A Message from the Dean: Reflections on Dr. King’s work, life and legacy

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance. Courage breeds creative self-affirmation; cowardice produces destructive self-abnegation. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear."

— Strength to Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings, by Martin Luther King Jr. 

Dear UW Law community:

Each year, I look forward to Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the opportunity it provides to reflect on Dr. King’s work, life and legacy. In a time where, as a country and community, we have been confronted by a series of distressing events that have called into question whether the achievement of justice and equality for all is hopelessly imperiled, that reflection is more necessary than ever. Perhaps it is because of recent unsettling events that this year, I find Dr. King’s teachings on courage in the face of fear to be especially poignant and comforting.

Like you, I watched in horror earlier this month as domestic terrorists desecrated our Capitol with symbols of racism and hate — symbols not even displayed in the seat of our government during the Civil War. I also observed with exasperation and sadness the stark difference between the police presence and response during these riots and the largely peaceful protests for racial justice this past summer.

In these difficult moments, succumbing to resentment and fear is an understandable inclination. Dr. King’s words remind us that it takes courage to remain committed to the work required to become the kind of anti-racist multicultural society he envisioned. Dr. King’s life and teachings are a testament to just how much can be accomplished when advocacy and activism are brought to bear on behalf of marginalized communities. To do this work, we must persevere, understanding that our commitments to the rule of law and each other as a community provide us with tools to effect real and lasting change.

I invite you to honor Dr. King’s legacy this year with a day of service in whatever capacity you can and by deepening your understanding of anti-racism. Please consider joining the King County Bar Association and Seattle legal community’s day of service Jan. 15. Explore one of the many UW MLK Week activities, which include virtual opportunities for learning, activism, protest and self-care.

Together, we can honor Dr. King’s legacy by bringing his ideals to life through our work and service. Despite the obstacles that seek to obstruct our path, we will continue our collective mission to sustain the rule of law and improve legal education, practice and access to justice for all.

Thank you for your ongoing partnership.


Mario L. Barnes
Toni Rembe Dean and Professor of Law
UW School of Law