UMC Links

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Activist to Keynote University of Utah Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Jan. 7, 2009 – Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, will present the keynote address for the 25th Annual University of Utah Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration week, January 12 – 19, 2009. 

Menchú Tum was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work as an advocate for Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation in her native Guatemala and throughout the western hemisphere.  Born into a poor family in the Mayan culture, she became active in the resistance to oppression in Guatemala after her family was murdered during the struggle for Indian peasants’ rights. Her life story was recounted in the book I Rigoberta Menchú, and she narrated the powerful documentary film “When the Mountains Tremble” about the struggles and suffering of the Mayan people.  Menchú Tum will speak at noon MST on Jan. 15, 2009 at Kingsbury Hall, on the University of Utah campus. The presentation is free and open to the public.

This year’s festivities mark the 25th year the university has celebrated the birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with special events, speakers and performances. The university invited Menchú Tum to speak in recognition of the struggles of indigenous peoples throughout the world as they face the challenge of working for civil and human rights, an extension of Dr. King’s work. “The MLK Committee and staff worked tirelessly over the last year to ensure that Menchú Tum could join us for this very special 25th year anniversary of MLK celebrations, notes Octavio Villalpando, associate vice president, Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah.  “We believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be a strong partner and supporter of her advocacy for Indian rights throughout the western hemisphere.  We are very fortunate to have her visit our university community.” Over the years many prominent scholars and speakers have shared their wisdom and insights during the annual MLK Celebration including: Cornel West, Angela Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, Carlos Muñoz, Jr., Evelyn Hu-DeHart, and Morris Dees.           

“Dr. King was one of the most important voices for social justice and equal rights for all people,” says William Smith, associate dean for diversity, access & equity, College of Education and co-chair of the MLK planning committee. “It is our goal to fulfill Dr. King’s vision as we commit ourselves to leadership in diversity, access, and equity, not out of a reluctant sense of obligation, but because only by enriching ourselves and embracing diversity can we become the leading College of Education, and the leading university, as we aspire to be. Please join with us as we work toward a goal of affirmative change.”

“This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration provides an opportunity for students in particular to be involved in a number of programs,” says Jennifer Molock, assistant vice president for student equity and diversity, Office for Equity and Diversity at the university and co-chair of the MLK planning committee.  On Monday, January 12, students will engage in a forum entitled “Voice, Conversation, Action.” Wednesday serves as the student day beginning with exhibits reflecting social justice initiatives created by U of U students.  The day ends with the film “When the Mountains Tremble” and a student panel discussion about the works of Rigoberta Menchú Tum. These events are all developed by and for students.

To commemorate the longevity of the annual celebration, for the first time a rally and candlelight march will be held on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday January 19, 2009. “In collaboration with Westminster College, religious and community leaders from throughout the Salt Lake valley will meet to reflect on the sacrifices Dr. King and others made on our behalf,” says Molock. “Snow or shine we will be marching in celebration and in honor of the fight for civil rights!” The rally will commence at 4:30 p.m. at the College of Social Work auditorium at the University of Utah, followed by a march to Kingsbury Hall for the presentation of the 2009 Youth Leadership Awards and a performance by the contemporary music group Concepto Tambor.   

For the second consecutive year the College of Education is the co-sponsor of the University of Utah MLK celebration. Other sponsors include the Office for Equity and Diversity, the ASUU Presenter’s Office, University Marketing and Communications, MediaOne, the Graduate School, College of Social Work, Alumni Association and Ethnic Studies.

The University of Utah Martin Luther King, Jr. 25th Anniversary Celebration begins on Jan. 12 and runs through Jan. 19, 2009. All events are free and open to the public. For a full list of MLK 2009 events please visit, or contact communication and community outreach in the Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah at (801) 581-4250.