This podcast was edited by the team at The Scope Radio — an online production of University of Utah Health. A recording of the kick-off live stream can be viewed on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s YouTube channel. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion thanks everyone involved in making our 2021 MLK Week Virtual Kick-off a success!
Scot Singpiel: Welcome, and thank you for joining us for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Week Virtual Kick-Off! This year, the University of Utah focuses on the theme, “Good Trouble” — honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by paying homage to the late Representative John Lewis.
John Lewis was one of the last surviving members of Dr. King’s inner circle and a Civil Rights Movement icon. The son of sharecroppers, Lewis was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest person to speak at the March on Washington in 1963, and went on to become a U.S. congressman in the state of Georgia. Lewis believed that young people must be the change they want to see by pushing and forcing older generations for equitable change. He called it: good trouble.
John Lewis: As a young child, I tasted the bitter fruits of segregation and racism, and I didn’t like it. I asked my mother, asked my father, my grandparents, and my great grandparents, ‘Why segregation? Why racial discrimination?’ And they would say, ‘That’s the way it is. Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me and a thousand other Americans to get in the way. He inspired us to get into good trouble. It was necessary trouble, and that’s why we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. today.
Student 1: Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible, spoken person and the leader in the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until 1968.
Student 2: Good Trouble means to walk in protest instead of choosing violence.
Student 3: Good Trouble means to fix ways, how to be better, and how to be mixed with White and Black.
Student 4: Dr. King helps people.
Student 5: Good Trouble helps a bunch of people.
Student 6: To me good protesting is being good at protesting, so people can protest beautifully and carefully. People are still fighting for their community. And there was this day when White people had to sit in the front, and Black people had to sit in the back. And this woman stood up and sat in the front instead.
Principal Sjostrom: Hello, I’m Principal Sjostrom, principal of Mary W. Jackson [Elementary]. Just wanted to say a few words about my outstanding students. They are so loving, caring, compassionate, and kind, and now more than ever it is essential that we have people like this in the world. I recognize we’ve had a lot of conflict and a lot of trials and tribulations with COVID-19, and my students are doing whatever they can to stay connected to the school and to feel safe. I know it’s their hope that the world feels safe. They have huge hearts. They’re so loving. I know they’ll make a huge difference in the world.
Ruth Watkins: I’m Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah, and I had the pleasure of meeting John Lewis a few years ago when he was here, I believe, in relation to a MUSE event. Remarkable person; resilient, strong, gracious, focused visionary. And I think “good trouble” means persistence and resilience when you see change is needed. You are committed to seeing change through. You are willing to stand up, step up, speak up for that change, and be a difference-maker. I think “good trouble” means insisting that you have the opportunity to be part of a dialogue — to be in the room where it happens — and to influence change for a better, more just, and more equitable world.
Sandra Hollins: I’m Utah State Representative Sandra Hollins, and I represent District 23. A few years ago, I had the honor and the pleasure of meeting Mr. John Lewis. And in that conversation that I had with him — explaining to him some of the things I was working on — he said to me, “sounds like you’re getting into some good trouble.”
For me, good trouble means strategically working to dismantle systems, whether that’s nationally or locally, that have been set in place that disenfranchises marginalized communities. For each of us, we need to become involved. We need to become civically engaged. Only you can choose how to do that, whether that’s through being an informed voter, for some of you that may mean organizing, for some of you that may mean peaceful protests, and for some people that may mean getting involved in policy change. However you choose to get involved, I encourage you to get involved. Standing on the sideline is no longer an option for us.
So today, in order to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am committed to getting into some good trouble.
Scot Singpiel: Here’s South Salt Lake City’s Council Member Natalie Pinkney, and what “good trouble” means to her:
Natalie Pinkney: Good trouble is standing up against any institution that threatens or violates human rights. It doesn’t matter how large the institution may be or how small we may perceive ourselves. It doesn’t matter, because it takes all of us working together understanding that with bravery we have the power to yield change.
To fight for those in the margins, when we aren’t afraid of the consequences of standing up for others, that’s when the largest changes happen. It doesn’t matter what happens to our reputation, what our friends may stay, or what our family may think, because when we’re fighting for people who need us — the losses that may come with that — are important.
Because every day in this country, there are people who are told that they are illegal, inferior, and that their lives don’t matter. Good trouble understands that unless everyone is liberated, no one is. And now more than ever, we need good trouble. Now more than ever, we need to understand that our actions, words, and behaviors as individuals and as a collective matter.
Because what we decide today, what we decide that it’s important, doesn’t just impact us for generations to come, but has a real-life, real-time impact on our neighbors today — our neighbors that are both sheltered and unsheltered. There are people who need us the most.
So we need to make a decision today if we’re ready to cause some trouble. I know I am. Who’s with me?
John Lewis: On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.
Scot Singpiel: Utah Governor Spencer Cox.
Spencer Cox: Hi, friends. I’m honored to join you today as we remember the legacy of two distinguished civil rights icons: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. Both were dynamic social activists known for their eloquence, passion, and power. Both understood the value of non-violent resistance, and they both defined what good trouble looks like.
