MIT Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee

27th Annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
February 8, 2001

"Confronting the Gap: Building and Sustaining Inclusion"

Students' Remarks

Maria M. Otero '02
Christopher M. Jones 'G

Maria M. Otero '02
Mechanical Engineer

Good morning. My name is Maria Mercedes Otero and I am a junior in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. I have been asked to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and legacy this morning and the chosen theme is ‘Confronting the Gap: Building and Sustaining Inclusion.’

The first question that came to mind when presented with this theme is, "what exactly does confronting the gap mean?" What gap is it that we are talking about today? Because in today’s world, year 2001, almost forty years after Martin Luther King’s death, we are not just talking about the gap between white folks and black folks. No, in today’s world gap refers to a myriad of situations. There are gaps between a first generation Chinese in America and a third or fourth generation Chinese in America… there are gaps between New-Yorkans and Puerto Ricans ‘de pura sepa’,… there is a gap between the wealthy movie star living in Beverly Hills and the homeless trying to stay alive in the streets of L.A and yes, there is a gap between white America and black America, but there is also a gap between that African American living on the fortieth floor in Manhattan and the one trying to live through the night in the streets of Brooklyn. Ladies and gentlemen… there are gaps right here, in Walker …this morning. Some of you got here this morning with a large group of friends, groups large enough to fill a table, but some of you came in a smaller group. How many of those smaller groups that got here early enough to have a choice of where to sit gravitated towards a table already occupied with another group of unknown people, and how many sought an empty table? For those that came later and had no choice but to sit in a half filled table… how many of you actually went past a courteous ‘good morning’ (SMILE) before returning to conversation amongst yourselves, instead of embracing those that you didn’t know? Can you say the complete name and something about each person at your table? I ask that of everyone including the reserved tables. (SMILE) That my friends, is a gap, right here… in our MIT world.

Discover that gap, and ask yourselves, why? Why does this gap exist… why did you not take the time to know another individual? Are we too comfortable in our own worlds to entertain the idea of learning some new way of doing things? I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said "It’s possible that those men were afraid". We are afraid of what could happen to us. But we are not even physically afraid, we are afraid that if we take the time to learn about another individual, about another way, another culture, we will understand, (PAUSE) and we are afraid to understand, to be able to say, "I see why he is this or that way". We are afraid that we might be able to accept something outside of what we know. We are afraid to let go of our views, we are afraid to broaden the possibilities. We… are afraid… of the responsibilities of understanding. See, once you understand, you cannot hide behind "I didn’t know". Well, ladies and gentlemen, I take that to be the second step towards confronting the gap, understanding. First we must acknowledge the gap, then we must strive to understand what causes the gap.

Understanding …is an amazing thing. I am sure that every professor in this room… every dean in this room… every person who has acted as a T.A. in this room, anyone who has ever tutored and has had the pleasure of seeing someone understand, truly understand a concept he or she has battled with, realizes how amazing understanding is. The look on someone’s face when they understand is unmistakable. Fear is no longer present where understanding lives. A child is no longer scared to even look at his homework once he understands, and we as human beings would not be afraid to handle one another once we understand who we each are. {Once we understand we can see that we are all fundamentally the same. The things that make us different… stem from the same common needs and wants. Only the way we individually handle them makes us different.}

Understanding is not an easy thing. It takes time, and it takes security; it takes first, understanding of oneself. Then it takes courage . It takes courage and stumbles to understand.. But understanding is a necessary thing if we really want to ‘confront the gap’, especially if we want to go as far as ‘building and sustaining inclusion’.

What is inclusion? Inclusion is acceptance. How do we attain this thing called acceptance? We can only accept if we understand. It is literally impossible to accept something that we do not understand. That phrase "I will accept it, but I do not understand it"… it’s a lie. You can think you accept, but it keeps gnawing at you, at your conscience, at your beliefs. You will keep questioning it until you do understand or until you eliminate it. Ladies and gentlemen, we CANNOT eliminate it. We are NOT able to create a world of people who are just like us and understand us instantly. Our only choice is to understand, to take the time to understand.

We are here this morning celebrating the life of a man who basically led many facets of the civil rights movement. He was fighting for his people, the African American people. He won battles, not only for the African American people, but for all of us sitting here today. If this were not true, the Hispanics would now have to lead another revolution to attain the same for our people. Martin Luther King fought this for all of us, and let me say he did a fine job.

I do not know how many of you are familiar with the phrase " de jure, no de facto". It’s a Latin phrase that means ‘in law but not in fact’. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attained the "de jure" part of his battle. We now have laws that say that there can be no discrimination because of the color of our skin, be that black, brown, red, yellow, or yes, white. There can legally be no discrimination because of Ethnicity, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Religion…

He did a GREAT deed. Yet we are not satisfied. We are NOT satisfied. We all constantly agree that the "de facto" part of his battle is yet to be won in many circumstances. And so we are unsatisfied, "Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity", said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And I agree that we should not be satisfied, for this is still not IN FACT true. Well, my message to you this morning is this, if we are in fact to attain the "de facto" part, if we are in fact to build and sustain inclusion for all of us, it must start with you and you with each and every one of us as individuals towards the rest of the individuals that surround us. It must start with understanding. It must start with understanding.

