Diversity, equity, and inclusion on display during MLK day celebrations in Utah

Jan 15, 2024, 7:15 PM | Updated: 8:38 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Messages of diversity and unity were the themes Monday as Utahns got out to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At events spanning from Ogden to Salt Lake City, there were speeches, rallies and marches marking the federal holiday in Utah and honoring the late civil rights leader.

At the Capitol, dozens of speakers shared about the legacy of the Dr. King.

Event organizer Cleopatra Louise Balfour says she hopes Utahns can remember Dr. King’s message of equality more than just Monday.

“The work of Dr. Martin Luther King was not just one day. We do celebrate that man on this day, but he worked his entire life to bring about those changes that were not things that came quickly,” she said.

At the University of Utah, roughly hundreds of people marched from East High to the University of Utah. The walk was about a mile uphill to Kingsbury Hall.

Richard Leverett attended that event for the second year in a row.

“It’s felt like renewed purpose,” he said.

The event put on by the University of Utah took place one day before Utah’s legislative session starts, and under the shadow of a bill targeting diversity equity and inclusion offices on college campuses. 

Speakers like Utah’s only black state lawmaker Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-District 21, and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson both mentioning the bill and urging people to push back against it.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson delivers a speech on in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Lindsay Aerts)

“We’re going to move forward and fight. We’re going to make sure that our children are going to be educated about the true history of America,” Hollins said to cheers.

Wilson encouraged the audience to reach out to their state representatives.

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. How is that so threatening? I mean is that not what we teach in our schools?” Wilson asked the crowd. 

“Rep. Hollins and her team will fight these dangerous initiatives [that] hold us back from the work we need to do, they need our support,” she said. 

Daughter of first black starter at BYU football celebrated at Capitol

Megan Castleton attended the rally at the Capitol. Castleton is the daughter of Bennie Smith, the first black man to start for Brigham Young University football in the early 1970s, who played under LaVell Edwards. Castleton says Smith faced off-the-field discrimination while living in Utah.

Bennie Smith, the first black man to start for Brigham Young University football in the early 1970s, who played under LaVell Edwards. His daughter Megan Castleton says Smith faced off the field discrimination while living in Utah. (KSL TV)

“My mom was white. So they could not get married in Provo because at the time it was illegal,” she said.

Castleton says speaking up and “getting loud” now is the way she honors her father, and Dr. King’s legacy.

“It’s so important for me to be here to celebrate even just my history and what Martin Luther King and his family and the ones that came before did for us and that we’re still fighting that fight today,” she said.

Castleton said that her kids have experienced racism in their Utah schools.  She said she hopes that Dr. King’s message of inclusion will continue to improve in Utah.

“I’m proud of who I am,” said Castleton. “I’m proud of my ancestors. No one is perfect, but I have to learn from them and to feel that belonging is just amazing.


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Diversity, equity, and inclusion on display during MLK day celebrations in Utah