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Durham reminds leaders of power of nonviolence

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In a voice that rang clear across the packed Union Pacific Depot, Phyllis Caruth moved the throng.

"We shall overcome," she sang. "Deep in my heart, I do believe we shall overcome, someday."

Caruth, chairwoman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, was one of the luminaries urging Utahns to "celebrate differences" as the state grows more diverse. At the commission's annual Drum Major Awards Luncheon Friday, she expressed hope that King would inspire people all year, not just on the Monday holiday.

"We all have a meaningful role to play," added Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham, the keynote speaker. "We all have a stake in what happens" in our communities. Durham reminded the assembled state and local leaders that Utah's minority population leaped 113 percent during the past decade, and "more than a quarter of Salt Lake City residents are people of color."

Still, basic dignity and opportunities in school and in the job market aren't yet within reach for everyone, Durham said. In Utah, "we have made great strides . . . but there is much work yet to be done." She referred to a definition of greatness offered four decades ago by King, who said, "Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve."

On the eve of a weekend when anti-war marches are planned from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C., Durham reminded her audience that King helped transform the nation through nonviolent protests. "Like the water our bodies require," the basic freedoms to speak out and to peacefully assemble "will sustain us," the chief justice said. She called for renewed interest in King's work. "The real success of his life was in his ability to mobilize ordinary people to do extraordinary things."

Utah's Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission presented its annual "Drum Major for Peace" awards to four organizations: Fannie Mae, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Salt Lake County Personnel Division and the Women's Business Center at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Their offices have ensured equal opportunity through mentoring programs and other support of minorities in the work force.

Matt Minkevitch, director of The Road Home shelter and services for homeless Utahns, asked the audience to review the Six Principles of Nonviolence that inspired King. "Each of us will have an opportunity, in our personal lives" he said, "to be drum majors for peace." The principles are: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people; nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding; nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people; nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform; nonviolence chooses love instead of hate; and nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com