MLK commemoration event speakers include trailblazing woman astronaut, nationally recognized poet


Daily file photo by Leeks Lim

Kellogg Prof. Nicholas Pearce delivers the keynote speech during last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Candlelight Vigil. This year’s keynote speaker will be Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space.

Kristine Liao, Reporter

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, the MLK Commemoration Committee announced new plans for its annual two weeks of memorial programming, including plans for a more immersive Day of Service.

The committee coordinates a series of events each year to commemorate the late civil rights activist. This year’s two-week long schedule of events will take place Jan. 13 through Jan. 28 on Northwestern’s Chicago and Evanston campuses.

The planning committee created changes to the Day of Service and Learning, which will take place Jan. 21. This year, the event will include an unmoderated panel about racial justice-oriented social movements, followed by “Neighborhood Immersions,” a service and educational program in Evanston and Chicago.

Valerie Buchanan, assistant director of Leadership and Community Engagement, organized the Day of Service for the first time. Buchanan, who joined Northwestern last year, wanted to emphasize racial justice during the Day of Service this year, adding an educational element for participants. She said she was driven by the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Freedom Movement, King’s activism for open housing in Chicago and current social justice movements.

“I was inspired to create an event where we could have an intergenerational conversation about where we are in Chicago and where we want to be,” Buchanan said.

In addition to the Chicago Freedom Movement, the Black Lives Matter movement will also be discussed at the panel. Panelists include authors of “The Chicago Freedom Movement,” Medill Prof. Charles Whitaker and high school students involved in social justice movements from Evanston and Chicago.

Additionally, the committee announced that Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space, will deliver the keynote address at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Jan. 23 in commemoration of King. She will also speak at the Chicago campus at Hughes Auditorium earlier that day.

Besides being a trailblazing astronaut, Jemison is a doctor, science literacy advocate and author. She earned degrees in chemical engineering and African and Afro-American studies at Stanford University.

Theresa Bratanch, who is a manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said Jemison was on the top of the list for commencement speaker, and the planning committee was lucky to have been able to secure her.

“Through her amazing … background, she can speak to students, faculty and staff all across the institution,” Bratanch said. “People will be really excited to hear her story and how she views MLK and his legacy.”

Other programming throughout the two weeks includes a candlelight vigil in King’s memory, panels, an oratorical contest, a performance of the student-written and produced play “These Days” and a showing of the movie “Hidden Figures.”

The vigil, the oldest event in the program, will feature poet, writer and teacher Clint Smith, who has conducted research on mass incarceration, education and inequality. Hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha — the fraternity King was a member of — the vigil will take place on MLK Day at 7 p.m. in Alice Millar Chapel.

Weinberg senior Jourdan Dorrell, Associated Student Government vice president for accessibility and inclusion, is one of the co-chairs of the planning committee. She said she focused on the programming for Eva Jefferson Day, which honors ASG’s first black president, on Jan. 16. Eva Jefferson Day brings Evanston youth to campus to inform them about King’s legacy.

“MLK Day is something that is really important, and as students, I think we sometimes overlook,” Dorrell said. “My only thing is to encourage everyone to come out to them as much as they can and to take advantage of the program we have.”

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