UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 speech challenging people throughout the nation to take up the cause of racial equality.
When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a crowd of thousands at UCLA on April 27, 1965, he came not to share soothing words, but to issue a moral challenge. He reminded our campus that “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals.” He insisted that “the time is always ripe to do right.”
In the days leading up to this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I’ve been thinking a lot about these words. Today is undoubtedly a time to reflect on the life and work of one of our nation’s heroes and great moral leaders. It is also a time for us — as a society and as individuals — to do a moral accounting, to measure the distance between what we believe and what we do.
The events of the past year make clear that there remains much work ahead of us if we are to transform this country into one that is truly just and equitable. UCLA scholarship plays an important role in the effort, contributing solutions to issues like inequities in our healthcare systems, unequal access to educational opportunities, climate change and poverty. But responding to society’s great challenges also requires personal commitment, vigilance and persistence.
When he spoke at UCLA, King called specifically for people throughout the nation to take up the cause of racial equality — and if we were tempted to think this was someone else’s challenge, he said simply that “no community can boast of clean hands.” We all have the responsibility to confront the burdens of discrimination and injustice.
I take that admonition seriously. On our campus, we have taken important steps to build a more equitable future, such as launching initiatives to promote racial equity and better support for Black Bruins as well as committing to becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025. Still, our whole community must do more to ensure that every member enjoys the dignity and respect to which we are all entitled.
I hope you will take time today — and every day — to reflect on the values you hold most deeply and what you can do to create a better world. As King reminded us more than a half a century ago: The time is always ripe to do right.