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Observing MLK Day

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University of Denver

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Dear DU Community,  

As we prepare to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—on Monday, January 18—we are reminded of his many teachings on justice, struggle, love and non-violent resistance. A pastor, a scholar, a civil rights activist and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King has long been at the moral center of America’s arduous progression toward a racially just society.  

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday in honor of the person he was and for showing America a pathway to make peace with our painful history.

In Dr. King, the Black resistance movement found a champion with the revolutionary vision, the political savvy and the oratory ability to spark our imagination and capture the nation’s conscience. Though he was not the first to advocate for racial equality, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Dr. King and many of his allies incorporated within America’s governance framework the enduring ideal that all people are equal and thus deserve to be treated as such.  

Our country, and indeed the world, is a better place because of Dr. King’s work and the work of many civil rights activists before and after him. As one measure of this influence, on January 20, Vice President Elect Kamala Harris will become the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Indian descent to serve as vice president of the United States. By opening up our world to the excellence of Black thought and contributions in science, arts, culture and industry, the sacrifice of Dr. King and all civil rights activists have profoundly changed our everyday life.

Yet, despite Dr. King’s impact in the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, our nation’s struggle with the effects of slavery and injustice is both historical and contemporary. More than a half century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the oppression and disenfranchisement of Black people continues in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Speaking to a crowd of 5,000 at the University of Denver’s Field House in 1967, Dr. King said, “I am in the heart-changing business. But if morality can’t be legislated, behavior can be regulated.” This signaled what was true then and still is true today: the pathway to a more racially just society goes through the hearts and minds of individuals and the laws and regulations of our institutions. Even as we do the necessary work of transforming ourselves and our institutions, we are guided by Dr. King’s words and the understanding that the hard work of ensuring and protecting racial equity never ends.  

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated as a day of service and reflections on injustice—a way of continuing the work necessary to realize Dr. King’s dream for our nation. At DU, we are dedicated to serving the public good. On Monday, January 18, as we respectfully observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day by closing the University, we should remember that the public we are called on to serve is one that honors all human experiences as integral and valuable. For information on Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities on our campus and in the community—including an important virtual panel discussion at 11 a.m. today, January 14, about The Black Liberation Movement: Letters from a Birmingham Jail to Black Lives Matter—please visit DU’s Heritage Months website. That vibrant site is a partnership between Human Resources & Inclusive Community (HRIC), the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), the Cultural Center and the Staff of Color Association (SOCA). The work of these groups shows our collective commitment to celebrating the identities and histories of members of the DU and world communities.

We also hope you’ll join us in our continued quest to learn and grow—as individuals and as an institution—during DU’s 2021 Diversity Summit, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Virtual events will take place throughout the winter quarter and are listed here. We hope to see you there.

In solidarity,

Jeremy Haefner

Mary Clark
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Tom Romero
Interim Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Jerron Lowe
Interim Vice Chancellor of Human Resources

Todd Adams
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs