26th Annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther
"Engineering Bold Leadership for the 21st Century: A Blueprint for Full Participation in Academia, Government and Industry"
Good morning everyone. My name is Ebraheem Fontaine and I am a sophomore in the Mechanical Engineering department.
When I heard this year's theme for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebratory Breakfast, "Engineering Bold Leadership for the 21st century", the first thoughts that came to my mind were community, initiative, tenacity, and manhood. These are all qualities that I feel were possessed by the man that we are celebrating here today. Immediately, the question arises, "How will we, people of color, display leadership within our community in order to make positive change in the 21st century?" Being college students at a preeminent university, we are in a position to make a strong and powerful influence.
Dr. King was a "bold leader", I think this goes without saying. Yet part of what made Dr. King such an exceptional leader was the dynamics of the community that he served. These dynamics of the Black community have changed over the years. Yet, There has to be a sense of community in order for us to understand the need that currently exists, otherwise the great historical and cultural ties that has connected us as a people throughout history will be lost… and a permanent separation will exist within our community between those who have and those who do not.
This brings me to my second and third thoughts on the theme of this year's breakfast. Positive change does not occur without effort. In order for us to show leadership in the 21st century, we must possess initiative and tenacity.
One of the greatest dangers I see in my community around me is complacency. We cannot become satisfied with current situations.
Dr. King possessed the qualities of both initiative and tenacity. His hunger and desire to end the plight of the black community was inspired not only by his personality but also by his relationship with God. We too must possess this tenacity. The greater the level of spirituality that exists within our community, the greater initiative and understanding for change will exist.
I want to make my final point by addressing a subset of our community. The quality that we, as men of color, must possess is manhood. Today, as men of color, we are still viewed by society as public enemy number one.
All too often, society attempts to emasculate us by directly associating our face with crime.
In order to become positive leaders in the 21st century, we must assert our manhood as Dr. King did during his non-violent protest for civil rights. Out of all the words I have used, I feel that manhood is the hardest to define or explain, however, I have a few thoughts on what I feel it exemplifies. Manhood means changing the negative to positive, fulfilling all responsibilities, controlling your environment and not letting your environment control you, defending and securing resources in your communities, and defining yourself and not being defined or dictated by others. These are the qualities that we must possess in order to engineer bold leadership for the 21st century.
When Shall We Arrive
Death. The point of no return. You cannot escape the fact that death will someday come knocking on your door. Many of you will have lived life to the fullest having accomplished your spiritual, personal, and professional goals. Yet, some of us will leave in an untimely manner, snatched away from this world without warning. Such was the case with the man whom we commemorate on this day. Dr. King stared death in the face each time he took a public stand for the civil rights of colored people. I can imagine the 23rd Psalms resonating in Dr. King's mind, "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Hours before Dr. King was assassinated, he stated, "Like anybody, I'd like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will." Truly, Dr. King answered God's calling on his life and refused to let fear of old death stray him from the path of liberty and justice for all in a society built on total inclusion.
The Year 2000 is upon us and we have yet to answer Dr. King's cry for equality. At any given day, we can pick up a newspaper to read about the young Black or Hispanic person who has been shot down like an animal because the police THOUGHT he had a gun. Just last week, Rhode Island police officer, Cornel Young, Jr., was mistaken as a criminal by his own colleagues and shot not once, but three times in the head, chest and abdomen. Time would fail if I were to mention the countless Native-Americans, Africans, Afro-Carribeans, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, Chicanos, and Hispanics who were tortured, maimed, lynched, beaten, and raped because we appear to be a threat to the social structure of this great country. Furthermore, technological lynching continues to exist at our finest universities. Administrators, faculty and staff continue to ignore the constant exclusion of minorities, which in the scheme of things is no different from placing a noose around our neck and hanging us from a tree. I don't know about you, I don't know about you and I don't know about you but, I don't need to see another person of color gunned down, dragged to their death, or beaten for me to realize that America still has a problem with racial tolerance.
In President Clinton's State of the Union Address he said, "We should do more than just tolerate diversity, we should honor and celebrate it." This statement echoes the legacy of Dr. King who didn't view America as a melting pot but as a vibrant mosaic of people of all races, religions, and ethnic groups. I want you to go away today thinking of the fact that it has been less than 50 years, less than 50 years, since people of color have acquired legislative civil rights as opposed to rights obtained as a result of high ethical principles. Think for a moment. A society built for hundreds of years on the premise of segregation, racism, and discrimination is not capable of radical change unless the 'powers that be' insist on correcting past wrongs. You be the judge of estimating how many years it will take for people of color as a whole to acquire a level playing field in this world. Until we can bravely face this problem, Dr. King's dream will remain just that, a dream, a dream, a dream.