Deploying Our Gifts for the Betterment of Humankind: What Would Dr. King Say about Us?
02/04/2010 7:30 AM Walker Morss HallGerry Hudson, Executive Vice President of SEIU "Service Employees International Union; Dr. Susan Hockfield, President, MITDescription: Woven into the fabric of MIT life, says Susan Hockfield, is the "perpetual striving to be ever better." To this end, Hockfield has been laboring to create a "true culture of inclusion." Hockfield now has a tool to aid her efforts: a report on MIT faculty race and diversity -- the result of 2 _ years of study. It documents the sometimes painful experience of MIT faculty members of underrepresented groups, but also provides practical steps for ameliorating the situation. Strong mentoring of junior faculty is a starting place, so new hires don't immediately begin struggling in "a sink or swim environment," which is "terribly wasteful and harmful to morale." Hockfield hopes the report will spur a more open discussion of race at MIT. Ultimately, she'd like to reinforce the idea that strengthening MIT's diversity is "pivotal to helping us magnify and deploy our shared gifts for mankind."
Gerry Hudson has long dedicated himself to the cause of organized labor, such as nursing home employees like his own mother. His vision was shaped in large part by what he calls "the real King message," exemplified in a speech given to the AFL"CIO in 1961. In this address, entitled "When the Negro Wins, Labor Wins," King made clear his battle was not merely against white supremacy and racism in America, but against poverty as well. "The achievement of civil rights," says Hudson, "was merely a means to building the right kind of movement," aimed at securing a "just society free of war and poverty."
While King implored the AFL"CIO to join with him "in creating a coalition of conscience," labor leaders of the day turned a cold shoulder. So "the Negro was asked to go off and fight Jim Crow" without labor's support, says Hudson. This marked a momentous failure for progressive politics, he believes -- an abortive attempt to ally the civil rights movement to the cause of labor and economic justice. This failure was soon followed by the rise of the Dixiecrats and George Wallace, the loss of Democrats in northern states, and ultimately "the long nightmare of American politics that has swept the country for more than 40 years."
The labor movement has also gone into decline, and "if trends continue, there will be no labor unions in 20 years in this country." Not coincidentally, wealth has become increasingly concentrated, and there is an "outrageous inequality" in society now. Hudson found solace in Barack Obama's election, and his embrace of King's message of a broad politics of hope. It was "a remarkable passing of the baton." Yet, a year after that election, Hudson still looks for the promised changes in health care, labor reform, and green jobs. He finally believes that the creation of a more just America, "in which wealth is more equitably distributed, in which every child, no matter who or where they are in this country, can flourish," will not happen unless all his listeners put their "gifts on the table."
About the Speaker(s): Gerry Hudson leads the SEIU's long"term care work division, focusing on building a voice for the union's 580,000 long term care members. He is also concerned with issues of environmental justice, particularly the disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation on low"income and minority communities. He led the first"ever U.S. labor delegation to the United Nations' climate change meeting in Bali in 2007.
Before Hudson came to SEIU in 1978, he worked at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, NY. He was elected executive vice president for District 1199 New York, and coordinated this group's incorporation into SEIU. Hudson has also served as political director of the New York State Democratic Party, and led the union's campaigns in support of Jesse Jackson's presidential efforts in New York.Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Annual Breakfast Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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