Last March, Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook stood by Gov. Ralph Northam’s side as he announced that Virginia would become the first southern state to abolish the death penalty.
“Today, we turn the page in the history books,” said Cook, a Baptist minister and civil rights advocate, noting that the commonwealth once allowed the second highest number of modern-day executions in the country. This was the start of a new chapter, she said, focusing on “transforming the justice system into one that is rooted in fairness, accountability and redemption.”
Cook will share that story – how her work to end capital punishment began and where it’s going next – when she delivers the keynote address for the University of Mary Washington’s weeklong Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. Sponsored by the Office of the President, her speech will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. in the University Center’s Chandler Ballroom. Participants may also register to attend virtually.
“We are honored that the UMW community will have the opportunity to hear from this amazing leader,” said Marion Sanford, director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC), which is hosting the celebration honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy. “Dr. Cook will undoubtedly educate, motivate and empower our students and others on social justice issues and how they too can affect positive change.”
A summa cum laude graduate of Virginia Union University, Cook also earned master’s degrees in divinity and educational leadership, and a doctorate in ministry. She has worked at numerous religious and educational institutions across the country, including serving as youth minister at Fredericksburg’s Mount Hope Baptist Church. As a justice reform organizer with Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP), Cook collaborated with other faith leaders to organize prayer vigils and letter writing campaigns in their quest to abolish the death penalty in Virginia.
“This monumental victory … is a significant step in acknowledging the racist legacy of capital punishment as we seek collectively to heal the deep wounds of racism,” Cook said in a statement on the VICPP website. She and her fellow pastors hope their work will inspire other states to follow Virginia’s example.
UMW’s MLK Jr. Celebration also includes Speaking Truth to Power, which will be held on Thursday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. in the Lee Hall Underground. This evening of visual and performing arts honors Dr. King and others who have championed civil rights and social justice.
The week culminates in the MLK Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 22, from 1 to 3 p.m., in partnership with UMW’s Center for Community Engagement. Students are encouraged to sign up and participate in service projects supporting Fredericksburg area community partners.
All events are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact JFMC at 540-654-1044 or email@example.com.
Participants, including students and children, must show a proof of vaccination or have a recent negative COVID test (within 48 hours) to enter. In addition, masks are required to be worn at all times inside campus buildings.