Celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King

Brenda Salter McNeil
Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil addresses UChicago Medicine faculty and staff in the Billing auditorium in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday.

Chicago’s winter weather did not keep University of Chicago Medicine faculty and staff from filing into the Billings auditorium for the 43 rd annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Everyone was in anticipation of the address from this year’s keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil. An international speaker, author, professor and thought-leader, McNeil has more than 30 years of experience in the ministry of reconciliation. Her mission is to inspire, equip and empower emerging leaders in their various spheres of influence around the world.

Each year, UChicago Medicine selects a dynamic, world-renowned keynote speaker to deliver an inspirational address that reaffirms the Medical Center’s commitment to service and reignite its passion for providing innovative care for patients. Past speakers have included journalist and newsman Ed Gordon, poet and entrepreneur Sekou Andrews and educator and commentator Steve Perry.

The Jan. 22 celebration kicked off with an uplifting musical selection from the John Harvard Elementary School of Excellence in-school choir, part of the Chicago Children’s Choir, which was founded in Hyde Park at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1956. With a mission to inspire and change lives through music, it has grown into a program that serves more than 5,000 youth who represent all 57 Chicago ZIP codes.

Chicago Children's Choir
John Harvard Elementary School of Excellence's in-house choir sings “We Shall Overcome” during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration held on Jan. 22

Bob Hanley, vice president and chief human resources officer, introduced Sharon O’Keefe, president of the University of Chicago Medical Center, who quoted Dr. King and welcomed McNeil.

“In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to an audience at New York University, 'Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; and the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.' We live Dr. King’s words through our core values, touching the lives of patients, faculty, staff, students — and those in our community. And our commitment to those values is what makes us a world-class research, teaching and clinical-care institution.”

McNeil’s 45-minute speech focused on how racial, social, cultural and economic differences are highly prevalent in the country today and how these differences are impacting the health care industry.

“We don’t need to grapple with the memory of Dr. King, but focus on what we need to do to continue to walk in his footsteps and ensure that all people are have access to quality, culturally competent health care and not let these differences get in the way of our duty,” she said.

Her presentation received a standing ovation. Afterward, Brenda Battle, Vice President of the Urban Health Initiative and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, closed the ceremony with the often-forgotten intended purpose of the holiday.

“The Martin Luther King holiday is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. Service is a powerful tool for strengthening our communities. But service is just a start, particularly for all of us, as hospital employees. It is a great privilege to provide care for those in need. Dr. King said, 'Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'' We have the opportunity every day to be of service, to change the lives of our patients and their families in ways that are both large and small.”