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Professor Paul E. Gray, who played a key role in establishing MIT's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Celebration when he was chancellor in 1975, will receive an MLK Leadership Award at this year's celebratory breakfast in Walker Memorial's Morss Hall at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.
The other 2002 MLK Leadership Award winners are Randal D. Pinkett (M.B.A. and S.M. from the Leaders for Manufacturing Program, both in 1998; Ph.D. 2002) in the alumnus category; Tamara S. Williams (S.M. 2000) in the graduate student category; and Campus Police Sgt. Cheryl Vossmer in the administrator/staff category. Dr. Gray, who returned to the classroom in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1997 after serving as chancellor, president and chair of the MIT Corporation for 26 years, will be honored as a faculty member.
The theme for the 28th annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King will be "From Dreams to Reality: The Illusion of Full Inclusion." The keynote speaker is Tavis Smiley, a TV correspondent and political commentator. Smiley, author of "How to Make Black America Better," will appear at a book-signing after the breakfast.
Other speakers at the breakfast will include President Charles M. Vest, Provost Robert A. Brown, Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine, graduate student Eric Caulfield, and students from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
The Leadership Award winners, who are being honored for service to the community, will be introduced by Redwine in place of Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, who will be out of town. Service to the community is defined in the broadest sense; it may include academic, research, religious and secular contributions.
While he was president from 1980-90, Gray was committed to increasing opportunities at all levels for minorities on campus. During his tenure in that post, he traditionally started the MLK Celebration by leading a procession from the steps of 77 Massachusetts Ave. to Kresge Auditorium to hear the keynote speaker.
At the final breakfast of his presidency in 1990, he reminded the audience that Dr. King had devoted his life--indeed, had given his life--in support of "the simple proposition that every person--black or white or brown, young or not young, female or male, Asian or Caucasian, rich or poor--brings unique qualities, talents and dignity to our world...
"It is a simple proposition, but acting on it--organizing our actions and reactions, our patterns of life, work and culture in accordance with it--is difficult indeed," he said. "All recorded history is pervaded by--indeed largely organized by--terrible examples of humanity's inhumanity to fellow beings."
Pinkett, a graduate of Rutgers University and a Rhodes Scholar, was a principal investigator on the Camfield Estates-MIT Creating Community Connections project, which brings computers and Internet connections to residents of the Camfield Estates housing development in Roxbury. The project was part of his Ph.D. dissertation. He is the chief executive officer of Building Community with Technology, a consulting firm in Plainfield, N.J.
"Randy is part researcher, part engineer, part entrepreneur, part activist," said Pinkett's doctoral advisor, Professor Mitchell Resnick. "To make the Camfield Estates project happen, Randy needed to line up foundation funding, attract corporate donations, write new software, inspire local residents and conduct evaluation studies. All of these activities were essential to the project and I can't think of any other individual who could have played all the roles Randy did."
Pinkett, named Graduate Student of the Year in 2001 by the National Society of Black Engineers, offered his thoughts on Dr. King at the celebratory breakfast in 1999. Alluding to poet Robert Frost's choice of "the road less traveled," Pinkett said, "Each of us, in his own unique way, chooses a new path, crossing over into uncharted territory. What about when there is no road? Then the road is made as one walks."
Williams, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, spoke at the breakfast in 2000. She noted that Dr. King did not waver in his commitment, even though he was aware that he could be killed for it. "He refused to stray from the path of equality and justice for all," she said.
A 1998 physics graduate of Tennessee State University, Williams was a member of the Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society and the Phi Kappa Phi and Golden Ring honor societies.
At MIT, she has been co-chair of the Black Graduate Students Association and Color Creations. She volunteered for Tutoring Plus and worked with Cambridge public school students in mathematics and English.
Vossmer, an MIT police officer for 17 years, received a President's Community Service award in 2000 and the Gordon Y Billard award for distinguished service to the MIT community in 1998.
As a longtime member of the President's Committee on Campus Race Relations, Vossmer demonstrated a commitment to better communication and understanding between MIT's various communities.
"I have often felt firsthand Cheryl's warmth and empathy regarding the feelings of others and have been buoyed by her support," said Professor Ellen Harris, former chair of the race relations committee. "Though her tasks as a police officer in a large and busy community could easily overwhelm her attention to individuals, she never neglects the emotions of the people she deals with, whether they be student, faculty or staff."
Vossmer leads a holiday effort each December to collect toys, food and clothing for the Salvation Army and its day care center for homeless children, the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House and Shelter Inc. She has also been MIT coordinator for Community Servings' annual Pie in the Sky fundraiser at Thanksgiving to benefit people homebound with AIDS.
The breakfast is open to students and other members of the MIT community. Space is limited and reservations must be obtained. RSVP by Wednesday, Feb. 6. For information, click here.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 30, 2002.