Reflections on NYU MLK Week
February 1, 2022
Dear Members of the NYU Community,
We are delighted to welcome students, faculty, staff, and administrators to the spring semester. The OGI team hopes that everyone had a restful and rejuvenating winter break and that you and your loved ones continue to take care.
As many know, February 1 is the start of Black History Month in the United States, and this year it is also the beginning of the Lunar New Year. Each February, NYU commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1961 visit to the University Heights Campus through our annual MLK Week. This year marks our 17th Annual MLK Week, with marquee events hosted February 7–12. This year’s theme—The Beautiful Struggle for a New World—highlights not only the continued challenges and ongoing struggles we face but also the possibilities in creating a new world together. Next week’s schedule of events and collective learning opportunities will champion difference, explore new possibilities, and reinforce our commitment to ongoing service to and with others.
In preparation for this coming MLK week, I have been reflecting deeply on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and this year’s theme.
“Now, let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world."
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Beyond Vietnam,” 1967)
As Dr. King states, the journey towards a “new world” is long and arduous—requiring bravery, courage, strength, sustained commitment, and action. The oppression of historically marginalized racial and ethnic communities is ongoing and has been brought to the forefront again by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent and recurring instances of anti-Black, anti-Asian, and antisemitic violence and other acts of violence against Latinx, queer communities, and so many more groups also remind us that the struggle to create a new world—free from systemic social and economic injustices and disenfranchisement, and in which every person can achieve their fullest potential—remains unfinished. Dr. King’s relentless work to ensure the inalienable rights for all, not a selected few, insists that we must practice the bravery and courage to recognize and acknowledge the embeddedness of discrimination and the associated violence that continues to undermine global civil rights agendas.
To build on his work and move away from the sanitized versions of his legacy, we must be brave and find the strength to engage contestation by using it as a site of learning across differences without annihilation. We must recognize that the struggle for change requires a process of rigorous engagement and reckoning with historical and present-day inequities AND ongoing engagement with all that is possible and with collective hope. As Dr. King's legacy underscores, we must also work together across communities in solidarity toward our collective civil rights and not be distracted.
As we engage this beautiful struggle together, I am encouraged and energized by the power of our collective efforts and community action across NYU. I am fortunate to witness members throughout our global network taking charge to reimagine and create new ways of doing and working together.
Thank you to the entire NYU community for engaging with OGI’s efforts to create a globally inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible NYU. We have accomplished so much together over the past few months alone: from the work of so many through our NYU BeTogether initiative; launching a university-wide pilot Foundations for Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Excellence module in response to community calls for this resource; to OGI’s Transformation Talks series where you can learn about the commitments that leaders are making to global, inclusion, diversity, belonging, equity, and access (GIDBEA). Members of our community have been engaged learners and have actively created new sites of possibility.
Although there are areas where we must continue to focus and improve at NYU, the strength of our global collaborations across difference continues to help us accelerate change and possibility throughout our institution. I am inspired by the partnerships across campuses, schools, departments, and disciplines to engage our students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as emerging scholarship and research that is critical to our reimagining and creating what I call—a “new different.” This “new different” centers on collective transgenerational work to ensure civil rights are not only action-oriented but transformative, sustainable, equitable, and intersectional as opposed to attempts to restore the “status quo” or other normalized processes of disenfranchisement, discrimination, and violence.
“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Beyond Vietnam,” 1967)
I will end by saying—Dr. King reminds us that the struggle for a new world is indeed difficult, but that through it, we may create new ways of engaging with one another and allow future generations to imagine a more just and equitable global society. We can embrace the possibilities of a “new different,” which reinforces the beauty of intersectional co-creation, imagining, and innovation built in community.
I hope that you will join us for NYU MLK Week 2022 and, in the process, take action in the spirit of the (non-sanitized) legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Become involved in our efforts at NYU toward a collective “new different” in which we work together, across communities, to conceptualize, build, and actualize a new world at NYU and beyond.
Lisa Coleman, PhD
Senior Vice President for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation
Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation