a morally bankrupt guarantor, it is the well plead complaint on a time-barred cause of action, it is the all-you-can-eat buffet with a tiny plate and a time limit.

RAHSAAN HALL, 41st annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration at Cambridge Public Library, 10 January 2016

2019   45th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration


From "I Have a Dream..."

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights’ of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 'March on Washington,' 1963


MIT Spotlight, 21 January 2019



Fulfilling America's Promissory Note:
We refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt


Rahsaan Hall
Director, Racial Justice Program, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts


Helena Ma '19
Chemistry and Biology

Andrew Mairena 'G
Sloan School of Management

Ramona Allen
Assistant Dean for Human Resources, MIT School of Architecture and Planning

Shauna Bush-Fenty
Administrative Assistant II, MIT Office of the Provost

MIT CASE (Class Awareness Support and Equality) 


IAP MLK Design Seminar


KEYNOTE: Rahsaan D. Hall

Photo: Betsy Schneider

Rahsaan Hall is the Director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. In this role Rahsaan helps develop the ACLU of Massachusetts’ integrated advocacy approach to address racial justice issues. Through legislative advocacy, litigation and community engagement, the program works on issues that deeply impact communities of color and historically disenfranchised communities. Rahsaan also manages the ACLU of Massachusetts' What a Difference a DA Makes campaign to educate state residents about the power and influence of district attorneys.

Prior to joining the ACLU of Massachusetts, Rahsaan was the Deputy Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice where his work included policy and legislative advocacy, community outreach, and maintaining a litigation caseload of voting rights, police misconduct and public accommodations cases. Rahsaan headed up the Voting Rights Project that included the coordination of the statewide Election Protection initiatives, voting rights litigation and his prior involvement in community coalitions on redistricting after the last decennial census.

He also served as an Assistant District Attorney for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. A significant portion of his work in the DA’s Office included his time in the Safe Neighborhood Initiative and Senior Trial Units where he prosecuted drug, gang, and homicide cases.

In addition to leading the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Racial Justice Program. He also serves on the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s board of directors, the Hyams Foundation’s board of trustees, and is a member of the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee.

Rahsaan is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.A.), Northeastern University School of Law (J.D.) and Andover Newton Theological School (M.Div.). He is an ordained reverend in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

ACLU Massachusetts

MLK LEADERSHIP AWARD: Undergraduate Student

Helena Ma '19, a chemistry and biology major, is also a recipient of the 2018 Priscilla King Gray Award for Public Service, which honors Priscilla King Gray’s contributions to public service at MIT by recognizing graduate and undergraduate students who are exceptionally dedicated to community engagement and making a difference at MIT and beyond. Students recognized by this award demonstrate an outstanding personal dedication to social change, long-term and in-depth involvement in public service, and lead initiatives that strengthen our community.



Andrew Mairena is an MBA student at MIT Sloan School of Management (and formerly Application Engineering Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific).


Ramona B. Allen is Assistant Dean for Human Resources in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning and also serves as Administrator for the MIT Black History Project.  Allen, a 2010 MIT Excellence Awardee for bringing out the best, is known for creating a work environment of "acceptance and inspiration" and for "always thinking of ways to move good people up the ladder of success at MIT".





Shauna Bush-Fenty is Administrative Assistant II for the Institute Community and Equity Officer (ICEO) and has served at MIT since 2007. Bush-Fenty holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management from Eastern Nazarene College, where she is currently working on a Master of Science degree.



MIT CASE (Class Awareness, Support, and Equality) is run by MIT students and is open to all MIT students regardless of identity. Founded in 2016, the group hosts a monthly forum in which attendees discuss issues of class disparity and more generally have a dialogue about understanding people’s differences.

The mission of MIT CASE centers around:

  • Community- Providing a supportive community and atmosphere through which students feel comfortable engaging in meaningful dialogue surrounding class-based issues and participating in CASE forums
  • Action- Working with MIT administrators to create and implement effective solutions to ease financial strains that incoming and current students will face on campus
  • Awareness-Improving the MIT community’s awareness of class disparities and knowledge of the socioeconomic status (SES) system.
  • Resources: Provide information regarding resources on and off campus that would best help students undergoing adversities related to socioeconomic status

Julie Morgan

ICEO News "Diversity Partner Spotlight"

12 February 2019

The ICEO [Institute Community & Equity Office] had the honor this semester of partnering with the MIT student group Class Awareness Support & Awareness (CASE) to help to further our mutual goal of ending classism on campus. The event, a workshop aimed at educating and brainstorming solutions for the MIT community, was part of a wide swath of CASE initiatives to confront classism. Under the leadership of their dauntless president René García Franceschini, who became passionate about the cause after observing class disparity while teaching computer science at his home high school in Puerto Rico, this group of passionate undergraduates are working to improve the lives of MIT students from all financial backgrounds.

