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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast 2018

January 13, 2018 at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center

(As prepared.)

Thank you, Leslyn, for your kind words, and good morning to all of you! What an honor it is for me to be here with you today, to celebrate not only the life and legacy of one of the most significant people in the history of our nation, but our commitment to continuing the important, inspiring, and difficult work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'd like to thank Leslyn and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center for inviting me to join you for breakfast, and for giving me the great honor of being the keynote speaker for this year's event. 

As many of you may know, I am relatively new to the Ithaca area. I moved here in July to begin my position as Ithaca College's ninth president, and I have been humbled and touched by the warm welcome I've received, both on campus and within our community. I have deeply enjoyed getting to know my new hometown and my new neighbors.

Over the past six months, I've had wonderful opportunities to meet with many leaders, legislators, activists, and allies who live and work in Ithaca. One of the most touching came in early November, when Leslyn and her husband, J.R., joined many others within our community for a town-gown dinner that kicked off the college's weekend-long celebration of its 125th anniversary. It was wonderful to start the weekend honoring the college's roots with those who know the institution best: our neighbors.

Ithaca College was born in this town, not too far from where we are right now. As the college grew, it expanded both geographically and philosophically, a unique evolution that wouldn't have been possible anywhere else; in any other community. This town-gown relationship is incredibly special, and has influenced the growth and health of both partners in significant ways.

As president, I believe strongly in the importance of continuing to develop our relationship, of encouraging deep and meaningful connections that recognize our tremendous collective strength, while addressing our challenges as a community honestly and directly.

This belief speaks to one of the aspects of Dr. King's legacy that resonates strongly with me. He had the incredible courage and eloquence to clearly and unflinchingly identify the problems he saw in America and in the world: Racism. Poverty. Social injustice. Exploitation. Oppression. And in doing so, in naming these ills, he simultaneously offered hope. He offered a way forward, through service, through honest dialogue, through a commitment to change, and through an understanding that—no matter our differences of thought, socioeconomic status, education, or skin color—we are all connected and in that connection lies our potential.

We have great potential to make incredible progress when we collaboratively build a world where we can engage in or respond to the things that challenge us.

And when we acknowledge the interconnectedness of our community, we must also acknowledge the interconnectedness of the systems that oppress us. Dr. King's work, and indeed the work of all of us, is to name, identify, and dismantle these systems. To expose the roots of racism, poverty, bigotry, and social injustice. We do this by finding and using our voice. We do this by cultivating strong allies and creative partnerships. We do this by nurturing our communities, our families, and our friendships. This is how we make our neighborhoods, country, and world better.

I know this work can be tiring. I know it's difficult to remain awake. But our power lies in answering that persistent question: what are you doing for others? In finding this answer, we are able to speak about our values and our experiences, we are able to identify and dismantle the networks that keep us quiet, that keep us from thriving. When we answer this question, we become a community of invested, passionate people who create a structure that serves us all.

We can do that as a nation—and we can do that here in Ithaca. I am not yet through my first year as president, but I already see the amazing and deep potential for local community partnerships and collaborations that are not only meaningful and visionary, but honor our humanity and equity, placing these values at the core of what we do. We exist in a rich educational ecosystem here, one that includes a robust community college that spans two counties, a high caliber K-12 experience, and a land-grant Ivy League institution. We have community partners who are committed to the promise of this city, this town, and this region. And we have people like you, who show up, speak out, and live an authentic, bold life. If we can't do it here, it can't be done.

I'd like to close with a quote from Dr. King's "Remaining Awake" sermon. He said "… however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom." I know that it can be difficult to keep this in mind, but that doesn't diminish the truth of this statement. We must continue to drive toward this goal, building our communities and building our strength. We must continue to use our voices to speak our minds and our truth, to offer love and compassion to one another and to the world. When we do this, we not only honor Dr. King's legacy, we breathe life into it as we work diligently toward liberation, social justice, and the fundamental right we all have to fully participate in the human experience.

Thank you so much.