A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To the Students, Staff, and Faculty of Harvard Kennedy School,

On Monday the United States officially honors the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

More than fifty years ago, Dr. King and his colleagues in the leadership of the civil rights movement worked with courage and determination to try to overcome racism and achieve justice. Dr. King’s powerful speeches, compelling writings, and sacrificial actions—often through persistent, non-violent protesting—generated transformational changes in this country.

Tragically, though, the country has made much less progress than Dr. King had hoped. In 1963, he spoke to a peaceful mass march on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and he called for equality and democracy with the “fierce urgency of now” for Black Americans and all of America. Yet, in 2020 and 2021, almost 60 years later, we live with continued racial injustice and attacks on democracy, including last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by white supremacists and other rioters. The contrast is undeniably jarring and discouraging.

However, we cannot let discouraging developments deter us from the cause that Dr. King advanced. Instead, we can and must challenge ourselves to redouble our efforts for justice. Dr. King declared at the Lincoln Memorial: “We must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. … We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As we commemorate Dr. King’s life, let us use his words and actions to inspire us in our quest for justice—in our research, teaching, learning, leading, and public service. 

I wish that I could finish this message there, but I am worried about the prospect of more civil unrest and violence around the United States in the coming days and beyond. As the Kennedy School uses its teaching, research, and outreach to confront this threat, we also want our students, staff, and faculty to be safe. We are heightening our security precautions for the campus, and I urge all of you—wherever in the country or the world you are—to be vigilant for your own safety. I also want to emphasize that you are not alone. If you want to talk with someone, please reach out to your fellow students and colleagues, or to our teams in Degree Programs and Student Affairs (for students), Human Resources (for staff and fellows), the Academic Deans’ office (for faculty), and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (for all). 

We are in this together, taking care of each other and working to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
Best wishes,

Douglas W. Elmendorf
Dean and Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy