McArthur Genius Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers keynote address

The Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah is proud to present its 33rd annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 14-21. MLK week at the U has become a platform to engage students, faculty, staff and community members in critical conversations around contemporary civil rights issues and issues surrounding race and racism in America.

This year’s theme, “We Live It. We Breathe It: A Discussion on Systemic Racism,” is inspired by the analogy of writer and educator, Beverly Daniel Tatum, who describes systemic racism as smog in the air. Tatum writes, “Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.” Systemic racism is composed of the policies, practices, institutional and individual behaviors and ideas that have an effect on how we navigate, negotiate and engage the socio-political landscape.

Activities for the week include:

Utah Presents: Taylor Mac—A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1946-1976
Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m. Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle

Playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performer, director and producer, Taylor Mac (preferred gender pronoun “judy”) draws from judy’s most recent project, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” to bring us music from the civil rights movement and the Stonewall riots, among others within the era of 1946-1976. This project, like most that judy does, deals with our cultural polarization around social issues. The Irish Times describes the show as one that will “break your heart, patch it back up and sew sequins along the scars.”

March and Rally
Jan. 16, 2:30 p.m., East High School auditorium, 840 S. 1300 East
March to Kingsbury Hall at 3:15 p.m.

The ninth annual MLK Celebration March and Rally is one of the largest demonstrations on MLK Day in Utah. The March and Rally is a way for our youth, educators, businesses, organizations, religious groups and the greater community to come together and march in solidarity for equality. Each step marched between East High School and Kingsbury Hall is a reminder of the teachings and the impact of King and many other civil rights activists.

Arts and Activism
Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m., Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle

As part of the University of Utah’s David P. Gardner Lecture in the Humanities and Fine Arts, the College of Fine Arts will host a lecture with world-renowned artists Bill T. Jones, Taylor Mac and Niegel Smith. The event is free, but tickets are required.

The conversation, facilitated by KUER RadioWest’s Doug Fabrizio, will be centered around the intersection of art and activism, as these artists have, in their own ways, used their art to catalyze and inform conversations about issues including race, AIDS, gender identity, sexuality and others.


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Keynote Address: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Jan. 18, 12-1:30 p.m., Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle
Live streaming online at and at David Gardner Hall and Olpin Student Union

Ta-Nehisi Coates is journalist and “memorist” who uses history and personal reflection to address some of the country’s most contested issues, such as urban policing, racial identity and systemic racial bias. He is a national correspondent for The Atlantic but has also contributed to The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post, among others. He is the author of “The Beautiful Struggle” and “Between the World and Me.” The latter won the 2015 National Book award for Nonfiction and has been nominated for several other awards. Coates also scripts the Marvel comic “Black Panther” — what he calls “the realization of my dreams as a 9-year-old.” In 2015, Coates was one of 24 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants for his impact on the discussion of race and racism in this country.

Tickets for the event have been exhausted. Any seats not filled 10 minutes before the event will be released to anyone who wishes to wait in line at Kingsbury on the day of the event.

The speech will be streamed live online at and at Thompson Chamber Music Hall of the Gardner Hall building (west of Kingsbury, 1375 E. Presidents Circle) and at the East Ballroom of the Union (200 Central Campus Drive).

Campus and Community Panel Discussion: We Live It. We Breathe It. A Discussion on Systemic Racism.
Jan. 19, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Hinckley Institute of Politics, Building 73, Room 110, 332 S. 1400 East

Franci Taylor, director for the American Indian Resource Center at the U, will facilitate a discussion about the ways in which systemic racism is manifested and ways we can achieve more fundamental and systemic levels of change. Panelists include Alexis Baker, undergraduate student and Black Student Union president at the U; Erika George, professor in the College of Law; Kilo Zamora, chair for the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission; and Maria Ledesma, assistant professor in the U’s College of Education’s Educational and Policy Department.

MLK Day of Service

Jan 21, 8:45a.m. Bennion Community Center, Olpin Student Union Building, 200 S. Central Campus Drive, Room 101

The U’s Bennion Community Service Center is sponsoring a day of service in conjunction with a variety of local organizations, including First Step House, Utah Food Bank, Maliheh Clinic and more.

Volunteers can preregister and arrive to their sites for check-in, breakfast and an explanation of the project by 8:45 a.m. Registrations will be offered on-site at the Bennion Center, 8:15-8:45 a.m.

All MLK Week events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

Media Contacts

Estela Hernandezpublic relations specialist, University of Utah Office for Equity and Diversity
Office: 801-587-3342

Annalisa Purserassociate director, University Marketing & Communications
Office: 801-581-7295 Mobile: 435-232-0312