In late January, Northwestern University hosted DREAM Week, celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The week of events culminated on Monday, January 24, with a keynote address from Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter behind the New York Times’ “1619 Project.”
Hannah-Jones led an hour-long discussion, co-moderated by Robin Walker Sterling, Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and Dr. Linda Suleiman, assistant professor at Feinberg School of Medicine, about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how that legacy is often sanitized, or white-washed, specifically in the post-Reagan era. “During his entire lifetime of activism, there was never a time that the majority of white Americans were supporting what he was doing,” Hannah-Jones said. “He was not looking for a colorblind society, he wanted a society that was going to take into account 300 years of anti-blackness and do something to address [it].”
Hannah-Jones discussed how Dr. King was one of the many inspirations for her own work, most notably The 1619 Project, which acknowledged the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery, examined slavery’s modern legacy, and highlighted the contributions of Black Americans in the nation. “We have a world that is being shaped everyday by the legacy of slavery, by the legacy of anti-blackness, but we don’t know many of the ways that these legacies are shaping the world that we’re in,” Hannah-Jones said.
She also addressed how the fear of Black people permeates society today, her idea of what economic reparations for Black Americans looks like in modern day, and how we need to reexamine the law of the land if we want progress. “For the vast majority of our country, so much of the law was about constraining the rights of Black Americans…and it looks like we are set to see more of that occurring now with this Supreme Court,” Hannah-Jones said. She noted that no single president has nominated as many justices as Donald Trump since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, when he systematically started to dismantle Brown v. Board of Education. “If we’re practicing law as if all that history doesn’t exist, then all we are doing is reifying the structural inequality that was already baked into the system,” she said. “It can’t be a conversation just about what happened a long time ago. It has to be a conversation about how what happened a long time ago shapes what is happening now.”
The University-wide DREAM Week kicked off with “Today I Have Hope,” a panel of Chicagoland community organizers who are working to support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The week also included the Chicago Campus Oratorical Contest, hosted by the Law School. The competition was moderated by Michael Burns, interim associate dean of inclusion and engagement, and entrants wrote essays inspired by the Dr. King quote, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” Blair Matthews (JD ’22), Joyce Ohiri (PhD/MSCI), and Zachary Furlin (JD ‘22) won first, second and third place respectively in the student category. For the second year in a row, Northwestern staff were also encouraged to participate in the contest. Tingting Liu, financial coordinator of the Office of Finance and Administration at Feinberg School of Medicine, won the staff portion. Hope Rehak, executive assistant to Dean Hari Osofsky, won second place, while Himlay Shinglot, research assistant at Feinberg, won third place.
The Chicago Campus slate of programming was curated by Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and Northwestern University.