MIT remembers King with weekend events
By Reuven M. Lerner
Professor Nikki Giovanni of Virginia Polytechnic Institute was the keynote speaker at last week's observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. It was the 16th annual such program on the MIT campus.
This year's program was proposed by a committee appointed last year by President Paul E. Gray '54. The committee, chaired by Professor Robert W. Mann '50, was asked to find a way for observances to "integrate and stress interests and concerns common to both Martin Luther King and MIT," and "fully transmit a sense of empowerment and full opportunity for African-Americans at MIT and the surrounding community."
Giovanni was full of emotion and optimism as she addressed the crowd of 350 students, faculty, staff, and community members. The noted poet, recording artist, and lecturer told young blacks that "there are still dreams to be dreamed." She said that while blacks should be proud of what they have achieved, they should not forget that there are still many obstacles to overcome.
Besides telling members of the audience to maintain their positive self-images, Giovanni also gave some practical advice. She encouraged them to read, and emphasized the need to read articles and books written by black authors. She also told participants of a need for black teachers, and encouraged them to go into teaching at some point in their lives.
Giovanni's lecture was the main event of Friday's activities, which had begun earlier in Lobby 7. The "Young Nation" Native American drummers and singers, a group of American Indian youth from South Dakota, performed tribal songs in front of 200 spectators for 20 minutes, after which Adjunct Professor Melvin H. King, one of the event's organizers, led the group in a march towards Kresge Auditorium.
Part of the Mann Committee's recommendation was to extend the King commemoration into the weekend. A Saturday conference, entitled "The Dream of Hope, the Nightmare of Reality: Closing the Gap for our Youth," included discussions and workshops that publicized working youth programs and worked to develop new ones. Young artists were also given the chance to perform during the conference.
At the assembly in Kresge, Gray warned people of "complacency" in our society. "Segregation may be illegal," he said, "but it still exists." At the same time, he pointed to MIT's recent accomplishments in minority education, most noticeably the increase "by an order of magnitude" in the number of bachelor's degrees given to minority students.
While remaining optimistic about the future of race relations in the United States, Giovanni reminded students to take time out for others. "We made it easier for you," she said, "We fought for everything we had, simple dignity." She concluded by reminding today's youth, who "have a whole lot more" than her generation did, to take care of the poor and the homeless.