One example program pairs graduating students with MIT community members who are able to accommodate the students' families during commencement to ease the financial onus of accommodation. The CASE team also developed a guide to living affordably at MIT which, along with other information about CASE, can be found at

To become involved in their excellent and important work, please email

MIT Women’s League continues to partner with Student Support Services (S3), the Division of Student Life and CASE: Class Awareness Support & Equality. CASE is a student-run organization founded in 2016, dedicated to improving MIT’s community awareness of class disparities and knowledge of the social class system. Their great work in their area saw them recognized in 2018 with an Institute Bridge Builder Award, and in 2019, the Women's League was delighted to support the nomination of CASE for the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr Leadership Award. Members of CASE accepted the MLK award in February this year. Both these awards are a testimony to dedication and the outreach of this valued organization, embraced by the administration at MIT. Congratulations to CASE on their success and recognition!

- Ellen Stordy, MIT Women's League, 8 March 2019

2018 Bridge Builder Award: (L-R) Miri Skolnik, Assistant Dean at S3, Valeria Martin Del Campo '21, Kyla Truman '17 (Co-Founder of CASE), Tchelet Segev ’18, René Andrés García Franceschini ’19. Source: MIT Women's League

Installation Highlights


Soloist Dionne Shoffner performed two songs at the annual MLK Jr. Luncheon. Image: Joseph Lee

MLK Luncheon: America’s bank of justice is overdrawn but not bankrupt

Rahsaan Hall of the ACLU’s Massachusetts branch delivers keynote at annual MIT event.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office 
February 15, 2019

In one of the less-remembered passages of Martin Luther King Jr.’s celebrated “I have a dream” speech in 1963, he spoke eloquently about the large debt owed by this country to its black citizens after centuries of oppression — which he described as a bad check that was being returned from the bank of justice, marked “insufficient funds.”

That passage formed the theme for this year’s 45th annual MIT Martin Luther King Jr. celebration luncheon, which featured a keynote address by Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt,” the event’s program proclaimed.


MIT President L. Rafael Reif introduced this year's keynote speaker. Image: Joseph Lee


MIT President L. Rafael Reif, referring to King’s words, said that “he spoke at a moment when the nation was rocked by painful inequality and violent suppression. Yet somehow, even in the face of so much turmoil, he was hopeful.”

Reif continued, “He made it clear that, to remain true to its ideals, America’s ‘bank of justice’ owes everyone the same essential guarantee of freedom and equality. Today, we obviously have not conquered discrimination, inequality, and violence. But I believe we can see some signs that the story is changing. And we can certainly see opportunities for each of us to help accelerate that change.”

As one clear example of that progress, he said, “Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that the U.S. Congress is now the most diverse in our nation’s history!” And, he said, despite the disturbing stories about political leaders in Virginia who were found to have worn blackface, “even in this discouraging story, I believe there is an important thread of hope.” In King’s time, he said, such activities would have been considered routine, but that’s no longer true. “Today — fortunately, finally! — it is a public outrage.”

In introducing Hall, Reif cited some of his achievements working with the ACLU: “Through a strategic combination of advocating on Beacon Hill, pursuing targeted lawsuits, and engaging people in their neighborhoods, Rahsaan works to advance racial justice in communities across the state,” he said.


Rahsaan Hall, director of racial justice at the Massachusetts ACLU, delivered the keynote address. Image: Joseph Lee


Hall also reflected on King’s famous speech, pointing out that while his uplifting words of hope are well-remembered, and the speech “touches us in a very special way,” sometimes people gloss over the tough critique of American society that he also expressed. King referred to the lives of African-Americans as “a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” and he went on to say that “it’s obvious today that America has defaulted on its promissory note … instead of honoring its sacred obligations, it has given its Negro citizens a bad check.”

He added that King said “he refused to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. He refused to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, that will give us on demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.”

Hall pointed out that while King spoke of the lofty vision embodied in the U.S. Constitution, its drafters never really imagined that it would apply to all of humanity, including black people, native Americans, and women. “Even though King’s vision was one of hope and of high ideals, the reality is that this [Constitution] is a document that is rooted in a history of white supremacy. Not white supremacy as people think of skinheads and neo-Nazis and alt-right, but white supremacy as a system or structure of beliefs that center and prioritize and lift up and normalize white lives, white values, white beliefs, at the expense of the lives, values, property, behavior, and cultures of people of color.”

He described in detail some of the laws and policies after emancipation that codified a deep level of discrimination and disempowerment, including laws that criminalized not having a job or a permanent residence, and that he said amounted to a new form of state-sanctioned slavery. Discrimination continued to be formalized well into the 20th century, through “separate but equal” policies that enforced segregated housing and education. “Jim Crow did not operate alone. He had an Uncle, and his name was Sam,” Hall said.

