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MLK Legacy honored throughout week of full-scale community events

For four decades, the University of Utah has recognized the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with the rest of the nation around the day commemorating the civil rights icon’s birth. This year, the U marked the ruby jubilee anniversary that included numerous events making 2024 one of the greatest celebrations in the 40-year history of MLK Week at the University of Utah.

In developing a theme for the milestone commemoration, organizers harkened back to 1967 when Rev. King wrote the first draft of “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” the last book he would complete during his lifetime. In his writings, he probed the difficult period following the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act and recounted how a national backlash followed 10 years of civil rights efforts.

More than 50 years later, we are still asking the same question, where do we go from here? During this year’s MLK Week activities, the U of U is answering with an emphatic turn toward uniting community.

The week kicked off with the first-ever MLK gala, which raised thousands of dollars for the MLK Youth Leadership scholarships which are awarded in partnership with Alumni Relations to selected high school seniors to attend the U. During the evening event, several members of the MLK planning committee were honored for their long-time service and support over the years, as well as Afesa Adams and Irwin Altman – the individuals responsible for launching the annual celebration 40 years ago. Additionally, thirteen outstanding 7th-12th grade students received the MLK Youth Leadership Awards for their dedication to Dr. King’s principles through community service and leadership.

“We are proud the U has been committed to celebrating MLK Week for 40 years leading the state of Utah in recognizing the legacy and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to humanity,” said Pamela Bishop, Senior Director for Communications for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the U.

Another first for MLK Week was a partnership with KTVX Channel 4 that provided full television coverage of the march and rally on MLK Day. The station broadcast for 90 minutes beginning with the rally and speakers at East High School, followed by the march to Kingsbury Hall that included live commentary throughout as well as interviews with marchers.

“Working with the University of Utah on MLK Day and events surrounding it was wonderful.  We formed a great group of people to walk through the process three months prior to the actual day,” said KTVX News Director Nancy Bauer. “The University was open to all the ideas we had about how to cover the march, which had never been done before on television.”

“The day itself was electrifying! The energy from the speakers at the rally to the marchers on the street was high, the weather was beautiful, and we couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” she said. “We are so grateful to the University. We hope this will be the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship.”

Immediately after the MLK Rally and March, community members were able to experience the vibrant and electrifying world of Step Afrika!, the first professional dance company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping.

Other events included a keynote lecture from Ruth E. Carter, the Academy Award-winning costume designer for Marvel’s Black Panther films who spoke about storytelling through her work from Amistad, to Selma, all the way to Afrofuturism with Black Panther and Wakanda Forever, a free movie screening of the 2023 musical version of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple,” an economic plenary featuring Ashley Bell, cofounder of Redemption Bank – the first Black-owned financial institution in the Beehive State, as well as several other campus and community events.

The 40th anniversary of MLK Week at the U would not be possible without our planning committee, campus partners,  and our sponsors, the Larry H. and Gail Miller Foundation, and Stadler Rail.

“It’s our honor to collaborate with the University of Utah, an inclusive community leader, that is setting the standard for a more diverse and inclusive space,” said Lauren Barnes, President, Broadband Communications Systems at L3Harris Technologies. “We join the millions of Americans in sharing and celebrating Dr. King’s dream of unity and justice for all. We look forward to a continued partnership with the University of Utah to help develop and provide opportunities for our future generations.”