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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

This past year has been a season of darkness for so many people. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing racial tensions, an election year, and the general stress of being a person existing in the world, 2020 was a hard year (and 2021 has started off pretty rocky). However, today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we get to set aside time to remember the lights that have shone through in the generations that have come before us.

As a woman of color, I’ve always loved MLK Day. The third Monday of January felt like it was a day for me to feel connected to Black and Brown sisters and brothers around the world. I grew up in a predominately white area, so when I was younger having a day dedicated to people who looked like me and our history was magical. While most of my friends just enjoyed having a day of school off, I lived for the other four days of that short week that were dedicated to learning more about the Civil Rights Movement and the incredible life of Martin Luther King Jr. I had gotten used to being one of the only Black kids in my school, and I needed the annual reminder that people like me could live full lives and make a difference in the world.

Now that I’m a bit older, I still really enjoy celebrating, although making “I Have a Dream” dream catchers for my elementary social studies class is not the highlight of my day anymore. I do still watch Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech, and dream dreams of the future MLK saw possible all those years ago. This year MLK Day feels particularly heavy in light of the police brutality and systemic racism that has been part of an ongoing conversation since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. I think for many years a lot of people had thought racism was “solved” if they didn’t personally encounter it regularly, and acknowledging the horrors people of color had faced once a year on MLK Day was enough. Let me tell you: it’s not enough, and it will not be enough as long as people of color are treated unequally in society. A lot of the buzz that came this summer from the BLM movement has waned, but that doesn’t mean thinking about racial justice is any less important than it was a few months ago, and today is the perfect opportunity to be reminded of that. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, I encourage everyone to just take a few minutes to think about all of the individuals who have dedicated their lives to racial justice and equality and consider what you can do in your own life to join the generations that have come before us in fighting for all people of color to receive basic rights and respect in society. While organizing a peaceful protest or speaking in front of a crowd of 250,000 people like MLK did may not be your style, there are some small ways that we can care for Black and Brown people around us today. Call your friends and check-in to see how they’re celebrating the holiday; read a book written by a Black author; watch a movie with an all-Black cast; listen to jazz, R&B, or hip-hop written and performed by a Black artist (and yes, there are famous Black musicians beyond Beyonce and Lizzo); check out one of the many resources available at UT Austin the KS WEL Institute team has put together in the links below.

2021 MLK Day of Service. The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has partnered with the Office of the Dean of Students to present an initiative that connects the university community with safe volunteer opportunities that are in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.

LBJ School’s MLK Day Virtual Program. The program focuses on UT Professor Peniel Joseph’s acclaimed book, “The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.”

Listen to the podcast interview with Professor Peniel Joseph and UT academic, Don Carleton, director of the university’s Briscoe Center for American History, about his new book, “Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography.” Carleton’s book focuses on UT’s photographic archives related to civil rights. Preserved at the Briscoe Center, hundreds of these images have been digitized and are available for viewing online, including many taken by Dr. King’s personal photographer, Flip Schulke. (UT’s statue of Dr. King on the East Mall is inspired by one of Schulke’s images.)

However you choose to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, I hope it’s a time to be thankful for the people who have been lights in the midst of darkness, and for each of us to choose to put down hate and pick up love.

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