Yale events explore legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for justice

From conversations to a poetry slam, the Yale community this week is celebrating the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in a range of all-virtual events.

The Yale community this week is celebrating the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in a range of all-virtual events, including a conversation about the role of race, place, and spirituality in achieving environmental justice; a poetry slam; storytelling; a dance performance; and a conversation for young people about mental wellness in families of color.

The events kicked off on Thursday evening with the conversation about achieving a more environmentally just society, which was part of the Yale Peabody Museum’s Annual Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy of Social and Environmental Justice, now in its 26th year.

Additional events throughout the weekend will include virtual discussions exploring how the civil rights icon’s work continues to influence artists, advocates, and thought leaders today.

King’s ties to Yale date back to 1959, when he spoke on “The Future of Integration” at the invitation of undergraduates. He returned to campus in 1964 to receive an honorary degree. He had been arrested for ordering food in a whites-only hotel just two days before his Yale visit, and his honorary degree from Yale sparked some controversy at the time. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, was named the first Frances Blanshard Fellow at Yale in 1969. While on campus, she met with women graduate students and spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in Woolsey Hall about the importance of campus unrest in addressing social injustices.

On Jan. 26, Yale will co-host another event honoring the legacy of Dr. King, which will feature a keynote address by Majora Carter, a MacArthur Fellow and environmental justice activist from the South Bronx.

In 2001, Carter founded the nonprofit Sustainable South Bronx. Under her leadership, the organization secured the passage of New York City's Green Roof Tax Abatement, launched one of the nation's first and most successful green-collar job training and placement systems, and changed the national discourse on the relationship between environmental equality and economic development. She produced and hosted the Peabody Award-winning public radio series, “The Promised Land,” which highlighted leaders of color in environmental and economic projects across the United States.

That event, which also will be held on Zoom, is co-sponsored by Yale’s 2022 MLK Commemoration Planning Committee, the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Office of the Secretary & Vice President for University Life, and the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale. It will be free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Highlights of other events follow.

King’s impact on environmental justice

The Peabody Museum’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration began with the Thursday discussion on how race, place, and spirituality can intersect and inform one another in creating a more environmentally just world. The discussion featured Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, bronte velez, creative director of Lead to Life, and Maisa Tisdale, founder and president of the Mary and Eliza Freeman Center.

The event continued on Friday morning with a talk by Yara Aishwairikh, a Yale researcher and doctoral candidate, about her work on genetic variation in wood frogs and the impact of climate change on the species, which can survive being frozen solid in winter.

On Sunday, Jan. 16, a virtual space created by and for middle and high school students will allow them to connect with their peers to talk about mental wellness in families of color. Hosted with leaders from Students for Educational Justice, this Zoom meeting will feature discussions of mental health, the presence of police in schools, and the legacy of King. Participants can also join a spoken word workshop hosted The Word, a literary arts program for young people in New Haven, and teaching artists Tahj Galberth and Aaron Jafferis, or a visual arts workshop facilitated by teaching artist Jadie Meprivert.

Z Experience Poetry Jam,” featuring poet-performers Croilot and Ngoma as emcees, will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday. This spoken word event will honor Zannette Lewis, founder of the Peabody Museum’s annual MLK Poetry Slam. Guests will tune in online for a curated open mic in collaboration with artists from The Word, followed by a slate of renowned poets from all over the country, including Lorraine Currelley, Robert Gibbons, Bao Phi, and Ray Jane. This event is appropriate for adults and young adults with the discretion of a parent or guardian.

Two events will conclude the Peabody’s celebration on Monday, Jan. 17. At 10 a.m., New Haven Museum educators will host a morning of family programs celebrating King and his legacy. Storytellers Joy Donaldson, Waltrina Kirkland, and Clifton Graves will share fables, anecdotes, and stories that honor King’s work, followed by a dance performance and lesson from Ms. Hanan’s Dance and Beyond. A child-friendly painting activity with Anthony Gilkes, which can be done at home, will follow.

A panel discussion — “Supporting Black Youth in Crisis: What Would Dr. King Say? What Would Dr. King Do?” — will begin at 12:30 p.m. Hosted by the Black Caucus American Library Association-Connecticut Chapter, it will examine issues affecting Black youth in the community, including the role of mental health and how drugs and violence perpetuate negative behavior.

Registration is required for all events, which take place on Zoom or can be watched on the Yale Peabody Museum Facebook Page and YouTube Channel Live.

The Peabody Museum celebration is sponsored in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the New Haven Museum.

On Feb. 18, Yale School of the Environment (YSE) will host a virtual celebration of King’s legacy, including a panel discussion and a keynote address by Dorceta Taylor, a professor and senior associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at YSE and one of the nation’s preeminent scholars in the field of environmental justice. The two-hour event, which will begin at 12:30 p.m., will be held on Zoom. Registration is required.

Restorative justice across the African diaspora

On Monday, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library will host an online presentation about survivor’s semiotics by Ghanian sculptor Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, founder of the Nkyinkyim Museum in Nuhalenya, Ghana. The event, which is part of the Beinecke’s “Mondays at Beinecke” series, will begin at 4 p.m.

Akoto-Bamfo created the first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. His installation, known as the Blank Slate Monument, now stands at the entrance of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. In 2021, the sculpture toured from Louisville, Kentucky to Atlanta’s King Center, among other U.S. stops. Akoto-Bamfo, who won the 2015 Kuenyehia Art Prize (Ghana’s top prize for contemporary art), spoke at the Beinecke Library on Martin Luther King Day in 2020.

A video of a Beinecke Library talk given last year on Martin Luther King Day by W. Jason Miller, professor of literature at North Carolina State University, is available on YouTube. Miller traces Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of Langston Hughes’ poetry in his sermons from 1956 to 1968.

Check back with Yale News for other event announcements in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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