U’s MLK Day Celebrations Honor Dr. King’s Legacy and Continue to Look Ahead


University of Utah MLK Week celebrations on Jan. 16, 2023 | Photo by Patrick Hardwig from Hardwig Media)

By Caelan Roberts, Online Managing Editor


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a sermon given at a church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957. Those words define much of King’s ideology, and they are still echoed today as his legacy is remembered every January on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

As the University of Utah joined the rest of the country in honoring King on Jan. 16, the theme of their festivities also revolved around that quote. 

Building on last year’s theme, ‘Becoming the Beloved Community’, this year’s theme, ‘Choose Love Over Hate’, was selected to continue the legacy of Dr. King’s non-violence principles,” said Pamela Bishop, director of marketing and communications for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and chair of the MLK Week Planning Committee, in an email interview.

“King understood his notion of love would seem contradictory to many readers—especially those seeing images of peaceful protesters in Alabama attacked by police dogs and battered by water cannons.” Still, she said, King insisted on the importance of choosing love over hate, and that is why it became the theme for the U’s celebrations. 

The event on MLK Day included a rally at East High School and then a march to Kingsbury Hall. Bishop said the goal of this event was to “bring the community together to remind everyone of the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement and to highlight the work still remaining ahead of us.”

There were several speakers at the rally, including ASUU President Taylor VanderToolen, U President Taylor Randall, Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Mary Ann Villarreal and Rev. Oscar T. Moses, of Calvary Baptist Church and board member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

Moses began by speaking of the work that King did in his lifetime 

“Dr. King was the catalyst of the civil rights movement that helped pilot the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” he said. “He gave voice to the disenfranchised, to the marginalized people in the world that were still and are holding on to the hope of a truly United States of America.”

He also acknowledged that there is still work to be done in terms of achieving racial equality in America.

“We gather today to support the dream that continues,” he said, adding that congress has yet to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. “We gather today to support the dream that still continues for economic justice, ending the war against racial profiling … improving affordable housing, affordable healthcare, God help me, ridding institutional racism and many other issues that plague the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.” 

Bishop, in her interview with the Chronicle, echoed that sentiment. 

“The work of social justice is ongoing,” she said. “While some of today’s issues may be different from those in Dr. King’s era, there is much that can be learned from his example and the strides made during the Civil Rights Movement.”

This was a common theme amongst most of the speakers at the rally — while great strides to improve social justice have happened since Dr. King was alive, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Villarreal spoke specifically about choosing love over hate, and how it is an active process — a choice that has to continue to be made.

“We do not just feel love, we take everyday action towards love,” she said. “We are living in a moment when choosing love over hate seems so much more complicated and difficult, when divisions and partisanship seem more entrenched, while bonds and connections feel more strained. That is why we need you in this with us, and we need Dr. King’s message now more than ever.” 

Nubia Peña, senior advisor on equity and opportunity for the office of Gov. Spencer Cox, spoke briefly about the Utah general legislative session that began on Tuesday and emphasized the importance of community members showing up to support the change that previous speakers had referred to. 

“Tomorrow, you will have an opportunity to start to engage in a process that for 45 days, we will shape the direction of this state,” she said. “Will we include or exclude, will we amplify the voices of some, will we silence others?”

She mentioned some topics that will be up for discussion at the session, such as teen centers for homeless youths and culturally inclusive maternal outreach strategies, and then finished with a quote from King. 

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.”

Following all of the speakers, there was a brief performance by the Resistance Revival Chorus, and then the march began. The weather was rainy, but the marchers continued on to their destination.

“Ain’t no rain stopping us,” Villarreal said.

Events celebrating the work and legacy of Dr. King will continue throughout the week, culminating in the MLK Jubilee on Friday, which will honor students who fought for equality during the Civil Rights Movement, and will include food, games and music.


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