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Speaker at Martin Luther King, Jr., keynote emphasizes courageous action for social justice

Attendees listen during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Keynote Lecture and Award ceremony in Memorial Hall on Monday night.

Attendees listen during the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Keynote Lecture and Award ceremony in Memorial Hall on Monday night.

Hundreds of people packed Memorial Hall to celebrate King’s life Monday evening. The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, Carolina Union Activities Board and a student-led MLK celebration committee were all partners in planning UNC’s 35th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture, delivered by author and activist Marc Lamont Hill.

“I was on the MLK planning committee, but I’ve heard about (Hill’s) work and I thought it would be interesting to talk about diversity and a really great conversation about adding to the movement for further diversity,” said Princess Onuorah, a first-year biology major.

Hill talked about three things people need to do in order to correct problems such as poverty, mass incarceration and inequality: deep listening, asking questions and taking courageous action in the form of speaking truth.

“There are moments where truth will make you marginalized, where truth will make you silent, where truth will make you hated. King died because he was willing to speak the truth even though it was bitter,” Hill said.

He said that by taking action we can better exact change on the world.

“The biggest problem in the world is that there are too many people who don’t do anything,” Hill said. “We must collectively act, but we must act as an organized body,” he said.

Hill discussed the importance of focusing on public investment and not criminalizing ‘social dilemmas.’

“People who were once in mental homes are now in the streets, and then we made it illegal to be on the streets,” he said.

Kyra Rubin, a first-year public policy major who attended the lecture, was another member of the MLK celebration planning committee.

“The three points (Hill) touched on were relevant, moving and applicable,” she said. “Especially talking about how we have to join organizations rather than create organizations.”

UNC received the 2015 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, which is a diversity-focused publication in higher education. This award marks UNC as one of about 90 universities which demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“The HEED award is a symbol of commitment,” Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Taffye Benson Clayton said.

She said while there is still a great deal left to be done to promote equality, events such as the MLK celebration are moments in which to pause and reflect on what has been achieved.

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