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U’s MLK Week 2024 to include 40th Anniversary gala

University of Utah MLK Week 2024 to include 40th Anniversary gala

Gala to pay tribute to Utah community and civil rights leaders 

For the past four decades, the University of Utah has paid homage to the life and legacy of America’s most prominent civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the week of this birth. And for the first time, the 2024 commemoration will commence with a formal gala that will recognize the contributions of some of the most ardent supporters and advocates of civil rights in the Beehive state’s history.

“We decided that we want to honor people who have really dedicated the last 40 years to make MLK Week successful at the U,” said Pamela Bishop, senior director for marketing and communications in the division for Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, and chair of the MLK Week 2024 planning committee. “There are several people that involved in the growth of the annual event, and we really want to recognize their efforts.”  

The event will also raise money for the U’s MLK Youth Leadership Awards scholarship program, she added. Among those to be recognized are individuals who had the vision to develop a program highlighting the significance of the work Dr. King fought for during the civil rights era.

Honorees will include Rev. France Davis, Pastor emeritus of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City and Afesa Adams, former associate vice president of Academic Affairs at the U, who launched the first MLK celebration in 1984.

“They started this work before there was an official state holiday here in Utah,” Bishop explained. Others to be recognized include Willene Davis, Frances Battle, Steven Bell, Kathleen Christie and the MLK Youth Leadership Award winners.

For Bell, associate professor of Occupational and Recreational Therapies at the University of Utah, this gala and honoree recognition will be of special meaning as he will accept a posthumous award for Afesa Adams, who was his mother. He said she would be pleased by how far her idea has come over the past 40 years, but she wouldn’t want to rest on her laurels. 

“My mother was always someone who didn’t stay on one thing very long,” Bell said. “She would say, ‘Okay, that’s done, so what’s next?’”

The theme for the event will be “Celebrating 40 Years of MLK Week: Where do we go from here?” In that vein, Bell said local and campus leaders should continue to work diligently to ensure that future generations know about and appreciate the work of people like Dr. King.

“The current generation of students and civic leaders must carry on with the progress that’s been made over the past many years,” Bell said. “There is still more work to be done.”

The gala is scheduled for 7 p.m. on January 13, 2024, at the Cleone Peterson Eccles Alumni House located at 155 Central Campus Drive on the U of U campus. More information on the gala, and how to purchase tickets, can be found on the MLK Week 40th Anniversary Gala ticketing website.