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CHANCELL-ING: Pivoting Toward Hope in 2021

By Chancellor Gary S. May on January 1, 2021 in University

It’s never felt better to say, “Happy New Year!” I know we’re all ready to leave 2020 far behind, a year that turned our communities and our lives upside-down. From the COVID-19 pandemic, to devastating wildfires and social unrest, it’s been a lot to endure.

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Thankfully, we’re seeing rays of hope that better days are ahead. The first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived at UC Davis Health and in the county last month, and thousands of people on the front lines were vaccinated first. In the coming months, as the vaccine continues to reach more and more people, I’m confident we’ll begin to regain opportunities to connect in person, something we’ve craved for so long.

Of course, we’ve had to deal with many distressing days for the better part of the year. Through those times, I’ve thought of people who inspired us to rise against hardships and come together as a community. One of the people I admire most, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was an optimist and a realist. He still motivates us to make our world a better place each day. Whether we’re living through a pandemic or not, his life gives us timeless lessons in faith and strength.

MLK Day: Jan. 18

We’ll celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, a time to reflect on his legacy and spirit of public service. In previous years, celebrations and commemorations have been a key part of remembering Dr. King’s dedication to racial and social justice. This year will be different as we practice social distancing and many events move online, but each of us can pay tribute by participating in some form of public service. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is “a day on, not a day off.”

Here in our community, the Yolo Food Bank and the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center need donations and volunteers. Davis Community Meals and Housing needs extra hands to feed the homeless and distribute supplies. Local organizations need help with youth programs and cleaning parks and nature areas. No matter what you choose to do on this national day of service, you can make a positive contribution toward building resilient, caring communities that Dr. King so eloquently encouraged us to do.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also an opportunity to reflect on social justice and think about how we can regain harmony in these deeply divisive times. At UC Davis, we strive to embody the key principles that Dr. King stood for. As he once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. … Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Our School of Law, King Hall, was named in honor of him and his pursuit of justice. A statue of Dr. King stands inside for all to see and be mindful of his socially responsible message.

Recommit to a better world

Dr. King’s influence can be felt in UC Davis’ Principles of Community, which value diversity, inclusion, mutual respect and equal opportunity to keep our campus community strong. During these often tense and polarized times, we embrace these ideals and strive to demonstrate them in our everyday lives.

Dr. King instructs us to build a better, more equitable world. We know the journey won’t be easy, but if we recommit ourselves to helping those in need and speaking out against injustice, we are moving forward.

So let’s continue to show kindness and compassion. Let’s contribute to the well-being of our community. Let’s create a world where everyone feels included, seen and heard.

Better days are ahead. We’re all in this, together.

Chancellor Gary S. May’s monthly column appears first in The Davis Enterprise and then in Dateline UC Davis.

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