Campus News

‘The future of the country is in our hands’: 2024 MLK Day celebration calls for engaged citizenship

Mark Cornelison | UK Photo

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 12, 2024) – Have we taken our eyes off the prize?

This is the question fueling the theme for this year’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, taking place this Monday in Lexington.

“This year’s theme — MLK in 2024: Eyes Off The Prize? — intentionally references an old spiritual that was re-purposed as a Freedom Song during The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” said Chester Grundy, co-chairman and founder of the MLK Day committee. “The song was used strategically to urge the people to stay vigilant and keep their eyes, minds and hearts focused on the ‘prize’ of freedom and justice that would follow the defeat of the Jim Crow system.”

Lexington’s MLK Day observance is one of the longest-running celebrations in the country, bringing thousands of people across the state together. Throughout the years, the committee has worked tirelessly to present high-quality cultural and educational programming that is faithful and authentic to the vision and the legacy of King.

The University of Kentucky, along with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and other community sponsors, will kick off this year’s MLK Day celebration at 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, with the annual holiday Freedom March, beginning at Central Bank Center in downtown Lexington. Directly following the march, the Commemorative Program will be held at 2 p.m. at Central Bank Center.

"The annual MLK Holiday Celebration offers each of us an opportunity to reflect and pay tribute to Dr. King's impactful life and legacy,” said UK Vice President for Institutional Diversity Katrice Albert. “It is an occasion to commemorate the shoulders on which we all stand and remember their fervor and sacrifices. The University of Kentucky is proud to continue this cherished partnership with the City of Lexington as this inspirational event unites our community and reminds us that we are stronger together. With excitement, we look forward to participating in another incredible freedom march and commemorative program."

The program will feature prelude music by Charles Little, and musical performances by the internationally renowned youth choral ensembles Uniting Voices Chicago, Uniting Voices Lexington and Michael Preacely, DMA.

Reverend Kevin Cosby will give the keynote address on this year’s theme. Cosby earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky University, a Master of Divinity degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary. Since 1979, Cosby has served as Senior Pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville. In 1997, Cosby encouraged the church to purchase and convert the original four-acre campus of Simmons University (now Simmons College of Kentucky), to be used as a lifestyle enrichment campus. The campus was once home to Simmons University, the oldest Black-owned and operated educational institution in the state of Kentucky, but had been lost to foreclosure during the Great Depression. In 2005, Cosby was named the 13th president of Simmons and in 2007, led the institution back to its original campus. Under his leadership, Simmons College of Kentucky was accredited by the Association of Biblical Higher Education in early 2014. Cosby has held administrative and teaching assignments at Kentucky State University, the University of Louisville, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and United Theological Seminary. He also serves as a member of the University of Louisville’s board of trustees.

After 51 years of celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Lexington, Grundy questions whether we have lost sight of what we as a community are fighting for.  

“We are living through a particularly perilous moment in the history of this country,” said Grundy. “Clearly, those gains that were achieved by The Civil Rights Movement — voting rights, the right to fair and full political representation, reproductive rights, the right to teach our history fully and truthfully, are all being threatened. We believe that this year’s MLK holiday offers an opportunity to get re-focused and re-dedicated to those sacred, democratic ideals that Dr. King championed and ultimately died for — principles such as social justice, freedom of the press, free speech, human uplift and compassion, global peace — all necessary to the preservation of democracy.”

As we live through unprecedented times, Grundy believes that this year’s MLK Day theme is more important than ever. He urges us to remember that the future of our country is in our hands and to accomplish this work, we must be willing to do honest self-critiques and evaluations. We must be willing to ask ourselves and our fellow citizens, have we taken our eyes off the prize?

DeBraun Thomas, MLK Day committee member responsible for programming, agrees with this sentiment and encourages the community to keep pushing forward, just as those have done before us.

“In the 50 years after its first MLK celebration, Lexington has made many advancements for change, and none of it has come without resistance,” Thomas said. “While I feel that Lexington is a very welcoming and inclusive community, it has not always been this way and we still have a long way to go to truly embody Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community. I have personally seen that when our community stands together, we can accomplish anything. We must lead with love, compassion, and empathy through the lens of intersectionality, and always remember to listen to understand. As the song says, “the one thing we did right, was the day we started to fight, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”


Individuals and groups are encouraged to pre-register for the Freedom March by Jan. 13. Registration can be completed here. A pre-march holding will take place in the Central Bank Center outside of exhibit hall A beginning at 12:30 p.m. Carrying of posters, banners and signs is encouraged. Questions and concerns regarding the march can be directed to Kendriana Price at or 859-218-4880.

UK events

In addition to Monday's events, the UK Office for Institutional Diversity will host several events to celebrate the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. Events include:

  • The MLK Day of Service, taking place Saturday, Jan. 13 This year, UK Student Organizations and Activities and the MLK Center will be volunteering with Greenhouse17, Carnegie Center, Arbor Youth, International Book Project, The Secretariat Center, God's Pantry Food Bank and Catholic Action Center.
  • The Legacy Dinner & Awards, taking place Tuesday, Jan. 30. This annual experience is an opportunity to reflect on King’s life and legacy, celebrate the history of the MLK Center, and highlight members of the campus community that embody King’s legacy and philosophy through the Living Legacy Awards. Due to limited space, RSVP for this event is required.
  • The King Community Kickback, taking place 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the MLK Center. Join the MLK Center team for an evening centered on building the Beloved Community that King strived to create. This community focused event is an opportunity to connect with the MLK Center’s professional staff and student interns, connect with other students, faculty and staff, and learn more about how you can engage in community with the MLK Center this semester.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.