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January 18, 2021

When Martin Luther King Jr. accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, he did so with “an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.”

Within four years, the civil rights icon would be assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony by a man bent on hatred and division.

More than a half-century later, our nation celebrates Dr. King’s legacy while confronting a social justice reawakening and a violent attack on our Capitol and our democratic ideals. America continues to wrestle with hatred and division, and we are reminded of just how far we must travel to achieve that which we espouse: an indivisible nation of liberty and justice for all.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides us a time for introspection and service.

Thankfully, education — and more importantly, access to education — remain the greatest weapons in our fight for truth, justice, and equality.

As a small-town Michigan boy and first-generation college student, I was fortunate to experience socioeconomically diverse roommates and immersive cross-cultural experiences throughout my formative learning. Both helped shape my understanding of the commonality of humanity. Both were available to me because of higher education.

Community colleges, with their proud history of serving underrepresented populations, are democratic institutions with a critical role to play. We are accessible, and we value diversity, equity, and inclusion. Students must continue to find within our walls a place for the civil exchange of ideas, dialogue, and differing opinions. Such respectful discourse occurs daily on our campus, and with particular reverence on January 18. We will continue these sensitive yet critical conversations without fear, because we believe our shared values and aspirations are stronger than what divides us.

The words of another civil rights leader, the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, ring with particular poignancy: “We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.”

We must ask ourselves how our nation’s next chapter ought read, and then we must write it. Let us first channel Dr. King’s abiding faith in America. Now let’s get to work.

Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – 1963 March on Washington