Campus News

Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Honored During Lexington’s Annual MLK Day Celebration

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2019 MLK Day Freedom march.
U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock.

UPDATE Jan. 17, 2022: This morning's Freedom March has been canceled due to inclement weather. The annual commemorative program will still take place virtually at noon today on Youtube.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 14, 2021) — “Facing a time of reckoning in an age of denial.”

The theme of this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration is one that Chester Grundy, co-chairman and program coordinator, believes is more apparent than ever. 

“This year’s theme, 'Dr. King’s Beloved Community 2022: Facing A Time of Reckoning in An Age of Denial,' was chosen to reflect the very perilous times we are currently living through — a time when the American democratic ideal is being seriously tested and challenged,” Grundy said. “This ideal was exemplified in Dr. King’s vision of The Beloved Community. Many of us sense that as a society we are at a moment of reckoning which will determine if we continue to move toward Dr. King’s vision or in another darker direction.”

The University of Kentucky, along with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and other community sponsors, will kick off the MLK Day celebration with the annual Freedom March through downtown. Following the march will be a virtual program featuring a keynote address from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Warnock is the first African American elected to the United States Senate from the state of Georgia, and serves as the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was the spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The 136-year-old church, founded in 1886 by formerly enslaved Black people, has always been a central hub for the Black freedom struggle. Its role in shaping Martin Luther King Jr. makes it one of the most prominent churches in U.S. history. Here, King preached against social injustice in a segregated world. He preached messages of hope, forgiveness and courage.

The lessons from Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons at Ebenezer, as well as many of the social problems he rallied against, still ring true today. Decades later, Warnock continues to preach those truths. 

The son of two Pentecostal pastors, Warnock followed in King’s footsteps to attend Morehouse College where he pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion. While Warnock’s pursuits of higher education paralleled King’s, in 1991 Warnock chose Union Theological Seminary for his postgraduate work following his time at Morehouse.

Again, mirroring King's path, in 2005 Warnock responded to the call of ministry to become the fifth and youngest person ever called to the senior pastorate of Ebenezer Baptist Church. 

Commanding a congregation from the same pulpit King commanded, Warnock’s commitment to service laid the groundwork for his next monumental move. In 2021, he became the first Black senator in Georgia's history, a symbol of a striking shift in Georgia’s politics.

“I cannot think of a more appropriate speaker for this occasion, at this moment in the nation’s history, than U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock,” Grundy said. “Not only is he, as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the direct heir to the spiritual legacy of Dr. King, but as the recently elected U.S. Senator from Georgia, he holds one of the most consequential seats in the U.S. Senate. He stands, so to speak, at the crossroads of this nation’s past, present and future.”

In the middle of an important inflection point in the nation's history, Warnock is building upon King’s work, promoting freedom and dignity for all to live a full life in a just country. 

Grundy hopes Warnock’s words during this year’s keynote address will uplift listeners and remind all of us of what we, as a community, can be if we strive to be the best version of ourselves and to re-affirm and re-commit us to the bedrock democratic ideals that are exemplified in the life and work of King.

The Freedom March will take place at 10 a.m. (lineup beginning at 9 a.m.) Monday, Jan. 17, at Lexington's Central Bank Center (Exhibit Hall C). The Virtual Commemorative Program will air on YouTube at noon. You can find the program using the following search words: Lexington MLK Holiday 2022. The program will also be shown on UK Television & Government television, LexTV. 

The march and program are all free of charge, and everyone is welcome to attend and watch. Everyone who attends the Freedom March should wear a face mask, regardless of vaccination status.

Pre-registration for the march is recommended, to help the committee with spacing. To pre-register, visit: https://bit.ly/MLKLEX22. For additional information on the MLK Day celebration, visit www.uky.edu/mlk. For the most updated details about the day’s events, please visit www.facebook.com/LexingtonMLKHoliday.

"Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a community is an important way to honor Dr. King's legacy. He believed in the power of unity," said UK President Eli Capilouto. “The University of Kentucky and the city of Lexington have once again come together to create an experience that will motivate, educate and excite our communities on Jan. 17. We are honored to be a partner in this important celebration and the work it calls us all to renew our commitment to moving forward.”

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.