University and Charlottesville community members alike have joined together in a two-week long celebration to honor Martin Luther King Jr. through panel discussions and legacy remembrances. The University’s Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion organized the events — all of which are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted — spanning Jan. 14 to Jan. 31.
This year’s theme is “Celebrating the Dream, Continuing the Journey,” and speakers will cover race-related topics such as activism, health equity and integration. The theme was voted on by the planning committee, and through events the committee hopes to reflect forward-thinking action about the topic.
The celebration will conclude Tuesday with an online discussion about the recently unveiled King statue titled “The Embrace,” which is located in Boston Commons. Jonathan Evans, project manager for the new memorial, will join Katie Swensen, senior principal at MASS Design Group, to discuss the statue’s design process as well as its historical significance.
Meghan Faulkner, chief of staff for the Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said she was excited that the planning committee is able to welcome people to in-person events after holding events mostly virtual over the last two years.
“We hope that there is something for everyone on this year’s calendar, and that the blend of virtual and in-person events will allow many in our community — and even afar — to participate,” Faulkner said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
The first week of events consisted of a range of service projects and speakers. Meara Habashi, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, co-hosted an event Jan. 21 with Dr. Wesley Harris, class of 1964 Engineering alumnus and the Charles Stark Draper, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harris broke many barriers as a student, including becoming the first man — white or Black — to finish the University’s Engineering honors program. His discussion at the MLK event touched on themes of perseverance when connecting his experiences to Dr. King’s.
Habash said she was thrilled for Harris to be joining the celebration this year, given his unique history with King. When Harris was still a student at the University, he was responsible for inviting King to Grounds in 1963 to deliver a speech to students.
“Folks like Dr. King who made progress — even when there is so much more to be made — remind us that progress is being made and change is happening,” Habashi said in an email statement to the Cavalier Daily. “They also serve as models for patience and strength when you have lost all patience and strength. It’s a reminder that dreams are worth fighting for.”
Another event to honor Dr. King was hosted by John Charles Thomas, class of 1975 Law alumnus and Retired Virginia Supreme Court Justice, who spoke Jan. 26 about the difference between law and justice.
Goluboff said Justice Thomas was an ideal speaker because of his background in law and his status as a two-time University graduate. Thomas is notable for becoming the first Black lawyer at Hunton & Williams.
Topics of healthcare and environmental health equity were also included in the schedule of MLK celebration events. Several University doctors gathered Wednesday at the Pinn Hall conference center to discuss the connection between equity, health and environmental risks.
Fourth-year Medical student Lena Bichell was part of the group and said the event was crucial in increasing awareness of inequities in environmental health and honoring Dr. King’s legacy.
Kim Forde-Mazrui, professor of law and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Law, said that there is still work to be done to reach the King’s vision for America.
“Dr. King’s vision remains central to American identity and remains woefully unfulfilled,” Forde-Mazrui said. “Commemorating Dr. King can help to remind us of the aspirations he had and our need to continue to work for them.”