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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Lynch: Move forward by reflecting on history

History and anniversaries can sometimes be painful, and this year marks an anniversary more painful than most: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

“Anniversaries can be hard, but even the painful ones give us perspective,” said former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who in 2015 became the first African-American female to hold that position. “They illuminate the patterns of history and they also illuminate the path to victory in difficult time.”

Drawing on the history of the country and North Carolina, Lynch said, can lead future generations through difficult times and into a more just society.

Loretta Lynch delivers the Keynote at the MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards Ceremony at Memorial Hall.

Lynch’s message was the keynote address at the 37th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture and Award Ceremony on Feb. 19. The event, held at Memorial Hall, focused on the importance of social justice, unity and action and service.

Co-hosted by the Carolina Union Activities Board and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the lecture was originally scheduled for Jan. 17, as part of the University’s weeklong observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but was postponed due to snow.

“This MLK lecture holds a special place in our celebrations because we learn from our keynote speakers about their own meaningful civil actions and their principled humane leadership,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “We use this time to reinforce our own commitment to building that beloved community that Dr. King inspired.”

Prior to Lynch’s speech, Folt joined G. Rumay Alexander, the University’s chief diversity officer and associate vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion, to present the MLK Scholarship and the Unsung Hero Awards.

Carolina junior Angum Check received the MLK Scholarship, which recognizes a commitment to improving the quality of life of our community and campus.

Presented to two faculty, staff or community members each year, the Unsung Hero award recognizes commitment to the University’s mission of sustaining an inclusive community. This year’s recipients were Erica Wallace, a coordinator for peer mentoring and engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, and Jan Johnson Yopp, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism and dean of Summer School

. In her speech, Lynch discussed how reflecting on history can help put current struggles into perspective. Today’s racial issues, she said, are not new. By understanding that and learning from the past, we can move further than we have before, Lynch said.

“The lesson in history is we can figure out how we managed to advance before and build on that for the future,” Lynch said.

It’s been up to each generation to defend the values of equality, she said, and history has shown that the strength lies not in the national leaders, but in the hands of ordinary people—like the students sitting in Memorial Hall on Feb. 19.

“Wherever we see major social change, we see young people at the heart of it,” Lynch said. “Wherever we see social justice movements, they’re led by young people. Usually, young people—all of you—are the true catalyst for that change.”