31st Annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther
February 3, 2005
"Justice and Equality for All: America's Moral Dilemma"
Sarah Gonzalez '07
Jonathan Gibbs '06
Sarah Gonzalez '07
Management Science and BioMedical Engineering
Good morning President Hockfield, distinguished faculty and guests.
My name is Sarah Gonzalez and I am a sophomore studying Management
Science and Biomedical Engineering here at the Massachusetts Institute
This speech is dedicated to all the positive role models in my life.
In particular, my father who is celebrating his 50th birthday today.
This morning I will talk about the life and legacy of the great
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As an educated man with a passion for
the podium Dr. King spoke of brotherhood, equality, and human rights.
He turned his back on centuries of hatred and war. He embraced peaceful
and unified protest. He suffered but persevered. In the end, Dr.
King conquered an entire country without ever picking up a weapon.
He won an invaluable battle which was the turning point in the fight
for civil rights. However he did not win the war. We need to continue
where he could not and overcome the stereotypes and complacency
that are hindering us from fulfilling his dream.
Rather than a forced and demeaning separation, my generation grew
up with an unspoken social segregation, a segregation caused by
people discouraging other people. It is not cool to be different;
to cross boundaries; to make straight A's. The youth of this generation
and more specifically, a good number of the minority population
are not taking advantage of the rights that Dr. King, himself, and
many others fought for, including the right to move up in this world,
socially, academically, politically, and professionally. For example,
most minorities in my hometown of Summerville, South Carolina have
grown up with a common but naïve opinion that they can never
be professionals or scholars because (1) there are so few positive
role models and (2) the discouraging environment fails to nurture
As the first person from my high school in its almost two centuries
of existence to be accepted to MIT, I hid my joy and excitement
because I was afraid of disheartening comments. My classmates told
me that I was only accepted because I am female and Latina. Even
my favorite teacher, a female and the only teacher in my high school
with a doctorate degree, pulled me aside to discourage me from attending
MIT. She told me that I would not do well in the school’s
demanding environment and suggested I go somewhere closer to home
with less pressure. At that moment I believed her, and I walked
away doubting myself more than ever. Why would she be so discouraging?
Why did she not believe in me and encourage me to be the best?
As you can you see, I did not allow her words to stop me from coming
here and standing before you this morning. What she did not know
is that I already had a community of positive role models in my
life that encouraged me to step up to the challenge of MIT. I developed
this family during an intense 6 week program called Minority Introduction
to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science, also know as MITE^2S.
Every summer the program brings together the best of the best to
push them to their limits and show them what they are capable of
academically. More important, however, is that by fostering an encouraging
environment of determined minority students and high-achieving minority
teaching assistants, the MITE2S program showed me that I am not
bound by any of the stereotypical limitations commonly associated
with minority ethnic groups. Nevertheless, most minority students
do not have the opportunity to attend such an influential program.
How will these students be able to stand up against the many obstacles
and racial prejudices they will face throughout their life? How
will they know that their achievements are not limited by the color
of their skin? How will the youth of America be encouraged to reach
for the stars unless they know about more role models such as the
first female president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Dr. Susan Hockfield, or prominent minority figures in the white
house including the Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales?
Just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced people to reject
inhuman treatment and demand their rights despite the difficulties
they would face, I hope that everyone in this hall will reach out
and embrace every opportunity to mentor, to become a role model,
and to support programs that encourage students to accept the challenge
and break through the remaining frontiers professionally and scholarly.
Help finish the war that Dr. King began.
Jonathan Gibbs '06
My name is Jonathan Gibbs and I am a junior in Aerospace Engineering.
Those that know me well will tell you that I am no less than a fanatic
about the field of flying, hence this fly blue suit. Currently,
I am also the treasurer of the MIT chapter of the American Institute
of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Black Students Union Political
Action Committee Chair and a Jackie Robinson Scholar. But more importantly,
I am particularly proud to be one of many privileged products of
the preliminary progress that we are here to celebrate.
