On Monday, January 18, our nation commemorates the life and legacy of civil rights champion, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His vision of compassion and equality as a moral imperative still remains at the heart of today’s ongoing movements for racial justice, labor rights, economic equality, and fair housing—the same battles Dr. King fought 50 years ago. As legal educators and professionals, MLK Day reaffirms our commitment to service, justice, and equity. In this year like no other, celebrations of Dr. King’s life and honoring his legacy will be virtual. Details on the University’s January 26th MLK Interfaith Commemoration can be found here. Our law school’s work to honor Dr. King’s legacy includes our unwavering commitment to service, and our dedication to continued engagement on critical issues of justice and equity.
As social needs have escalated throughout the pandemic, the Law School has supported service locally, nationally, and globally. In 2020, the Law School funded a historic number of JD and LLM grads who represent clients directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and work on matters including ensuring equal access to reproductive health services, providing legal services to low-income families facing eviction or job loss, and advocating for the release of clients, due to severe health risks, from immigrant detention centers and solitary confinement. Read more about the 2020 cohort of fellows here.
In addition, our students have done exceptional pro bono work to meet the growing needs of communities. Some of these endeavors include collaborating with local legal aid organizations such as Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), a nonprofit that provides pro bono services to low-income families and assistance to those who have been denied unemployment benefits. Students helped PLA meet unprecedented demand as thousands of Pennsylvania residents struggled to navigate a complicated unemployment compensation system. Students and faculty have also supported the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund, a pop-up program that provides financial assistance to small businesses on the brink of closure. To date, the Pennsylvania 30 Day Fund has raised over $1.5 million and provided loans to almost 500 businesses in 41 counties, nearly half owned by minorities and women. In addition, student pro bono projects like WILA (Walk-in Legal Assistance), which partners with the University City Hospitality Coalition, have found creative ways to continue serving clients safely in person when needed. With tents, lanterns, and folding tables, students were able to meet with clients outdoors long after temperatures dropped and days shortened. These student-led efforts are crucial and impactful at a time where inequities, perpetuated by historical disinvestment and marginalization, have widened due to the pandemic. Students seeking pro bono volunteer opportunities can always contact TPIC. In addition, mentoring opportunities exist through the University’s College Achievement Program. Information about PENNCAP can be found here, and interested applicants can apply here.
As we continue to witness a shift in the American political and social landscape, our commitments to racial justice, equity, and inclusion within the Law School and legal profession remain our highest priority. We move forward with a dedication to being active listeners, contributors, educators, and allies in the ongoing struggle to cultivate a more just society that values all people.
In addition, the Law School will examine the ongoing pursuit of justice and equity in its upcoming Public Interest Week, February 1-5. The theme of this year’s Public Interest Week is Reframing the Nation: Working Towards Racial Justice. It will culminate in the 40th annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium, Reimagining Freedom: Abolition as a Practice, on Friday, February 5th. Throughout the semester, we will feature ongoing conversations focused on justice and equity, including a February 19th conversation between Stacey Abrams and Benjamin Jealous, and our Black Law Students Association’s 33rd Annual Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Commemorative Conference, which will be held on Saturday, February 27th. The Law School’s many other Centers, faculty, staff, and students are also convening important discussions on these critical issues. Many additional events on topics of equity and justice can be found here.
For those who may wish to engage in individual study to honor the legacy of Dr. King, below are a few resources provided by the Biddle Law Library.
- Emilie Plesset, 5 of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most memorable speeches, Washington Week, April 3, 2018, https://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/blog-post/5-martin-luther-king-jr%E2%80%99s-most-memorable-speeches
- Martin Luther King Papers Project, Stanford University, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents?combine=&field_s_doc_author_value=&field_s_doc_genre_tid=77
- Robert K. Vischer, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Morality of Legal Practice: Lessons in Love and Justice (2013). Online access available through the Biddle catalog: https://lola.law.upenn.edu/record=b855252
- Thomas F. Jackson, From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice (2007). Online access available through the Biddle catalog: https://lola.law.upenn.edu/record=b713862
- The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North (Mary Lou Finley, Bernard LaFayette Jr., James R. Ralph Jr., & Pam Smith, eds., 2016). Online access available through the Penn catalog: https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977125585203681