Good trouble means speaking out and standing up against injustice. Good trouble means making clear demands backed up with persuasive arguments, and good trouble means working within the law for change. As parents, we often teach our children to use their words to resolve conflicts on the playground. Sometimes words aren’t enough, and that’s why direct action, sit-ins, and peaceful protests are all constitutionally protected rights.
The founders of this nation knew that the right to assemble to express grievances was a healthy part of our democratic republic. Dr. King proved that during the March on Washington. As did Representative Lewis in numerous demonstrations and debates throughout his life.
Unfortunately, that’s not what we saw recently in our nation’s capital.
Not since the Civil War has such lawlessness and rioting desecrated that building. I am angered by the violence we saw on January 6th and by the hate-filled rhetoric that is fomented chaos in fear over the past few years. As Americans, we need a return to civic charity. We need to recognize our opponents as people instead of demonizing them. We need to understand our opponent’s arguments and relearn the art of compromise as we self-govern. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we start to emerge from the abyss, and I believe as a nation we are ready to climb.
Here’s hoping we return to good trouble soon.
Thank you for your efforts to improve our government and our society. May God bless you.
Scot Singpiel: Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
Jenny Wilson: Today is a day we pay tribute to the extraordinary life and legacy of one of our greatest Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We celebrate his courage and strength during his long battle for equality. But to truly honor Dr. King’s fight for civil rights, we must continue to do our part to address issues related to inequality that plague far too many aspects of our society.
2020 brought numerous challenges and the reckoning for racial justice was at the forefront. In July of last year, we lost another pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis. I actually met John Lewis when I worked in Washington, and he marched with Dr. King years before and carried forward his work — engaging in the good trouble needed to take part in dismantling systemic racism and bias.
Today, we are all called to continue the legacies of the civil rights icons of the past.
In Salt Lake County, my administration is committed to acting and serving as a community convener for change in Salt Lake County. The mayor’s Council on Diversity Affairs is comprised of diverse community members. They work side by side with the county employees to shape equitable policies around housing, criminal justice, health care, and other essential services. As Dr. King once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must ensure the scales of justice work equally for all of us, but we also know “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.”
Let’s pause to honor the accomplishments of our great civil rights leaders and pledge to carry on their legacy. This holiday should be thought of as a day on not a day off. More than ever, I want to call my fellow county residents to take action. Donate to the food bank, volunteer, educate, and speak out against injustice. No action is too small.
Together we can make a difference. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
John Lewis: He spoke to the noble idea that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools. Through his life and through his actions, he moved the mountains of our faith by declaring that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. He inspired millions of Americans across this nation and human beings around the world to believe that we could create a beloved community based on simple justice that values the dignity and worth of every human being.
Scot Singpiel: Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
Erin Mendenhall: To me, good trouble means not backing down or giving up on an issue that when addressing it head-on will significantly approve the lives of many. You speak up, you keep on it, and you don’t give into hopelessness. Congressman John Lewis’ call for non-violent protest, “get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” couldn’t be more timely or fitting after what 2020 brought to the surface of our lives as individuals, as a city, and certainly as a nation.
Incidents like the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 deaths in our nation plus the detrimental effects of the pandemic on our marginalized communities has shown us that systemic injustices — voting oppression, discrimination, poverty, food insecurity — these are not conditions of the past. Until we evolve toward greater equity, safety, and justice, we have to continue to apply and act on the principles and lessons that our Civil Rights leaders like Congressman John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave us.
In his famous letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I believe that to be a true and timeless statement. We are a community. We must look out for one another if we want to thrive as a whole.
Today as we celebrate and reflect on Dr. King’s remarkable life and work, let’s be reenergized and be reminded that change can come through unity, service, and activism. I’m grateful for the activists of today who embody his teachings, and I stand with them in the fight for equality every day.
Both Congressman Lewis and Dr. King dedicated their lives to a movement and a cause that changed the lives of African Americans and other minorities in this country. Their good trouble brought people together from all walks of life to unite and do the right thing. Let’s honor Dr. King, Congressman Lewis, and the many, many other Civil Rights leaders by continuing to do our part to unite and to move toward building stronger, more just, and more welcoming communities.
We know it can be done. The importance and symbolism of this holiday have remained a constant to me and my family, and that’s because there is so much unfinished work. We all have the capability and opportunity to serve in some way: volunteering, helping a neighbor, saying hello to someone outside your own circle, speaking up when we see injustice, voting. The time is now. We are able, and we must be the change.
Choir singing: We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome someday.
Martin Luther King, Jr: And that is where I stand today, and that is where I hope you will continue to stand so that we can speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters all over the world and righteousness like a mighty stream. And we will speed up the day when men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations will not rise up against nations, neither will they stutter “war” anymore. And I close by saying, as we sing it in the old negro spiritual, “I ain’t gonna stutter war no more.”
Scot Singpiel: Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King during University of Utah’s MLK Week. MLK Week is planned by a volunteer committee of students, faculty, and staff collaborating across the university. We hope you will be able to participate in the many other daily activities we have planned for the Week. All of which can be viewed virtually. Visit diversity.utah.edu/mlk for more details.
We encourage you to keep finding ways to get into good trouble as we all work together to ensure the arc of the moral universe indeed continues to bend toward justice.
Choir singing: We shall overcome someday. Oh, deep in my heart I do believe. We shall overcome someday.