Merced County Times Newspaper
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Black History Month reminds us to care for each other

Chris Vitelli, Merced College President
By Chris Vitelli,
Merced College President

When I am fortunate enough to travel to Washington, D.C., I always try to find time visit the many monuments and memorials in and around the capitol. It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe, and feelings of liberty and thankfulness, and a powerful respect and appreciation for the visionary and courageous leaders and trailblazers in our country’s storied and often complicated past.

To me, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial evokes all of these emotions and so much more. The inscriptions throughout the memorial are some of Dr. King’s most famous spoken words — many of which helped forever change our country, all of them addressing and reaffirming values that truly belong to all of us as Americans. Values like freedom, peace, dignity, equality and justice, among others:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Black History Month, which we recognize each February, is both a celebration of the leaders whose words and actions have guided us through difficult moments in our nation’s past, but also a reminder of our ongoing commitment to creating a better and more just society for all, right here and now.

We are the “Merced College Family,” and when members of our family or our community are treated with injustice, we are all treated unjustly. It is incumbent upon each of us to stand in unity, in solidarity, and in support of each other—particularly our students, colleagues and community members of color.

Likewise, when members of our family are struggling or are in need of help, we step up and care for each other. This spirit of family and community was on full display last week, when our college partnered with Merced County, Dignity Health-Mercy Medical Center, University of California Health, UC Merced and the City of Merced to offer COVID-19 vaccine clinics on our campus.

Merced College is proud to be part of this collaboration, and I was especially proud of how our campus responded. This was a rapidly evolving situation involving many different elements, and when all the details finally came together, we had only a couple of business days to find and train enough staff members to help run multiple days of clinics. As always, our people pulled together to make it happen—within two hours, more than 50 Merced College staff members had signed up to help.

While Merced College was a logical spot for the vaccine clinics due to our location in town, we also were able to provide several nursing students to help administer the vaccines. This was an important piece of this effort that would have been much more difficult without Merced College’s presence.

And we simply can’t say enough about our partner organizations, all of whom played critical roles that will help us serve and protect our community. For example, my friend and colleague Juan Sánchez Muñoz, UC Merced’s new chancellor, got the ball rolling by securing nearly 1,000 vaccines from the UC Health system for our community. Our people and our institutions did their part, and our community is one step closer to beating this pandemic and reopening our schools and businesses.

As an institution, Merced College will continue to address diversity, equity and inclusion in formal ways through strategic planning, while also continuing to elevate these important conversations, advocate for change, and build a more inclusive and tolerant culture. But at the core of any significant organizational or societal change is a commitment by each individual to elicit and enact change—to be empathetic, and to bring a spirit of generosity and gratitude to everything we do. As recent efforts have proven, we have no shortage of this spirit on our campus and in our community.

This month, as we celebrate the heroes who have worked and struggled to make our nation a better place, we also recommit to creating a culture of support and solidarity at Merced College, to being better partners in our region, and to building a stronger community in any way we can. We will take care of each other and work toward a brighter future, together.

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