PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Brown University campus, imploring students to combat prejudice and hatred with peace and joy; seven years later, he returned to deliver an impassioned plea against violence, particularly in Vietnam.
More than a half-century later, with the United States reckoning with the enduring consequences of systemic racism, the lessons he imparted remain as relevant as they did so many decades ago.
As the nation celebrated King’s legacy on the holiday that bears his name, Brown President Christina H. Paxson said the day marked a moment to acknowledge the great harm that racism continues to cause, and recommit to the fight to eliminate acts of bigotry and hatred.
“As Dr. King’s work reminds us, the crucial fight to do away with systematic racism requires our deep-rooted, long-term commitment, so that the famous quote — that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”— becomes a reality rather than an aspiration,” Paxson wrote in a Jan. 18 letter to Brown students, faculty and staff. “As a University community, we will continue to commit to act to effect change.”
Paxson noted the work of Brown’s Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, convened after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 and expected to deliver recommendations later this year for actions that the Brown community can take to dismantle systemic racism.
She also highlighted a range of initiatives at Brown over the last year that reflect King’s values of justice, integrity and shared dignity, encouraging everyone to attend the University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on Thursday, Feb. 25, which will feature White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.
The full text of Paxson's letter to the community is included below.
Dedicating ourselves to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision
Members of the Brown Community,
Today, we honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More than a half-century after his death — and in the midst of a continued reckoning with the consequences of systemic racism — we are grappling with the uneven progress our country has made toward racial equity. We are reminded of the critical importance of the values of justice, integrity and shared dignity that guided Dr. King’s enduring vision for equality.
Over the past year, we have been painfully reminded of the necessity to act, first after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and most recently after the blatant acts of violence in the nation’s capital. As an institution of higher learning, this is a moment to acknowledge the great harm and pain the enduring legacy of racism has caused, and rededicate ourselves as a community to the fight for justice as we work toward eliminating all acts of bigotry and hatred on our campus and in the world at large.
Throughout his impactful life, Dr. King spoke out against injustice and inspired a generation to challenge the very system designed to keep us segregated. With a commitment to nonviolence, he fought with the strength of his convictions, resilience, personal sacrifice and persistence of presence to encourage our nation to envision a time of equal opportunity and full participation in democracy for every member of society. In this moment of incredible social and political divisiveness, it is more important than ever that we take time to reflect upon what Dr. King stood for, and the ways in which the Brown community should persist in honoring his vision.
I encourage everyone to make plans to attend the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on Feb. 25. This year’s lecture will be delivered by White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and is titled “Black History and the Legacy of MLK: Purpose, Truth and Justice.” The annual lecture is an opportunity to affirm our values as a community that advances knowledge, supports each other and celebrates diversity as we strive to promote equity and uphold what is just and right.
As Dr. King’s work reminds us, the crucial fight to do away with systematic racism requires our deep-rooted, long-term commitment, so that the famous quote — that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”— becomes a reality rather than an aspiration. As a University community, we will continue to commit to act to effect change.
The Task Force on Anti-Black Racism continues its work to dismantle systemic racism by providing pathways for equity and access, advancing knowledge and enacting change through teaching, research and public engagement. The task force will deliver recommendations for action later this year. At the national level, the University has advocated for federal action to combat systemic racism and supported affirmative action in college admissions. Meanwhile, members of our community have taken part in peaceful protests for equity and justice and have sought to influence discourse through the “Race & in America” campus conversation series, which is exploring various intersections of race in our daily lives.
One of the most enduring aspects of Dr. King’s legacy was to influence broader protection in our democracy, especially for those who were being denied access to the right to vote. Over the course of the semester, various centers and institutes across campus will be organizing events that address political violence and attacks on our democracy. Several academic departments have supported important conversations about democracy in the aftermath of the November election, and the Swearer Center’s ongoing programming has engaged in crucial work to support engagement in the voting process. Together with the student-led Brown Votes initiative, the center has done important work to improve voter registration and civic engagement.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America has supported programming examining the ways in which COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities and disparities. The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice convened scholars and activists in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations to consider the impact of the protests nationally and globally, including the fate of Confederate monuments. This important work continues, and there is much more to do.
As we continue to grapple with the challenges of the year ahead, I encourage everyone to consider Dr. King’s vision and seek to uphold the values that define his legacy.
Christina H. Paxson