The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has come a long way since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on campus in 1960 — when the Carolina student body consisted of only four black first-year students.
Today, more black students earn a bachelor’s degree at Carolina than any other top 30 university in the country.
But as Chancellor Carol L. Folt delivered the keynote speech at the 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Banquet on Jan. 14, she told community leaders that there is still work to be done to create a stronger, more inclusive Carolina.
“I can’t imagine anything that is more critical to building an academic community than bridging the divides that are caused through history, by socioeconomic status, over racial or ethnic identity, prejudice or mistrust,” Folt said. “I believe there is nothing more important than working toward these goals right now, right here in Chapel Hill with all of you.”
The memorial banquet, held at the Friday Center, was hosted by the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation in partnership with the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion to celebrate King’s legacy and to recognize community members for their service. Folt served as the events featured speaker.
“Our goal is to bring the community together — bring the University and community together,” said Frederick Black, a member of the board of directors of the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation. “By doing that, we each learn, we grow and we participate in something that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
In her keynote speech, Folt reflected on King’s vision of a “beloved community, a truly brotherly society” based on justice and equal opportunity for all. That community, King said in 1966, is the truest objective in life.
UNC-Chapel Hill, Folt said, is dedicated to seeking that beloved community by building a diverse student body and providing an inclusive campus where everybody has a chance to succeed.
“We know that to advance we have to be working toward something that matters, something that we stand for,” Folt said. “Dr. King’s beloved community is worth all that we can give to that end.”
Succeeding in that mission, Folt said, will come “from people’s hearts” and by working with the entire community.
“If we can imagine a better community, if we can see that we’re stronger working together than we are apart, if we can do every single thing we individually can do to make opportunity for all our reality, if we can keep our own hearts open and not shut down in the face of dissent, we can truly shine a light on the state and the nation, and help create a beloved community,” she said.
The banquet kicked-off Carolina’s weeklong Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance — one of the longest running MLK celebrations in the nation.
On Jan. 15, students from the University’s Rejuvenating Our Community Through Service hosted the annual MLK 5K Day of Service run to raise money for Girls on the Run of the Triangle and Healthy Girls Save the World.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch will headline the observance as the keynote speaker of the MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards Ceremony at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18 in Memorial Hall.