Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday celebration drew approximately 2,000 to the University of Texas campus on Monday, Jan. 21, for the kick off of Austin’s annual march from the UT campus to Huston-Tillotson University. Speakers included retired UT staff member Brenda Burt, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Dr. Leonard Moore, President Greg L. Fenves, Dr. Cherise Smith, chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, Dr. Ted Gordon, vice provost for diversity, newly elected State Representative Sheryl Cole, and Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnett.
President Fenves recalled the visit of Dr. King to the UT Austin campus in 1962, where he spoke to a crowd of 1200 in the Texas Union. At the time, black students were not free to participate fully in student life on campus–they lived in segregated housing, they could not join many clubs and associations, nor could they represent the university in athletics. He described the time as “a turning point in our history as a university.” Fenves explained, “One where UT had a choice to push forward to better ourselves or would we turn back and cling to fear hate and inequity.” He attributed changes on campus not only to Dr. King’s “potent words,” but to students who were compassionate and willing to lead. “Today in 2019 I see you doing the same thing as they did—exercising your rights to shape your society for the good of all—to fight for a future that is more just and equitable,” Fenves told the crowd of community members and students.
A highlight of the celebration was the speech given by fourth-grader Bradon Owens, the winner of the Fourteenth Annual MLK Oratory Competition for students in AISD. Following the hour-long program, marchers made their way to Huston-Tillotson University for festivities including food, music and more inspiration.