Thank you, and Good Morning.

Christopher M. Jones 'G
Nuclear Engineering

Good Morning, My Name is Christopher M. Jones and I am a second year graduate student pursuing a dual masters' degree in Nuclear Engineering Department and Technology and Policy Program. I am also a 1999 graduate of Morehouse College, Dr. King’s alma mater.

I am both honored and humbled at this opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.The theme this year is "Confronting the Gap: Building and Sustaining Inclusion." At first look it seemed like a straightforward concept, but then I thought, I should be careful because sometimes the simplest things can have hidden depth. Confronting as defined by Merriam-Webster is the act of bringing face to face. In November of 1992, over 1,000 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, met to address humanities effect on the environment. They looked face to face at stratospheric ozone depletion, and exploitation of ground water supplies, they looked face to face at the irreversible loss of species. They looked face to face a number of issues. This resulted in a warning to the world. They urged that: "If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society… Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about."

They challenged us to think about having to look into the eyes of our grandchildren and say: "This is the world I leave to you!" Thirty years earlier, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged us to look face to face at another issue. He challenged America look face to face at serious change. In "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community" he pleads: "The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap… The real cost lies ahead… The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if quality education is to be realized." We already see the high cost associated with discount education and unfair standardized testing. We don’t even have to leave our front yard to see its’ effects. White America is about 70% of the U.S. population and make up some 60% of the graduate population here at MIT, while African-Americans are roughly 13% of the population and make up 2.3% of the MIT graduate population. Hispanics are also roughly 13% of the U.S. population and make up less than 2% of the MIT graduate population. This is an institutional embarrassment. We look right in our own front yard and see that faculty of color are grossly underrepresented. This also is an institutional embarrassment.

So what are the implications? What do these disproportionate numbers mean? Some feel that it means more open slots for their sons and daughters. But what does it mean for America as a whole? It means a reduction in the pool of qualified American citizens that the scientific community can pull from. Where have we gone wrong? Is it too much to ask that the educational system and the workforce be representative of society as a whole? Is inclusion of all races, all classes, all faiths, and both genders an ideal to be relegated to philosophical texts? Maybe it is a problem that is too complex for us to solve. Sure, we can put a man on the moon. We can link the entire world via the Internet. Sure, we can even clone humans.

But, I guess there are some problems too complex even for MIT. Some answers too deep even for the minds of Harvard. Or maybe no one is trying to answer the question. Maybe no one cares. Maybe King was correct when he said, "America has written a check to people color that has been returned insufficient funds."

So, what is my role in all this? How can I help? How can I look at the problem and make a difference?

I am sure many if not most of us in this room have asked and are asking this question. As a graduate student we learn that most of our work is in properly defining the problem. Is the right question being asked? If we make one minor change in the question, we find a world of solutions open up. So the question should not be how can I help, but how can WE help? The question should not be how can I help, but how can WE help? Within the collective creativity of those who have access to resources lies the solution to the question of sustainable inclusion. We each play a very different role, but without the other, there is no inclusion. Without help from all, there can be no inclusion. When we talk about "the gap," we are not dealing with a set of problems that a few people can solve one at a time. We are talking about a monster that has been created over centuries that will require all of us working together to destroy. Some will attack from the front, some from behind, some from the top and some from the bottom, but all together. Some will attack this monster from the White House, some from research lab, some from MIT’s Presidents office, and some from the classroom, but all must attack this monster TOGETHER.

Our roles are different, but our goal the same—INCLUSION. Let me repeat that: Our roles are different, but our goal the same—INCLUSION. We must each bring our individual skills to the table. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, Kings mentor, teacher, and friend would say "Do whatever YOU do so well that no man living and no man yet unborn could do it better." "Do whatever YOU do so well that no man living and no man yet unborn could do it better." So, as King said, if you are a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michael Angelo painted the Cisteen Chapel. In doing so we create a collective creativity that cannot help but generate solutions. We live in what is the Mecca of learning and creative thought; the world looks to us for leadership and direction. SO, I ask the engineers in the room, what is the blueprint for sustainable inclusion? I ask the physicists in the room what is the greens function for sustainable inclusion, I ask the medical doctors in this room, what is the prescription for sustainable inclusion? I ask the economist in the room how do we play the futures market to reach sustainable inclusion? And I don’t stop there, I ask the lawyers present, what is the legal precedent for sustainable inclusion? I ask the writers here, what is the correct sentence structure for sustainable inclusion? I ask the coaches, what is the play for sustainable inclusion? I ask the ministers, what are the scriptures and prayers for sustainable inclusion?

Confronting the gap and building and sustaining inclusion is quite achievable. King called it "The Beloved Community." "The Beloved Community." In this community our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation..

This would be a community where love and justice prevailed. Love here is not sentimental affection, but the binding power that holds the universe together. In this community we would know that "we are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality." It is a community where we are not judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.