This Monday Jan. 14, the U will host MLK Week, a celebration of the struggles and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. The remembrance week, which was organized by the Office for Equity and Diversity, will take place over a span of eight days and will consist of a range of events — including a performative art piece, a rally and a panel discussion.
The celebration will also include a keynote speech by esteemed Atlantic writer and social justice advocate Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates, an award-winning journalist and author, is a leading critic on societal issues that affect the African American community and marginalized populations — including mass incarceration, police brutality and systemic racism.
“All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy,” Coates writes in his book Between the World and Me, “And they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.”
The politically and socially charged writing of Mr. Coates’ coincides with the message of the U’s celebration, according to Neelam Chand, chair of MLK Week at the U. The theme this year is “We Live It. We Breath It.,” a reference to what Chand and the Marketing Director for the Office of Equity and Diversity describe as a pervasive and systemic racism that spreads through society, oftentimes invisibly.
“He addresses a lot of issues around race, and a lot of our MLK events are revolved around issues of race in America,” Chand says. “We thought it would resonate with a lot of the younger students.”
There will be no set topic or outline for Coates’ speech, another aspect that Chand thinks will appeal to students. “It’s very organic; it isn’t a pre-written speech.” Chand says. “He usually gets up there and talks about what he feels at the moment.”
Tickets for the keynote, which is happening on Wednesday Jan. 18 at 12 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall, sold out within four hours of becoming available, according to Chand. For those unable to get tickets, the speech will be live-streamed online. Additionally, organized viewing sessions are scheduled to be held at Edgar J. Thompson Chamber Music Hall, DGH, and in the Union building.
The week will kick off on Jan. 14 with a performance from artist and musician Taylor Mac, who will be performing at Kingsbury Hall at 7:30p.m. Mac, a New York-based artist, will be performing an excerpt from their 24-hour project A 24 Decade History of Popular Music. The performance, in line with themes of the U’s MLK week, will focus around the Civil Rights Movement and the struggles of black activists and allies. Tickets for the show are still available.
A rally against systemic racism is scheduled to take place on Jan. 16 at 2:30p.m. The march will begin at East High School and end at Kingsbury Hall. Previous marches, Chand says, have been well attended by diverse crowds of people.
“The march is comprised of community members, students, faculty, staff, community leaders, businesses and organizations.” Chand says. “It’s a whole group of people.”
Previous marches, Chand reported, have drawn around 400 people. “It’s one of the largest demonstrations in Utah,” Chand says.
The march will conclude with a talk from ASUU Student Body President Jack Bender, who is expected to discuss the importance of student involvement and activism in the community.
On Thursday Jan. 19, the Hinckley Institute of Politics will be hosting a “Pizza and Politics” discussion on institutional racism and its impact on the community. The panel will focus on ways students and community members can combat racism. The discussion will consist of four panelists: Alexis Baker – Undergraduate students and Black Student Union President; Erika George – College of Law professor; Maria Ledesma – College of Education assistant professor; and Kilo Zamora – Chair for the Salt Lake City Humans Rights Commission. The discussion will be moderated by Fraci Taylor, Director of the American Indian Resource Center.
The final MLK Week event will take be a day of service on Saturday Jan. 21. Through the Bennion Center, students can volunteer with a Utah nonprofit for the day. Students can work with the First Step House, Utah Food Bank, Service Corner, Maliheh Free Clinic and the Utah AIDS Foundation, among others.
Ultimately, the U’s MLK Week will be a celebration of struggle, diversity and representation. Diversity is a high priority for the U, Chand says. The fight is not over, she adds, and there are improvements to be made at the U and nationwide. “I don’t think the work is ever done.”