46th Annual MLK Celebration Lunch

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I want to express my admiration for the courage and dedication of our student speakers.

Kelvin and Candace, your creativity, your persistence and your leadership make us all very proud.

(And Kelvin: Once you finish the crucial work you are doing to help the nation, please come back! MIT needs you too!)


In a moment, I will introduce our keynote speaker.

But before we hear his remarkable story, I would like to offer one observation…and then share a piece of exciting news.

Candace spoke about “courageous labor,” the selfless, unseen work that so many students do to support one another, and to try to build a better MIT.

In the midst of such labor, it can be hard to see or appreciate how much progress you are creating.

So I simply want to say – to Candace, to Kelvin, and to everyone here: Thank you for all you do – and please know that you are making a lasting difference!

Many of the best ideas we have acted on in the past few years have been inspired by our students.

Things like building diversity training into first-year orientation. Recruiting and hiring a growing team of mental health counselors with expertise in race-based trauma. Having the members of every academic department create a statement of shared values. And improving our student surveys to better reflect the way individuals from underrepresented groups experience MIT.

Students advocated for all of these ideas. And the process continues: As we announced a few weeks ago, each of MIT’s five schools and the College of Computing will now appoint senior staff specifically to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and community efforts.

Students strongly urged us to take that step too.

Is every problem solved? Obviously not. But I hope we can all take hope and inspiration from all the change we have made – and can make – together.

*          *          *

Now, I promised some news, so let me share a development I believe will be extremely positive for our community.

After a nationwide search, we have found an outstanding candidate to serve as MIT’s next Institute Community and Equity Officer, and he will start with us on March 15th.

His name is John Dozier, and he comes to us from the University of South Carolina, where he currently serves as their chief diversity officer and senior associate provost for inclusion.

John created that role at the university, and he built broad support for a strategic plan to guide and align USC’s many diversity, inclusion and community-building efforts.

This foundation of trust and mutual commitment enabled the university community to address a range of challenges, including coming to terms with the history of enslaved people on their campus.

At MIT, the ICEO needs to be at least four things at once:

  • A thought leader on the subjects of community, equity, inclusion, and diversity,
  • A focal point for organizing MIT's related activities and conversations,
  • A hands-on “do-er” who disseminates best practices, and who inspires the awareness and positive energy to help them flourish,
  • And an active partner and convener for the many people throughout our community deeply engaged in this work – including many of you.

John brings to this role an outstanding record of leadership…great personal warmth…and a sense of curiosity, energy and experimentation that feel “very MIT.”

Among his previous jobs, he served as president of a 7,000-student community college in Chicago – so he knows a great deal about creating change in a complex organization!

In the letter and MIT News story that come out later this afternoon, you can read more about John’s background.

But I want to call attention to one image that captures, in a beautiful way, the amount of change possible in a lifetime:

John is originally from Columbia, South Carolina, and, for six generations, his family has owned a house right near the University of South Carolina. Needless to say, for a long time, the university was entirely white. As John tells the story, when his grandmother was a teenager, she attended a school on the far side of the university. But as an African-American high school girl, she had to walk around the campus, never through it, simply to avoid the threat of racial insults and violence.

So we can only imagine how it felt for her, six years ago, when she learned that her grandson would become the university’s Chief Diversity Officer.

*          *          *

To succeed in our mission at MIT, we urgently need to make our community work for everyone.

I hope you share my optimism and excitement about what we can achieve with John’s collaborative leadership. I look forward to working closely with him, and with all of you, as we strive to create a community we can all take pleasure and pride in being part of.

And I know we will give John and his family a very warm welcome when they get here!

For bringing us this wonderful new talent, please join me in thanking all the members of the search committee, and especially the cochairs, Associate Provost Tim Jamison and former Interim ICEO Alyce Johnson.

Thank you all so much!

*          *          *

And now it is my pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker – an individual who has suffered crushing injustice, and yet has found the courage to speak out for systemic change.

In 1989, when he and four others were falsely accused of a brutal attack and rape in New York’s Central Park, Kevin Richardson was just 14 years old.

The case attracted intense media attention, and the boys became known as the “Central Park Five.”

Burdened with a 5-to-10 year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit, Kevin served five and half years, until he was released on probation.

Much later, after a 12-year court battle that ended in 2014, all the of the Central Park Five convictions were overturned – and they became the “Exonerated Five.”

Kevin Richardson lost his freedom, and much of his childhood.

But he has transformed this terrible injustice into a relentless commitment to drive positive change: to promote DNA evidence as a way to help people trapped by wrongful convictions, and to reform our criminal justice system, for the good of all.

Please join me in offering a warm welcome to  Kevin D. Richardson.