Selected Speeches

Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Awards

Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Awards
Feb. 1, 2018

Good afternoon, everyone. I thought it fitting that Dr. King open our program by reminding us of the rights conferred on us as Americans. I thought it fitting that we celebrate the ideals toward which this country still strives, because that’s where we’ll find the American greatness so many seem to be looking for.

I’m delighted to welcome you to our celebration of Black History Month and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This day is an affirmation—an affirmation that there is strength in our diversity, courage in our compassion, and leadership in our service.

We still have work to do, of course—hard work. As a University, as a state, as a nation: WE ARE NOT DONE. But who better to take up the causes for which Dr. King fought and died 50 years ago? Who better to make real the words that guided his life and his work? Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. I thank all of you for being the light and the love we need so urgently in our city—and in our country.

It’s time to announce our 2018 Diversity Award recipients—faculty, staff, and students who are sustaining Dr. King’s work of building a free and just society.

Faculty Award

Our first award—the faculty award—goes to Dr. Bret Hassel, associate professor of microbiology & immunology in our School of Medicine. Dr. Hassel has demonstrated throughout his career a singular dedication to increasing the diversity of students pursuing biomedical and scientific careers.

The School of Medicine is a leader in its work to diversify this nation’s pipeline of physicians and scientists. In fact, there are 16 programs within the school dedicated to increasing the diversity of its own applicant pool—and helping other universities do the same. In more than half of those programs, you can draw a straight line to Dr. Hassel—either as the program leader or as a vital contributor.

He co-leads a program with Towson University to prepare under-represented students to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in science. He works intentionally to boost minority student  representation in his own microbiology program.

Dr. Hassel’s vision and leadership are invaluable—and I do mean that literally—to our UMB CURE Scholars Program, our middle school program designed to prepare city students for health sciences careers. He led our effort to win a 5-year award from the National Institutes of Health in support of the CURE Program. He’s mentored the program’s staff and built capacity to sustain growth.

There are simply too many examples to mention them all. But in one of the nominations for Dr. Hassel, I saw this sentiment, which I think is just as powerful as any list: Bret Hassel doesn’t treat student diversity as a dream. He finds the funds, convenes the teams, and builds the structures that make it real. And I’m pretty sure we can’t ask for anything more than that.

I’m honored to present Dr. Bret Hassel the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Diversity Award.

Student Award

Our next award goes to Tiffany Otto, a fourth-year student in our School of Dentistry. Ms. Otto has organized several efforts inviting students and others to reflect on what we mean by “equality”—and what we’ll do to achieve it.

She’s organized forums where students gather to discuss local and national events that have galvanized—and polarized—people: the rampant shooting deaths nationally of unarmed black men and the consequent social unrest here in Baltimore and across the country.

She hosted a Post-Freddie Gray gathering—a safe space where minority students could freely express their feelings of sadness, trauma, frustration, and anger, where they could share their experiences and their coping strategies. Non-minority students, meanwhile, were invited to listen—and to better understand the multitude of emotions running high.

Ms. Otto’s goal, always, is to promote healing among students—across schools and disciplines—and to map a productive way forward.

Ms. Otto has used her high-profile leadership positions in several local and national student organizations to develop dozens of community service initiatives, to conceive and create a program that mentors city high school students pursuing dental assistant careers, and to host events that cultivate and engage Maryland’s minority student community. It’s no accident that under her leadership, Maryland’s chapter of the Student National Dental Association won the Chapter of the Year Award—two years in a row.

Everything Ms. Otto does—her service, scholarship, advocacy, and engagement—she does as a full-time job, and I hope very soon she gets a bit of a break. It’s my honor to present Ms. Tiffany Otto the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Diversity Award.

Staff Award

Our final award, the staff award, goes to the UMB CURE Scholars Program and the people who run it with such deep dedication—executive director Robin Saunders, assistant director Lauren Kareem, and program coordinator Borndavid McCraw.

I think most of you know that the CURE Scholars program is VERY close to my heart. It’s the first NCI CURE Program that begins in 6th grade. It’s designed to strengthen the pipeline that leads children from three Baltimore City middle schools into rewarding STEM and health care careers. The scholars come to UMB several times a week—year round—for tutoring, mentoring, and science and social activities.

And what’s especially amazing to me is their sheer persistence. Despite the significant time and effort demanded by the program, 8 in 10 scholars from our very first class—inducted more than three years ago—are still with us. Our attendance rate for twice-weekly afterschool activities is 93 percent. That persistence has paid off: Across all three city schools, we’ve seen significant gains in the scholars’ reading and math achievement. The 8th graders are now preparing to enroll in some of our city’s best science and STEM high schools.

Every school at UMB has become an integral part of this program—offering hands-on activities and tutoring, developing curricula, and hosting workshops. And on top of all that, more than 200 mentors—UMB students, faculty, staff, and friends—give their time and their love to these scholars each week.

And so I think this award is shared by many—including the Dream Team that steers and runs the program. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the tremendously hard work and long hours put in by the program’s core staff, who built UMB CURE Scholars from nothing, and have put their everything into making it the phenomenal success that it is.

It’s an honor to present the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Diversity Award to the UMB CURE Scholars Program.

Dr. King famously said that Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. So I thank all of you for engaging in the struggle—for lending your courage and your compassion to the unfinished business of equality, humanity, and justice for all.


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