Two recognized for efforts to advance King's dream

Two members of the Princeton University community were honored Jan. 17 for their efforts to continue the journey to achieve Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for America.

Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary of the University and a 1969 Princeton graduate, and Dylan Tatz, a junior from New York City, were presented with the first MLK Day Journey Awards during ceremonies commemorating King's legacy in Richardson Auditorium of Alexander Hall.

"In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King declared, 'I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits,'" said Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman as she introduced the recipients. "The Martin Luther King Day Journey Award honors members of our faculty, staff or student body who have actively advanced this dream in their personal or professional lives."

Members of the University community nominated candidates based on their support for King's philosophy and teachings and their contributions to the improvement of civil rights and/or human rights. Preference was given to candidates who have positively affected the Princeton University campus and/or community. Members of the MLK Day Committee judged the nominations, and Tilghman selected the finalists. The award, which now becomes an annual honor, includes a commemorative plaque.

Durkee was named the first recipient of the Journey Award for Lifetime Service and also received an engraved wristwatch. "For Bob, diversity is a fundamental and intrinsic feature of Princeton, not a fashionable catchword," Tilghman said in presenting the award. "He has done as much as anyone I know to create conditions in which men and women of color can feel at home at every level and in every sector of our University community."

Durkee's advocacy for improving race relations can be traced to his student days, when he wrote an award-winning article, "The Negro at Princeton," for The Daily Princetonian. This study of the black experience on what was then an overwhelmingly white campus offered a realistic portrait of the complications of race relations.

After graduating from Princeton, Durkee taught fifth and sixth grades for three years in the Trenton, N.J., public schools and earned a master of arts in teaching degree from Montclair State University. In 1972, he returned to work at Princeton, serving first as assistant to the president. He was named vice president for public affairs in 1978 and to his present post in 2004.

Durkee was the founding chair of the University's Martin Luther King Day Committee, which sponsors the annual observance on campus, and he has been a driving force behind the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, which recognizes high school students who have worked "to increase understanding and mutual respect among all races." He also has been an active member of the Washington, D.C.-based Fair Labor Association, which promotes humane and just conditions in the workplace, both at home and overseas.

Tatz was selected as the first recipient of the Journey Award for Special Achievement. Calling him "a true builder of bridges on our campus," Tilghman said that Tatz "has a deep commitment to interracial and intercultural understanding, as well as the vision and determination to bring estranged communities together in a search for common ground."

As a founder and chair of the Princeton Committee on Prejudice, Tatz spearheaded an effort to organize a week-long conference in March 2004 on African-American and Jewish-American relations. The event was modeled after King's historic partnership with Jewish-Americans and their common struggle for civil rights. It attracted distinguished scholars, hundreds of participants and more than a dozen sponsors.

Tatz, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, is a religion major pursuing certificates in Judaic studies and European cultural studies. He works as a programming assistant at the Center for Jewish Life, plays baritone saxophone in the marching band and is a freelance clarinetist.