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Head of NAACP Speaks at the 25th Annual MLK Celebration

By Rima Arnaout

Kweisi Mfume, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, discussed the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the face of today's racial injustices yesterday morning in Walker Memorial at the 25th Annual MLK Celebration breakfast.

"Discrimination is not an article of the past. It is an article of the present," Mfume said in his speech.

"Colored people come in all colors," Mfume added, and "our survival will depend increasingly on dealing with our increasingly diverse community."

Mfume acknowledged that "the light does burn bright at MIT." However, a responsibility to change the world comes with MIT's greatness, Mfume said. "Technology makes it possible to network but also to live in isolation."

Defending affirmative action

Mfume's speech also touched on MIT's use of affirmative action. Mfume warned against embracing precedents to eliminate affirmative action, saying that "they chip away at the ability of people who want to come behind you [students] and sit where you sit."

Vest pledges MIT's support

President Charles M. Vest also took the opportunity in his introduction of the honorable Mfume to reaffirm MIT's support of affirmative action in light of an increasing backlash nationwide.

"In order to bring that strength and justice to our society, all of us must continue to speak out about the issue of race-sensitive admissions in American higher education," Vest said.

The celebration breakfast also included an invocation by Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut from the MIT Board of Chaplains. Plaut's father, also a rabbi, participated in the Freedom Rides with Dr. King in 1962.

MIT students participated in the event as well. Both Maribel Gomez '02 and Randal Pinkett G spoke about Dr. King's legacy, and the MIT Gospel Choir performed for the over 400 students, faculty members, and staff that attended the breakfast.

MLK celebrated throughout MIT

The breakfast took place against the backdrop of other festivities commemorating Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month.

The MLK Committee decorated Lobby 7 to look like the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where Dr. King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech.

The installation, entitled "Reflections: A tribute to all individuals who have supported the struggle for human rights," was sponsored by the MLK committee and designed by a group of students led by Eto S. Otitigbe '99.

The mirrored surfaces representing the reflecting pool in the Mall were designed to "involve the people in the installation so you're looking at yourself from a physical perspective as well as from a deeper one," said Kerone H. Peat '00, part of the group that set up the Lobby 7 display.

Two musical performances in Lobby 7 yesterday afternoon rounded out the slew of events scheduled for the MLK celebration.

Both the "Ain'a That Good News" Gospel Quartet, featuring Semenya McCord, Wannetta Jackson, George W. Russell Jr., and Byron Gibbs and the South Mass Choir, directed by Darryll Matson performed.

Students appreciated the music and the "Reflections" display.

"I feel very moved by the music and that the installation [of the D.C. scene] has come to life I feel our purpose being vindicated," Peat said.

"The fact that there is a gospel choir singing in Lobby 7 is an indication that our presence [as minority students] is valued," said Ticora V. Jones '00.

The celebration of Dr. King's legacy has not ended. Tomorrow's day-long "Cyber Sisters" conference at the Tang Center will conclude the Martin Luther King Jr. festivities. The conference is designed to bring together women of color to discuss the applications of information technology.

Minorities given MLK Award

Traditionally given to a faculty member, an alumnus, and a student whose contributions to MIT fulfill the legacy of Dr. King, this year's MLK Leadership Award recipients were Alexander Slocum PhD '85, Richard F. Williamson '85, and Adriana L. Holguin '99 .

Slocum developed a web-based forum called the Urban Design Corps to teach and display concepts in urban design. Williamson teaches at an elementary school for children who were expelled from the Boston Public School System.

The group of MLK Visiting professors including Dr. Lloyd Demetrius from Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Dr. Lynda Jordan from Chemistry, Dr. Pamela McCauley-Bell from Aeronautics and Astronautics, Dr. Starling Hunter from the Sloan School of Management, and Dr. Arnold Stancell from Chemical Engineering were also recognized at the breakfast.

"We have slipped in some of the categories of minorities at MIT over the last 10 to 15 years. The MLK Visiting Professor program is only one mechanism to create the presence of minority faculty on this campus," said associate dean and head of the Office of Minority Education Leo Osgood, who co-chaired the MLK Celebration Committee with Professor of Physics Michael S. Feld.

Mfume is a distinguished leader

Raised in Baltimore, Mfume graduated from Morgan State University in 1976 and received his master's degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University.

A former U.S. congressman for Maryland, Mfume resigned from Congress in 1996 to become President and CEO of the NAACP.

In addition to leading the NAACP, Mr. Mfume currently serves on the Morgan State University Board of Regents, the Senior Advisory Committee of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Meyor-hoff National Advisory Board of the University of Maryland, and the Board of Trustees for the Enterprise Foundation.