My senses and spirits are soaring in the stratosphere right now
because my retinas are the rich recipients of a fantastic fluorescent
formation, a fabulous flotilla full of fervent and unique individuals,
a fecund fleet of philanthropic Homo-sapiens who are not only the
harvest but also the cultivators of Dr. King’s prolific premonition.
So on this morning, I am much obliged to Dr. Martin Luther King
and to many others, who when presented with America’s moral
dilemma enlisted their lives into an armada for justice and equality.
Thank you President Hockfield for hosting this breakfast to honor
their legacy and I am personally grateful for the privilege of delivering
The other day I was in the Marriott eating lunch on my way to the
COOP to pick up some books. I sat down in one of those large couches
and began to read the paper. I peered up and saw a tall homeless
man with a 3 piece suit on, he looked weary and cold and he came
and sat down across from me. I asked him how he was doing and he
said he was in good spirits even though he had a pain in his side.
I saw his suit had a small hole on the left near the hip. He asked
me for a little bit of change and I gave him 15 cents from my pocket.
He remarked that he’d had enough of spare change and I was
wondering why he would refuse my generosity. Why would you dare
bite the hand that feeds you? He said Jon don’t you look at
me like that, I am your family, my name is Dr. King. I was perplexed
at the fact that this homeless man knew my name so I began a brief
fireside chat. He said that “people seem to have some sort
of a dilemma. We wanna help somebody but we don’t want to
risk our own good fortune to do it. You had a dilemma. You gave
me your spare change because it’s insignificant, you won’t
notice later that is gone. That way you can feel humble and keep
your money at the same time”. “That’s interesting”
I said. He went on and I became more and more fascinated with his
ideas. I asked him were he was going. “Well Jon, he said,
things are rotten in Washington D.C. Did you know Senator Lott still
believes in the hamitic hypothesis?” “I’m not
surprised” I said. Dr. King continued: “I wish Senator
Lott knew Dr. Mordecai Johnson, Dr. Har Gobind Khorana, Dr. David
Ho, Dr. Mae Carol Jamison, or Henry Cisneros. I wish he know about
your brothers in Chocolate City, Gary, Chris, Charles, Jonathan,
Yoni, Bryant, and Calvin. And its not just Senator Lott”.
“Oh really” I said. “Yes” he replied “I
just talked with Lawrence Summers, the President of Harvard. See
he believed that women don’t have the same aptitude as men.
I reminded him of Harvard’s own Dr. Cecilia Payne. I told
him that just down Mass Ave, they have a President that also proved
and will continue to prove his theory wrong. Mr. Summers talked
about some of MIT’s policies and programs and orated “MIT
isn’t quite like other schools, I kind of see MIT as the Outkast”.
I respectfully disagreed and Mr. Summers became more arrogant, agitated,
and irate so I provided some antiseptic to alleviate his ignorance.
I told him about Dr. Nancy Leveson, Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Dr.
Nancy Hopkins, and Dr. Sheila Widnall. I told him that while MIT
may now be an Outkast, you’ll soon discover that MIT is the
prototype. I said “Wow Dr. King, no wonder all of a sudden
Lawrence Summers made an initiative to hire more female faculty”.
Dr. King started to lean back in the chair and he said “I
came here to check up on you Jon before I get on my way. You see
I saw you in that private school in the D.C. metropolitan area.
I saw you when you almost flunked out because your peers convinced
you that you were inferior. I saw that teacher tell you that you
were not smart enough to continue at their predominately white high
school. I saw you get ridiculed after your acceptance to MIT. And
then I saw you eat your last supper right here in the Cambridge
Marriot before you went on down to Ames Street for your first day
of Project Interphase. I knew you was accepted to other schools,
but chose to come to MIT. Despite your accomplishments, neither
you nor your parents were sure you could make it at the ‘Tute’”.
“Yea I remember” I said, “It was the best of times
and the worst of times. I was happy to be here but I still wasn’t
sure if hamitic hypothesis was wrong. I felt the weight of the world
on my shoulders and my knees buckling”. Dr. King continued
“Some more time passed and I observed that Interphase was
the first time that you Jon, were in a positive academic environment
and I didn’t have anymore worries”. I also went to see
your parents and I asked about you. They said Jonathan did all right
and he came home right after Interphase. They said that a few days
later they put you back on a Southwest 737 with service to Providence,
and that you never looked back. I said “That’s right,
I remember touching down on runway 5 right at TF Green Airport”.
Dr. King continued: “You know your mother wishes you would
call more often, and your father said never to forget your Christian
upbringing”. Dr. King told me that he was glad to see that
I was indeed doing alright. He said “I’m gonna tell
you why I got so mad about your spare change. I don’t want
your spare change because I need to get all the way back D.C. to
talk to Senator Lott. If I had a million dollars, I could buy my
own 737 and fly on down to National Airport. If I had a fifty thousand
I could make a down payment on a BMW and drive on down the turnpike.
Heck if I had a one thousand, I could buy that hooptie you call
your mini van. I said Dr. King I know it’s a hooptie, but
I don’t like to let anybody else drive it. Dr. King went on:
“Well If I had a hundred, I could at least get a bicycle from
the New House bike auction. But if all you give me is spare change,
I have to walk and stumble a long at all deliberate speed, I have
to be extra extra extra careful because I don’t want to make
a wrong step. If you give me spare change, I’ll always have
to keep asking for more spare change and then you will ignore me.
I got enough spare change to buy this suit and sit here with you
so I can look like your economical equal but you and I both know
that I’m homeless and when you gave me your spare change,
you reinforced my feelings of inferiority. Can you understand how
insulting it is when I (people) throw some spare change in front
of you (me)? You can’t even decide whether or not to pick
it up, especially when all your peers are watching you. I hope you
understand why I don’t what your spare change”. As we
concluded, I told Dr. King I would drive him down to the airport,
and he asked me if I would pass his message on to somebody if I
ever got the chance and I’m glad that I got the chance to
pass that message on to you today.
Later I went home and watched some T.V. I was watchin this movie
where these two men were trying to get rid of a beaver dam because
it was blocking up a reservoir. Eventually one of the men arrived
with a shotgun, he was about to shoot that family of beavers. Then
before he could get the shot off one of the beavers ran up and bit
his foot and the man dropped his gun into the water and the beavers
ran off to safety. You see, even the beaver had enough courage to
bite the foot of that man with the gun trying to shoot its family.
He knew that he couldn’t move with all deliberate speed, otherwise
he would’ve gotten shot. Sometimes I wonder if we are just
engineers or if we are actually beavers. I know I’m a beaver,
I got this ring on my finger that says so and I always give more
then my spare change. Don’t forget that it has taken over
one hundred years of legislation, sweat, tears, and sit-ins for
us to sit here in an academic setting to imbue our brains in each
others intellectual expeditions but there is still much work to
be done. Maybe you didn’t know someone that walked on Washington.
Maybe you weren’t related to anyone that had to struggle for
everything they had. But some of the people around did, and they
are from all different kinds of places. See those people that you
work and bond with you are not just your colleagues but they are
your family. Oh! you may not be part of their immediate family but
if you open biology book, you will discover that you are of the
same kingdom, and phylum and class. If you read on a little bit
further you will find out that we are indeed all in the same family.
If we liken ourselves to beavers then we ought to act like beavers
and move to protect our family. Let’s all join Dr. Kings armada
on the way to D.C. But, before we do that, we have to understand
how ridiculous, insulting, and foolish it is to try and accomplish
Dr. King’s goal with just spare change.
We need to comprehend that the reason, we have to stumble along
with all deliberate speed is because we have to keep asking for
spare change. I hope we understand why nobody cares about spare
I know you don’t want my spare change.