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Excellence is a Shared Path: Working Together for Justice and the Quality of Life

02/09/2011 7:30 AM Walker Morss Hall
Dr. Susan Hockfield, President, MIT; Roland S. Martin, CNN contributor

Description: Exploring the past opens up new perspectives on the present and offers ways of navigating a challenging future, these speakers suggest, in a call to action on the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

Susan Hockfield has been "digging into MIT's history," where she finds seeds for the institute's distinct culture. One core aspect of this culture, sustained over MIT's 150 years, is the idea of "rewarding talent and initiative regardless of social position or pedigree," says Hockfield. However, as she describes, meritocracy has sometimes been more of an aspiration than reality. Hockfield cites examples of the grudging acceptance of women students in the 19th and early 20th century. In the 1961 centennial, there were only 155 women enrolled in a student body of more than 6,000, she says. "Today, through a conscious and sustained outreach, 45% of undergraduates are now women."

Although MIT now boasts far more students and faculty of underrepresented minorities, Hockfield says that "opening doors turns out to be the easy part." It is more difficult ensuring that "those who come from outside the circle of affluence or white privilege can count on a sense of full citizenship." MIT's central challenge must be "full inclusion," states Hockfield, and the Institute should lead the nation in attaining this goal.

Don't show up at a King celebration, says Roland Martin, if you do not intend to recommit to "his cause, his ideals and vision." Martin frets that today's young people are waiting for the right moment "to take charge and get involved." It was not always so. In 1955, a handful of pastors in Montgomery, Alabama chose a very young Martin Luther King to lead the city's improvement association. It was high school and college students who frequently led the charge with lunch counter sit"ins, boycotts, and other protests that launched the Civil Rights movement. br>
Martin notes the sense of lowered expectations around President Obama's administration, as if "folks voted, and then said, I'm done, did my part, when in fact, the election was the beginning of a process, not the end." Young people must "give a damn about something" other than themselves, and understand that the work involved often lasts for years. Martin invokes the Bible's Nehemiah, who rallied people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. "What's your wall?" he asks: "Literacy? Economic development? HIV/AIDS? The point is, start where you are, then move on to the street, block, neighborhood, nation"

Martin notes that his audience totals more than the number of those who met half a century ago in the Montgomery church basement, setting in motion a nationwide movement. There is enough "brain power, energy, passion in this room to literally change the world," he says, and "it's been done before, we have empirical data to prove it." Concludes Martin, "It's time to stop talking, meeting and start leading, whether young or old, to rebuild the crumbling walls in this country."

About the Speaker(s): A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland Martin is the author of Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith, Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America, and his most recent book, The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.

Martin is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of Washington Watch with Roland Martin, a one"hour Sunday morning news show. He is also an analyst for CNN. In October 2008, he joined the Tom Joyner Morning Show as senior analyst.

Named by Ebony Magazine in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as one of the 150 Most Influential African Americans in the United States, he is the 2009 winner of the NAACP Image Award for Best Interview for "In Conversation: The Michelle Obama Interview."

Martin is the former executive editor/general manager of the Chicago Defender, the nation's most historic black newspaper. He previously served as owner/publisher of Dallas"Fort Worth Heritage, a Christian monthly newspaper. He has won more than 30 professional awards for journalistic excellence, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television News Directors; top reporting honors from the National Association of Black Journalists; the National Association of Minorities in Cable. and the National Associated Press"Managing Editors Conference.

Martin earned a B.S. in journalism in 1991 from Texas A&M University. In May 2008, Martin received a master's degree in Christian Communications from Louisiana Baptist University.

Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Annual Breakfast Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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