University of Denver commemorates MLK Day amidst voting rights battle in Congress

By Esteban Fernandez

Jan 19, 2022 | News | 0 comments

//Matthew White stands with his 1st place award next to Andriette Jordan-Fields at DU’s inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Jan. 17. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | efernandez@msmayhem.com

This year, right-wing lawmakers chose crisp hypocrisy as their way of observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Commentators across social media pointed out how Republican lawmakers responsible for posting commemorations of King were also behind the push to restrict voting rights to the place they were before the civil rights movement. 

This reality was not lost on Andriette Jordan-Fields, Ph.D., Black Community Experience Coordinator at the University of Denver. Last Monday, Jan. 17, she organized the University of Denver’s inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. 

“We are changing from calling it a celebration to his commemoration, that we are remembering what needs to be done,” Jordan-Fields said. “And unfortunately, how many years, 45-50 years later, we’re still back in the same place of what he was fighting for before he died. And so we have a lot of work to do.”

The event, whose theme was “The Security of Justice,” featured State Rep. Leslie Herod as its keynote speaker. It was held at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Instead of dwelling on past accomplishments, the event looked forward. Gloria Neal, emcee of the event, read an excerpt from King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” where he compares the nation’s broken promise of freedom and dignity to its Black citizens to a bad check and a debt that must be repaid. Neal reiterated the point for the students and other young people in the crowd.

“You know, so many people talk about progress. I alluded to this early on, but just making progress was not the goal,” Neal said. “If you remember, it was about cashing that check. It was about equality. The marches were about equality you know, this message and the endgame are all about equality. Anything less is a bad check.”

Other speakers included DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner, Provost Mary Clark, and Vice-Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Christopher Whitt. It also included musical performances by Rabbi Joe Black and the Martin Luther King Jr. Early College Choir, among others. 

Closing out the event was the awarding of a new scholarship as part of an essay writing contest. Matthew White, a college-bound senior at Denver East High School, won a yearly $5,000 scholarship to DU that was open to students from Denver and Aurora high schools. The theme was an exploration of King’s quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Thirty-six students participated in the contest. After being awarded, White’s poem was read to the audience at the event in a pre-recorded video. Although White has been accepted to DU, he hasn’t made a final decision on where he will attend in the fall. As a young person going off to college, White is one of the people who carry the torch forward when it comes to demanding that the check be cashed on America’s promises.

“We go back to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught,” White said. “And that was going back on love, peace and justice and going off of those values. Peaceful protesting and doing everything that he did to get the change that he wanted. And that’s what we want to do.”


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