Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Message From the Dean: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dear NYLS Community,

Welcome back to NYLS and may the Spring 2023 semester be your very best yet. We hope you are well and that your break was restorative. As we prepare for the new semester, we honor the memory of our nation’s most iconic civil rights leader, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remembering MLK

In Dr. King’s 1968 “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” speech delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., he said, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Dr. King’s courage in the face of oppression, and his belief that collective and nonviolent advocacy can change our systems and society to be more fair and just to all, are just as inspiring and meaningful today as they were 55 years ago. 

Understandably, Dr. King’s leadership and messages have provided much inspiration for our profession, and for the aspirations of law students. For us, his speech to an audience of New York City lawyers in 1965 provides a powerful annual reminder of our great and indispensable profession, and our ability to advocate for, and create, enduring change. In “The Civil Rights Struggle in the United States Today,” Dr. King said“Your profession should be proud of its contributions…. [T]he road to freedom is now a highway because lawyers throughout the land, yesterday and today, have helped clear the obstructions, have helped eliminate roadblocks, by their selfless, courageous espousal of difficult and unpopular causes.” Just as remarkable, in the same speech, Dr. King recognized that despite the embedded inequality in the system at the time, the underpinnings of our nation still enabled him and the civil rights movement to push for change“In truth, we could not be where we are today without the great rights of free speech, free press, freedom to demonstrate, petition and march to the seat of Government, even in Montgomery, Alabama, where redress of grievances may be brought.”

Today, just as then, our profession has the same responsibility to push for justice and speak up for those who need to be heard. Many of the rights to which Dr. King dedicated his life remain threatened, whether they be the right to racial equality and human dignity, the right to vote, or the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Lawyers must continue to be at the forefront of all these struggles. We must continue to carry on the legacy Dr. King and so many others laid down for us, and be persistent in our obligation to create a more just world. 

Commit Yourselves to a Higher Purpose

New York Law School is the launching place to do this work, as it has been for over 130 years. Our alumni and faculty for generations have positively impacted the justice system, fiercely and successfully advocated for those under threat, and shaped modern New York and the nation. As the semester begins, stay focused on your studies, support one another, and remember there is a higher purpose to what we do within these walls. To those ends, take care of yourselves, each other, and be committed to building an impactful career in service to others. 

In honor of Dr. King’s work and legacy, and in keeping with being members of a profession that is in service to others, we strongly encourage all of you to engage in a day of service on Monday.

For additional material on Dr. King, we suggest you review resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice Project at Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | Learning for Justice. Special thanks to Professor Lenni Benson for recommending these resources. 

All our best, 

Dean Anthony W. Crowell

Dean of Faculty William P. LaPiana

Senior Associate Dean Matt Gewolb
Academic Affairs and Institutional Strategy

Associate Dean and Vice President Ella Mae Estrada
Enrollment Management; Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Professor Kirk D. Burkhalter ’04 
Co-Chair, Faculty Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Professor Ann F. Thomas
Co-Chair, Faculty Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Professor Richard D. Marsico
Director, Wilf Impact Center for Public Interest Law

Professor Penelope Andrews
Director, Racial Justice Project

Paulina Davis
Senior Advisor for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion