2009 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
Yes We Must: Achieve Diversity through Leadership
First African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College
MLK Leadership Awardees
William R. (1956) & Betsy P. Leitch Professor in Residence Professor of Chemistry, Toxicology, and Biological Engineering
Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
Assistant Director, Minority Recruitment and Retention, MIT Sloan School of Management
Sloan management senior
Biological engineering major
Assistant Director, Global Education and Career Development Center
“I think about...the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.” --Barack Obama, 2008 Presidential Election Victory Speech
Sí, se puede (Sp. "Yes, it is possible"/"Yes, we can") is the motto of the United Farm Workers, conceived in 1972 during civil-rights activist Cesar Chávez's hunger strike."Yes we can" resurfaced in Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. The slogan fueled what became one of his most famous speeches, even inspiring a song by Will.i.am.
Echoing the recent presidential election, the theme of MIT's 35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration was: Yes We Must: Achieve Diversity through Leadership. Delivering the keynote was Johnnetta B. Cole, first African-American woman to serve as president of Spelman College.
The “On the Shoulders of Giants” display was vandalized during the week of Feb. 2; a cardboard cutout of President Abraham Lincoln (pictured here) was replaced with a cutout of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin. Photo: Brian S. Coffey, The Tech 2009
MLK Diversity Exhibit Vandalized Twice
John A. Hawkinson, The Tech
March 3, 2009
President Susan J. Hockfield and Prof. J. Phillip Thompson, Chair of the Committee on Race and Diversity, have issued a statement in response to vandalism of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial exhibit last month (see right). The annual exhibit consisted of several student-created displays to promote diversity, human rights, and similar principles, and ran from Feb. 2 through Feb. 9 in Lobby 10.
There were two incidents of vandalism, and organizers of the event were not certain exactly when they occurred.
(1) A display entitled “On the Shoulders of Giants” with cardboard cutouts of Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, and Dr. King was altered. The cardboard cutout of Lincoln was removed and replaced with a cardboard cutout of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.
(2) A display about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict was removed in its entirety. Nour J. Abdul-Razzak ’09, who was part of the team that created the display, said that the removal of the display was “not appropriate,” and the perpetrators had “no right to just take something away.” Abdul-Razzak said that her group had tried very hard to be sensitive to concerns on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
The statement was issued under the auspices of the Committee on Race and Diversity, which formed in 2007 when the Campus Committee on Race Relations joined with the MLK Committee.
MLK Breakfast Performance
MIT News Office
MLK celebration speech by MIT graduate student Joy Johnson
February 18, 2009
MLK celebration speech by MIT senior Matt Gethers
February 18, 2009
Six receive Martin Luther King Jr. leadership awards
February 11, 2009
Speakers pledge to carry on King's dream
February 6, 2009
Johnnetta Cole to address MLK breakfast
February 2, 2009
DUSP's Briggs joins Obama administration
January 20, 2009
MIT to launch diversity and inclusion site this month
January 16, 2009
Remarks by Matt Gethers '09 and Joy Johnson 'G
35th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Breakfast of MIT
"Yes We Must: Achieve Diversity through Leadership"
February 18, 2009
Remarks by Matt Gethers
Presented: February 5, 2009
Good morning. My name is Matt Gethers. I'm a senior here at MIT in the department of biological engineering and I'm honored this morning to share some reflections about the role of diversity in our society. I'd like to begin with a story. It starts in the 1940s in South Carolina with a Black man named Lee going to pick up his brother, Rock, after his discharge from the Navy. On the way home, they stopped at a convenience store for some cigarettes. Rock went inside the store while Lee tended to the car. It wasn't long before Lee heard a commotion in the store and, fearing the worst, he decided to investigate. When he got inside, he saw three white men surrounding Rock telling him that he had "no business in this store," as they began to move in on him. That's all Lee needed to see. He let out a yell and a few minutes later, the three men were on the ground. Lee and Rock hurried home and after discussing with family, everyone agreed that Lee had to get out of the South. If he didn't, they'd come for him, and the police would be of no help. That wasn't a surprising decision. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Lee knew he would have to leave when he made the decision to defend his brother. But that didn't stop him.
