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a group of MLK Day Rally and March participants being filmed for tv

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 with 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 answered with an emphatic turn toward uniting community.

President Randall and Vice President Villarreal smile with MLK Week Legacy Honoree France Davis
President Randall and Vice President Villarreal smile with MLK Week Legacy Honoree France Davis at the MLK Week 40th Anniversary Gala.

The week kicked off with the MLK 40th Anniversary Gala, which raised $20,000 for the MLK Youth Leadership Awards’ scholarships which are awarded in partnership with the Office of 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, 13 outstanding 7th-12th grade students received the MLK Youth Leadership Awards for their dedication to Dr. King’s principles through community service and leadership. KUTV news anchor, Jamie McGriff was the MC for the celebration.

“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 of marketing and communications for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the U and chair of the MLK Week planning committee.

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 and interviews with marchers.

a group of marchers smiling in front of Kingsbury Hall
MLK Day Rally and March participants smile in front of Kingsbury Hall at the end of their march.

“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 Day 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.

Ruth E. Carter presents the research and inspiration behind her Black Panther designs
Keynote Ruth E. Carter presents the inspiration and research behind her designs for “Black Panther.”

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 Family Foundation, L3Harris Technologies, Stadler, and MARTA.

“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,” 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.”

Footage from MLK Week 2024 can be viewed on Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion’s Instagram and YouTube.