Founders Celebration Kicks Off with a Social Justice Event Honoring MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses marchers during his "I Have a Dream" speech
at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963


On January 14, 2016, the Office of Diversity Services at American University Washington College of Law hosted the 17th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Commemoration Program in Claudio Grossman Hall.

The event kicked off the annual Founders’ celebration, which commemorates 120 years since the law school’s founding by Ellen Spencer Mussey and Emma Gillett in 1896. From January 14 – May 22, 2016 American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) will be welcoming students, alumni, judges, scholars, and members of the DC and international legal community to the Tenley Campus a series of events, seminars, panel discussions, expert forums, and Continuing Legal Education programs.

Dean Claudio Grossman introduced the keynote speaker Elliot Milstein, former AUWCL dean and current professor.

In his speech, “Inspired by Dr. King: Law Schools Embrace the Obligation to Teach the Pursuit of Social Justice,” Milstein recalled how he was personally affected and inspired by the civil right’s movement to become a lawyer.  As a law school student, he wanted to join the efforts and represent people arrested in the riots after Dr. King’s assassination. 

“We believed that lawyers could be change agents and, if as Dr. King said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,’” said Milstein. “Committed lawyers were necessary to make it bend.”

Milstein and his colleagues had difficulty initially navigating the criminal justice system.  It confirmed the need incorporate lawyering for social justice into legal education. 

At AUWCL, Milstein helps the civil advocacy clinic students continue the tradition. He gives them the tools to fight injustice and preconceptions in the classroom for the courtroom. Reflecting on AUWCL as a whole, Milstein said, “We made this a law school of opportunity.”

“As we start this new chapter in our law school’s history, as we seek to build on what we’ve done and learned, we must dedicate ourselves to filling this building with new ways to with struggle for justice and to strive anew and to fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream, ‘free at last, free at last,’” said Milstein.

Faculty, staff, and students collaborated for a dynamic community reading of excerpts from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and finally, Sherry Weaver, director of the Office of Diversity Services, invited the audience to share the influence of Dr. King and his philosophies on their lives.