I have to admire the courage it took for Lee to literally place his life on the line to assert his God-given rights. For better or for worse, that's an assertion members of my generation rarely have to make. I have to wonder, if faced with the same challenge, would I have had the courage that Lee, who happens to be my grandfather, demonstrated? If the freedom of my race depended upon my bravery, my willingness to expose myself to physical harm, would we have made the gains we've made? If it were up to me to refuse to give up my seat on a bus, up to me to demand my seat in a school where no one wanted me, would I even be allowed to stand at this podium?
The answer to these questions will remain unknown to me, because the past is the past. I can't, nor do I want to relive it, and that's a bittersweet reality. On the one hand, it's unlikely that I'll ever have to endure the trials my ancestors knew. But on the other hand, I feel the need to share in the work and sacrifice that have secured my inalienable rights as a citizen of this country and world. But I can take heart. Over the past four years and especially as I wrote my comments for this morning, I see ever more clearly that the bridge to Dr. King's dream is not yet complete. There's work to do yet, but the fights are going to be far different from those of yesterday.
Here in the United States, our laws and institutions now reflect what we know to be right with respect to race, gender, and disability. But the law has no jurisdiction over our hearts and minds. When we doubt our classmates, calling them the product of affirmative action, we when we wish someone would good back to his country and stop competing for jobs with "real Americans," when we remove natural-born American citizens from our planes, and subways, and buses because they merely look like a madman who kills innocents in the name of God, that dream becomes ever more distant. We've done well in purging racism and hatred from our laws and institutions, but to realize Dr. King's dream, we must now we must purify our hearts and minds.
The path to victory in this second battle of a great war demands that we achieve diversity through leadership. You see, it's not enough to know that we are created equally, we have to live it every day or we default to ignorance and hatred. In the absence of diversity, stereotype reins. It's like parasite that fills voids of knowledge that should be filled by personal experience and reason. Stereotype rationalizes placing blame where it doesn't belong, affirmative action for not getting in to your dream school, the drive for a "diverse workplace" for being overlooked for a promotion. Stereotype even causes your own people to look down on you for things as petty as your taste in music or as important as the person you choose to marry. But I would say the greatest danger of stereotype is that it causes us to doubt ourselves. In my work with Cambridge middle school students, the greatest tragedy is not the low test scores or even the palpable fear of math and science, but that at such an impressionable age, they honestly don't believe that they could grow up to become an astronaut, or a physicist, or a surgeon, or even the President. And why? Because they feel young black women don't grow up to be CEOs or because Latinos have no business in the U.S. Senate, or because "people from this neighborhood don't go to college."
Yes we must! Achieve diversity through leadership, because it's only when these students can see themselves in people who breaking the mold, people who are redefining what it means to be Black, to be Hispanic, to be a Woman, to be gay, to be poor, that we'll restore their sacred right to dream. But breaking that mold takes courage and leadership, the same courage and leadership it took to stand up to Klansmen, the same courage and leadership it took to march on Washington, and yes, the same courage and leadership it took to for my grandfather to defend his brother in that store, it is this courage and leadership that will inspire our youth and elders to abolish our prejudices towards one another and to bring into the light a prophecy, that "When this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro Spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! Thank you.
Remarks by Joy Johnson
Presented: February 5, 2009
I am Joy Johnson, a graduate student in Electrical Engineering from Greensboro, NC.
