Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Civil rights panelists share how MLK's dream has affected their lives

John Haroldson, district attorney for Benton County, firmly believes Martin Luther King Jr. was a champion of social justice. 

Now, he argues lawyers are in a unique position to build on King’s legacy. 

“To be a social justice champion means systems will be fair for everyone,” he says. “I don’t believe that there’s a better person to do that than a lawyer.” 

Haroldson was one of three speakers who took part in the “College of Law Civil Rights Panel Discussion” at Willamette University on Jan. 22. The event was part of a two-week long series of events at Willamette that honored Martin Luther King Jr. 

The lecture featured Haroldson, Miller Nash attorney Tyler Anderson and Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Adrienne Nelson. They each spoke about the challenges King’s dream faces today and how the dream has affected their own lives. 

“We have more people involved and who have access to the law, which is important,” Nelson says. “Law isn’t always black and white, though. The end result isn’t as important as the fact that they had their voice heard. We are getting there.” 

Though progress within the system is being made, Anderson, an attorney in the private sector, says people must continually ask themselves how they can help other people. 

Haroldson, a first-generation lawyer, agrees. Having experienced discrimination himself as a Mexican American, he says achieving social justice takes courage, compassion and the continuous review of existing laws.

"When we speak about ‘behind the dream,’ the term that comes to me is ‘love.’ Love, because you have to care about people as a foundation,” he says. “In caring about people, we have to be careful not to put on blinders and to have the courage to advocate for those who have no voice.”

After hearing the lecture, politics major Giovanna Casas Reyes ’16 says she valued how the panelists shared stories from their own lives to show why social justice is vital. 

“It’s important for events like this to take place at Willamette University because students have the opportunity to learn what other members of the community are a part of,” she says. “Panels like this help bring the community together and bring the conversation forward.”