Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month Celebration

2024 Keynote Speaker: Fatima Goss Graves, JD

"Hope Is a To-Do List: Beyond the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Rulings"

Tuesday, Feb. 6
Noon to 1:30 p.m.
MSTF Leadership Hall
Reception to follow in the Atrium

Each year, UMB commemorates the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

This celebration reinforces UMB’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. An inspiring keynote message is delivered by a distinguished leader or scholar in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Fatima Goss Graves, JD President and CEO, National Women’s Law Center President, National Women’s Law Center Action Fund Co-Founder, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. Open to read about Ms. Goss Graves.  

The #MeToo movement, during which survivors began to step forward in 2017 to publicize their experiences with rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, was a powerful, watershed moment for Fatima Goss Graves, JD.

“Survivors had never been able to tell their stories en masse like that, completely uninterrupted, and I knew immediately that something was different,” said Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and president of the National Women’s Law Center Action Fund. “No one was going to be OK with returning to the ‘normal’ way of doing business, when survivors did not have the space or support to speak out against sexual harassment and assault — and abuse thrived in the shadows. So the question really became for me, how do we leverage this moment?”

Goss Graves was inspired to co-found the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund just months after #MeToo went viral. From the beginning, the work of the fund was influenced by a letter written by Monica Ramirez, then of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of farmworker women to express solidarity with the women of Hollywood who were speaking up.

“This letter was a galvanizing call that connected those with significant platforms, whose plight was highly visible, to those whose power was less known. Each would need legal support and support telling their stories and were far stronger working together,” Goss Graves said.

“From this unprecedented moment, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund was born to create a protection squad for those survivors — to give survivors access to lawyers and storytelling support to help them navigate media, so they could feel empowered to tell their stories and to seek justice.”

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which connects survivors of workplace harassment and related retaliation with attorneys and in select cases pays for their legal and public relations fees, has helped more than 5,000 individuals. About 40 percent of those survivors identify as people of color and about 80 percent identify as low income.

The legal defense fund is just one aspect of the work of Goss Graves, a nationally recognized leader in the fight for gender justice and an expert in law, policy, and culture change who will be the keynote speaker at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month Celebration on Feb. 6.

She has a distinguished track record working across a broad set of issues central to the lives of women and girls — including income security and COVID-19 relief, equal pay, sexual harassment and violence, health and reproductive rights, education access, and workplace justice — with a particular focus on outcomes for women and girls of color. She is widely sought after for her effectiveness in the complex public policy arena at the state and federal levels, and she regularly testifies before Congress and federal agencies.

Goss Graves’ speech at UMB is titled “Hope Is a To-Do List: Beyond the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Rulings.” She says hope is central to her work and believes it was for Dr. King’s as well.

“We are working on women’s rights work at a challenging time in our history. I know that many folks, including members of my staff, are deeply worried about the state of our country and rightfully so,” Goss Graves said. “It can be challenging to find hope when it is unclear when and how in the end we will prevail. Dr. King’s life and legacy is a reminder that we must force ourselves to hold onto hope. In our darkest times, we can find light.

“Hope is the fuel for our endurance. Hope is our best political strategy. In other words, it is the belief in a better future that will keep us fighting to get there.”

Goss Graves pointed out that she has been president and CEO of NWLC, which works to change laws, policies, and culture to ensure that people can work and learn with safety, dignity, and equity, during the Trump presidency, the #MeToo movement, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My greatest achievement and honor is steering the organization and broader movement to not only respond to these giant inflection points but to build toward a future beyond this period,” she said.

Goss Graves says while the law center is focused on many issues in 2024, this year’s elections are at the forefront.

“We are focused on making sure that voters understand what’s at stake in the upcoming election. We believe that mobilization begins with information,” she said. “The far right’s strategy, I think, is to spread baseless lies that instill fear in people and then use that fear as motivation to get folks to the ballot box. Where extremists lead with fear, I want us to lead with honesty and hope. Here’s how things really are, and here’s how you can make them better.”

The law center plans to continue to defend attacks against women and families in bills and federal budget negotiations, in which Goss Graves said conservatives want to cut domestic spending, potentially hurting families.

The law center also has pushed for the Biden administration to tighten Title IX rules, which Goss Graves said she hopes will happen by spring.

“Until then, students are without adequate protections against sexual assault, sex-based harassment, and other sex discrimination,” said Goss Graves, who recently testified before Congress on the issue. “LGBTQI+ students are facing a crisis of hundreds of state bills depriving them of their right to learn in safety and who they are. Pregnant and parenting students are still without the support they need to stay in school, which is even more urgent in the wake of the Supreme Court’s destructive decision in Dobbs that eviscerated the federal constitutional right to an abortion.”

UMB’s EDI Efforts

Goss Graves praised UMB for its numerous equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts, which include launching an EDI Data Dashboard, a dynamic tool for mapping and tracking UMB’s evolving landscape of EDI across its seven schools and administrative units.

“I admire so much of how UMB has really turbocharged their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts over the past few years, and I have been especially excited to see the development of UMB’s EDI Data Dashboard,” she said. “Tracking data like this, in such a transparent manner, is a form of taking accountability. It gives a snapshot of where the organization stands and where it is going and includes a public commitment to filling those gaps.”

She said EDI is not only a value of the NWLC but also is “a core driver of our work and an essential part of our mission.”

“We care deeply about creating a work environment where our diverse staff can grow, belong, and thrive — and for that environment to further enable us to achieve NWLC’s gender justice agenda.”

She said the law center has a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging team of four staff members who are experts in data-informed approaches, education and professional development, and building community.

“The team seeks to be data informed in how priorities get established, how impactful initiatives are, how impactful our policies and operations are, and more,” she said.

A Generational Fight for Justice

Goss Graves said one of Dr. King’s quotes that she often references is “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“The fight for justice has always been a generational one,” she said. “This is the lesson we can take from past generations — they pushed for progress they didn’t live to see, and now it is our duty to do the same.

“I find great solace in Dr. King’s long-arc vision, because it reminds me that even if we face setbacks today, one day, our vision for justice will be fulfilled. When I look at my own children and the elders in my family, I know that we are all driving in the same direction.”

— Jen Badie

Recent MLK/BHM Speakers


Sharon Fries-Britt

Sharon Fries-Britt, PhD
Professor of Higher Education and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP)


Lawrence T. Brown

Lawrence T. Brown, PhD, MPA
Educator, Equity Scientist, and Author


Anthony K. Wutoh

Anthony K. Wutoh, PhD '96, BSP '90, RPh
Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Howard University

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