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The Arlington MLK Celebration Advancing the Dream Awards Banquet

January 17, 2020

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen.  It is my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the faculty, staff and students at the University of Texas at Arlington to the Annual Arlington Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. 

In 1963, Reverend King spelled out his vision for America when he said:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged on the color of the skin, but by the content of their character.”

That statement, however could just as easily have been made about educational opportunity in 1963 and unfortunately in a number of places – even today.

None of us here tonight can outshine the eloquence and oratory of Doctor King.  But, as individuals and as a community, we must ask ourselves what our role is in carrying his legacy forward and putting it into action. We must ask ourselves: What can I do to advance the dream?

At the University of Texas at Arlington, we don’t just reflect on this question for a few days in January; this question permeates all our work. As an institute of higher education, we take seriously the responsibility to ensure access and opportunity to people of all colors, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. We know that through education we provide the pathway to social and economic mobility for so many. We cannot let them down. We must be cognizant of how we measure potential, how we offer support, and how we guide and direct our students within one of the most diverse universities in the country.  Diversity is redefining society – and redefining education. At UTA, we embrace our diversity as a sign of our strength.  We celebrate our diversity.

Just last month, UTA was recognized for graduating more African American students at the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree levels than any other university in the state of Texas and is now ranked among the top 15 in the nation. Since the 2012-13 academic year, we’ve increased the number of African American Bachelor’s graduates by nearly 33 percent, and Masters graduates by over 60%.

We’re very proud of those numbers.  But in striving to live the dream Doctor King envisioned for us, we don’t just measure our progress in numbers.  On the UTA campus, students of all genders, ethnicities, and religious beliefs share the same dorms, they walk on the same sidewalk to class, they eat in the same cafeteria, they go to the same basketball games, and they share the same Maverick experience. These shared experiences blur and destroy dividing lines and ensure that our students become members of a single community, where they are not judged on the color of their skin – but as Doctor King envisioned – by the content of their character.

At the University of Texas at Arlington, we can and will continue to break down barriers that divide us and live up to the vision embodied in Doctor King’s immortal words. For Dr. King’s dream to not just continue, but to be realized, UTA, and others like us, must be at the forefront to close gaps, and create meaningful and lasting learning and social environments that exist without demographic divides.  To see this change continue, we must not be afraid to acknowledge existing inequities. Ignoring reality will not lead to success. We must recognize where we need to improve, face the reality that there are areas where we fall short, and then strategically implement plans to address these issues.

Change can be hard. I recognize that there are times when we may be driven to despair by the climate of unfairness and blind hatred, of the lack of understanding and the increasing rhetoric of intolerance and prejudice, of actions borne of racial discrimination and injustice.  It is at these darkest of moments that we must remember the inspiring words of Dr. King:

“When evil men plot, good men must plan

When evil men burn, good men must build and bind

When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

So, I ask each of you today, to join with me, to join as a community to work together, recognizing that the violence, injustice and hate do not represent solutions and that mutual respect and love are the only way forward to a better tomorrow, towards a nation that truly represents freedom, opportunity, and justice. 

Thank you for being here.  Your presence indicates that you are committed to advancing the dream, making it a reality for all people, wherever they come from, and wherever they might be at this point in time - and that is a strong message of hope and faith.  Thank you again.