“I want to make a case for the small,” said Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, for “the things that build a life of commitment.”
Giving the keynote address for the Hutchins Center Symposium on Martin Luther King Jr. at the Harvard Kennedy School on Friday, Allen began by noting that although the Civil Rights leader “painted on a canvas that feels big,” she and many of her colleagues find themselves advocating smaller-scale activism — and worrying that they are not making a difference.
Frequently citing King’s writings, Allen noted, “Through our scientific and technical genius, we’ve made of this world a neighborhood, and yet we’ve not had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood.”
In a talk that referred frequently to colleagues, many of whom were present and who had spoken earlier at the daylong symposium, Allen shared that she was not initially a fan of “the small,” preferring instead to focus on broad issues concerning domination, attacking the social and economic implications of racial injustice head-on.
However, in response to Harvard President Drew Faust’s entreaties, she had spent much of the last two years managing a task force on University inclusion and belonging. With data revealing that the population of African-American scholars in some Harvard programs had slipped, she confessed, “There came a certain point last fall where, in all honesty, I was pretty tired” of the effort.