Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Message From the Dean on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dear NYLS Community,

We hope you are well. Today we honor the memory of our most iconic civil rights leader, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who possessed boundless courage and an enduring passion to uplift our country on behalf of all oppressed peoples. 

Dr. King inspired countless people to speak up and take peaceful, nonviolent action to demand equal rights, and equal racial and economic justice for all. Despite much progress as a result of his leadership and that of others, racial inequality and injustice, as we know, remain enmeshed in our society and culture, and often enabled by law. Dr. King understood that people of all races, creeds, and economic backgrounds must come together to create profound change and engage publicly to provoke action in the halls of power. He understood and valued an indispensable partnership with lawyers in helping to raise awareness and bring about this change, and he spoke powerfully about the important role lawyers have in that task in an address to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York in May 1965, a year after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

In his speech titled “The Civil Rights Struggle in the United States Today,” Dr. King told an audience of New York City lawyers, ”Your profession should be proud of its contributions. You should be aware, as indeed I am, that the 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 are increasingly under siege, from both official and private or individual sources, 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. Violations of some of these rights have been incorporated into state laws, as in attempts at voter suppression, while others have been committed by privately against individuals. 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.

We know this continues to be a complex and challenging time in so many ways. But, please know that your work towards these ends has great purpose and meaning, and will make a lasting difference.

Be safe and be well. Peace.

Dean Anthony W. Crowell

Academic Dean William P. LaPiana

Associate Dean and Vice President Ella Mae Estrada

Enrollment Management; Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Professor Kirk Burkhalter
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