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The Martin Luther King Memorial: Reflections on NIH Values

Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, portrait of the civil rights leader carved in granite, dedicated by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Located in West Potomac Park at 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C., the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial stands 30 feet tall and is comprised of 159 granite blocks.1 It is the first memorial to honor an African American on the National Mall. As the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) takes this opportunity to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, I feel very proud to take part in developing a campaign to remember his contributions which established so much of the groundwork we still use today for social progress.

The memorial represents so much for me. It honors the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice. Walking along the 450-foot wall of inspirational quotes, I’ve paused to read so many that resonate with me.

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”2 This quote captures my inspiration to work at the National Institutes of Health to make a difference in the community. As a public servant, I often find that standing up for justice is challenging, but ensuring our peers feel connected to the community and ready to work together to reach the common goal of enhancing equity and improving inclusion is worth the challenge.

From scientific research dedicated to curing rare diseases to specialized patient care, the NIH works to put the needs of humanity at the forefront. During the peak of our recent global pandemic, the NIH answered the call. While most staff adapted to teleworking to help reduce the spread, the Clinical Center remained staffed with essential personnel working diligently to care for patients and lead research to develop mRNA vaccines. Another powerful quote from the memorial, “we must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,”3 speaks to the collaboration and powerful sense of duty to improve life that is so apparent across the NIH community.

People from all walks of life come together within EDI to help spread the message that our collective efforts will be rewarded with progress toward peace. With a brand-new Black Engagement Committee created to help address employment needs, recruitment, training, career development, and barriers impacting inclusion of the Black community at the agency, we hope to continue our journey toward a workplace aligned with our greatest ideals. Additionally, new Employee Resource Groups are forming to promote diversity and inclusion and to establish a wide range of perspectives and opportunities within this mission.

Dr. King realized early in his quest for civil rights that a “beloved community”4 is necessary for justice and equal opportunity, and that no group or individual should be oppressed. He “spoke often of beloved community as a way of transforming people and relationships and creating communities grounded in reconciliation, friendship and human dignity.”5 This is vital to our work within EDI and at the NIH as a whole.

Dr. King famously said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The NIH will always continue to enhance the dream that Dr. King spoke into possibility—we hope everyone will join us to help make it reality.


  2. "Address at the Youth March for Integrated Schools on 18 April 1959." by Dr. Martin Luther King.

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