I remember the day my dad took off work, which he never does, to come for a parent-principal meeting, which I prayed he would never have to do. It was like a dark cloud descended upon that school. I was so scared I would rather the rapture come, than my father. I had not cut class, I had not failed a subject, I had not been suspended... I had applied for a scholarship; a scholarship which required my school counselor to send in my transcript. And so weeks went by not hearing from any school, I started to feel like maybe I wasn't good enough, maybe I didn't deserve it. One day I get a phone call, that the Park Scholarships(a full merit scholarship to NC State) was very interested in interviewing me but never received my transcript, I started calling around and it seems no one had received them, but my classmates (all white) had been sent and received in due form. When I asked my counselor about it, nonchalantly she said simply, "I forgot..." and thus the day my father descended upon Grimsley High School, a high school that neither of my parents were able to attend for the same reason she had forgotten my transcript.
Many times the intelligent and the disenfranchised alike feel what psychologists like to call "the imposter syndrome" in which the sufferers, unable to internalize their accomplishments, remain convinced they do not deserve the success they have achieved. We still must ask ourselves "Do we belong here?" but many times the imposter is not us at all...
The theme for this celebration is "Yes We MUST" but what MUST we do? For so long we have been achieving, inventing, discovering, but our achievements have been overlooked, our inventions stolen, and our discoveries rediscovered, and thus we find ourselves suffering from this imposter syndrome. The true imposters have been doing it so long they have perfected the art of fraud.
Everyone always speaks of Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech in which he quotes the infamous words of Thomas Jefferson, saying " I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Even that statement is fraudulent in that these are not the words of Thomas Jefferson but the words of his neighbor, an immigrant Philip Mazzei. What Dr. King knew and what we now know was that the duality of hypocrisy transcended the obvious injustice of those words, but he also knew that this issue between de jure and de facto law was not new nor was it original.
There are so many untold injustices and imposters who are left out of history. Stories of black musicians like Robert Johnson and Roy Brown who were playing Rock 'N Roll in 1947 a year before Elvis ever picked up a guitar. Stories of the poor black sharecroppers of Tuskegee, Alabama who were mercilessly used like lab rats to come up with the drugs and treatments for syphilis. Stories of people like Vivien Thomas who created not only the medical trials, but the surgical procedure and made the actual instruments needed to save infants with blue baby syndrome at a time when cardiac surgery was not even considered possible, but whose credit was given to the white doctor whom he worked for as a janitor and later a medical apprentice.
Even in light of this historical election, never on any broadcast or in news article did I ever once hear someone mention Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Each African American has stories of their own family members whom the imposter has served this plate of injustice. Many of us have relatives whose contributions to knowledge were unrecognized, whose efforts at justice were met with violence, whose rights were denied at every front but fought on and thus we find ourselves here....
So I ask you now, do you feel like imposters when you walk on this campus, do you ask yourself what MUST I do? Even when you know that you have the creativity of Roy Brown, the intellectual genius of Vivien Thomas, the oratorical skill and sharpness of Shirley Chisholm, in you? But the question remains.
If the mantra is yes we must, what MUST we do? I think Dr. King put it best in his Give Us the Ballot address in 1957 when he said "The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We MUST act now.... We MUST work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We MUST never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice."
We at MIT have extraordinary opportunity even as our mission states that "we MUST work to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world." It does not say some students, majority students, minority students, or even all students. I think the lack of differentiation is indicative of the transparency that true innovation and true intellectual advancement requires we must have in our interactions with one another, in the lab, in the classroom, in the corridors infinite or otherwise:
We MUST give credit where credit is due in our academic work as well as in our everyday lives, and this MUST begin with acknowledgement, speaking to one another, speaking to the janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers as eagerly as we do our Institute Professors.
We MUST show integrity in our collaborations with everyone, in our fervent pursuit of solving the world's problems, making this institutions decisions based on merit not nepotism, racism, or cronyism serving as the world's paragon for progress.
We MUST as our mission states SERVE this nation and this world through our research, our talents and our intellect.
We MUST realize that we are the dream that Martin dreamed when he was sleeping at a university right across the Charles river.
And like our President charged us in his most transparent version of those infamous words." The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."