Even though there has been much progress, Hall said, recent research has shown a mixed picture, with both advances and setbacks since the Kerner Commission report in the 1960s that found systematic discrimination throughout American society. “I say to you that the bank of justice is not actually bankrupt,” he concluded, “but rather America’s account is overdrawn. There is too much justice for a small segment of society, at the expense of too many others.”

The annual luncheon, as always, included musical selections as well as tributes to this year’s recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award and to visiting professors and scholars, as well as talks by selected graduate and undergraduate students.


Graduate student in urban studies Dasjon Jordan gave his reflections on King's legacy.
Image: Joseph Lee


Dasjon Jordan, a graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies, said that the promissory note King spoke of “was not just about racial harmony and handholding. But Dr. King’s address was explicitly about racial and economic justice. It was about people of color having their rights as Americans activated and being able to access fair employment opportunities, housing, education, and to simply provide quality lives for their families.”

Jordan asked, “What are we doing as a body to not only make sure that classrooms aren’t just diverse and inclusive by the number of skin tones we count, but by the content of our curriculum and our actions to prioritize equity and racial justice? We must remember that diversity and inclusion are not substitutes for justice and equity. Justice and equity should not be a suggestion here, but our collective mission.

“The world is watching not only what we produce, but the values we championand processes we take to get there,” he said. “These values and processes become the checks we deposit to America’s bank as we work. … Our engagement should bring problems of racial, economic, and social injustice to the heart of our institution and our daily actions. We must all ask ourselves the hard questions and hold ourselves accountable to solving them with fierce urgency.”

Nikayah Etienne, a senior in mechanical engineering, delivered reflections on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Image: Joseph Lee


Nikayah Etienne, a senior in mechanical engineering, described growing up in a predominantly black, immigrant community and school, and finding that she first really experienced being a racial minority when she began her studies at MIT. She realized that while this made her highly visible, it also made her often overlooked. But she soon found groups of black students and faculty in which she felt included and respected.

“I’m leaving here with significant lessons and experiences,” she said. “I leave here knowing that I have grown as an activist. I leave here knowing that I want to continue to touch the lives of young boys and girls who have come from similar backgrounds to me, reminding them that systematic racism and stereotyping do not define their potential.”

She added, “I challenge everyone sitting here, and all the members of the MIT community, to start making it a vision and a priority of yours, to aid students of color in cashing their own checks. I challenge you to take the necessary action to move MIT toward a more equitable community. Let our voices be heard.”


The annual MIT Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon was held in MIT's Morss Hall. Image: Joseph Lee


The speakers, organizers, and honorees of the MLK Jr. luncheon. Image: Joseph Lee



2019 MIT MLK Luncheon


Recalling MLK’s Time in Cambridge


On February 14, 2019, MIT will host its 45th annual Martin Luther King Celebration Luncheon, an MIT community event that celebrates King’s legacy and the Institute's commitment to diversity. Past luncheons have featured a traditional silent march that travels from Lobby 7 to Kresge Auditorium and past speakers have included King’s widow Coretta Scott King, who delivered the keynote address at the luncheon’s 20th anniversary celebration in 1994.

While King never made a public appearance at MIT, he was a common visitor to Cambridge from the 1950s—when he was a doctoral student at Boston University—until the mid-1960s.

According to a January 2013 article in the Harvard Gazette, King took philosophy courses at Harvard in 1952 and 1953 and he was a guest preacher at Harvard’s Memorial Church in 1959 and 1960. He delivered a lecture titled “The Future of Integration” at Harvard Law School in 1962 and spoke at Memorial Church and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School on the same day in January 1965.

King’s name appears regularly in issues of The Tech in the 1960s, including:



After his assassination on April 4, 1968, the front pages of The Tech’s preceding two issues were dedicated to King and articles included “Faculty, students consider role of MIT in race problems” and  “(Professor Harold) Isaacs cites racism in murder.”



The archives at the King Center museum also include two letters to King from the MIT/Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies that discuss the center’s Social Statistics in the City conference that took place in June 1967.

According to a video by MIT Productions, King’s death directly led to, among other endeavors, the formation of the MIT Black Students' Union and the creation of Interphase (now Interphase EDGE),  a seven-week summer program that prepared incoming students for the rigors of MIT.

For more information on King’s legacy at MIT, which includes the MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, the MLK-Inspired IAP Design Seminar, and the MLK Leadership Award, visit

Top image: View from Killian Court of MLK Design Seminar Exhibit in Lobby 10, 2002. Courtesy: MLK at MIT