Affirming the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., at Indiana University


Monday, January 18, 2021

Thank you for joining us today for Indiana University’s observance of Martin Luther King Day, highlighted by this day-long conference on diversity and social justice.

Dr. King said, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, that he had “the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”[1]

More than 55 years after Dr. King spoke these words, our world has changed dramatically. But as we are all too aware, for many people in the world, these needs of body, mind, and spirit are sadly still far from adequately met. Dr. King’s call for equal access to life’s basic physical necessities, for access to education, and for dignity and freedom—was a clarion call for a commitment to equality for all.

While great progress has been made over the ensuing years, the deeply disturbing events of the last year clearly demonstrate that much work remains to be done and that we must continually reaffirm our commitment to equality, freedom, and dignity for all. The brutal and violent death of George Floyd—and the far-too-long list of Americans of color who have lost their lives in acts of violence—have caused all of us to feel deep anguish, sadness, frustration, grief, and anger. These tragic incidents are powerful reminders of our special obligation to do all we can to ensure that our campus communities are places where differences of all kinds, whether of race, ethnicity, or belief, are respected, valued, and protected, and where hatred, bigotry, and intolerance will be powerfully condemned.

In 1963, Dr. King delivered his iconic, legendary and powerful “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington at a time when our nation was at a pivotal point in its history. More than half a century later, acts of violence against people of color—and the disgraceful, chilling, and extremely troubling events that have just unfolded earlier this month at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.—clearly illustrate that we are once again at inflection point in our nation’s history.

The scenes of insurrectionary chaos and violence at the U.S. Capitol, which disrupted a key moment in our country’s peaceful transfer of power, are not a proper reflection of who we are as Americans, and they certainly do not reflect the spirit of civility and respect that Indiana University and other leading colleges and universities across our nation seek to foster among students and other members of their educational communities. We join many others across the country in condemning these shameful and disgraceful activities in the strongest possible terms.

The commitment to equality and dignity for all are fundamental to the nature of Indiana University and its educational mission. In June of last year, I reported to the Trustees of Indiana University on five areas in which Indiana University would be taking—and has taken—more action.

These included:

  • The establishment of the Pandemic Health Disparities Fund to fund programs that address the fact that the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected African American and Hispanic communities;
  • The announcement of a $7 million grant received by the IU School of Medicine to help the school educate medical students to better care for underserved populations;
  • The establishment of the Racial Justice Research Fund, to fund research by IU faculty to conduct research to help address social injustice and promote diversity and inclusivity;
  • The announcement of a systematic review of all named buildings or structures on all IU campuses—now well underway—with the goal of identifying any of these where the person after whom these buildings or structures are named has been found to have held views inimical to the fundamental values of the university. This ongoing process has already resulted in the renaming of a number of IU buildings and spaces, most prominently those associated with David Starr Jordan; and
  • A comprehensive review of IU’s programs whose purpose is to increase the racial diversity of the IU community and creating a welcoming and supportive environment for people of color at IU.

In the months and years to come, we will continue to reaffirm Dr. King’s legacy by redoubling IU’s commitment to the difficult work that remains on our campuses—and in the communities we serve—to improving diversity, equity, and inclusiveness; to addressing social injustice; and to standing up to hatred, divisiveness, bigotry and intolerance in all of its forms.

On this year’s observance of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—and beyond—we will continue to work with our community partners—including the Madam Walker Legacy Center, which is co-hosting today’s keynote session—to help ensure that Dr. King’s “audacious beliefs” regarding access to education and culture, dignity, equality, and freedom are a reality for all.

Thank you again for being with us today.

Source Notes

  1. Martin Luther King Jr., Acceptance Speech. Nobel Media AB 2021. Wed. 6 Jan 2021.