In February 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent three days at Caltech as part of the Leaders of America Series coordinated by the Caltech Y, known then as the Caltech YMCA. During his visit to Caltech, Dr. King talked with students and the campus community about the need for active commitment rather than mere academic acceptance to solve the racial problems of the day.
2018 marked the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s visit to Caltech as well as the 50th anniversary of his death. Once again, the Caltech Y partnered with the Caltech Center for Diversity to commemorate and honor Dr. King’s memory, reflect on his legacy, and consider how we, as a community, can remain active and engaged citizens striving for a better world.
The highlight of the week’s events was a keynote talk by Professor Melina Abdullah, Chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Professor Abdullah was among the original group of organizers who convened to form Black Lives Matter, and she continues to serve as the Los Angeles chapter lead.
Professor Abdullah spoke to an audience of nearly 150 Caltech community members. In her talk, entitled “#ReclaimingKing: Radical Social Justice as a Remedy to Neo-Fascism,” Professor Abdullah talked of a more radical King who encouraged us to be visionary and to work courageously. She reminded the audience that Dr. King was part of a larger movement and encouraged everyone to come together and summon our own power to collectively fight systemic racism and classism. According to Professor Abdullah, transformation comes through direct actions, and we must be emboldened to use our voices, bodies, and resources to “get up and get out” in order to enact positive change.
Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles. Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
For more on Dr. King’s visit to Caltech in 1958 see http://www.caltech.edu/news/caltech-observes-60thanniversary-martin-luther-king-jrs-visit-81452