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Harry Belafonte Highlights MLK Program

Northwestern celebration honors life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- World-renowned actor, singer, civil rights activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte, who made the songs “Jamaica Farewell” and “Banana Boat (Day-O)” hits on the Billboard charts, will deliver the keynote address commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

Admission is free and seating is on a first-come first-served basis.

The Jan. 28 Evanston campus evening program will conclude Northwestern’s two-week celebration that includes discussions, lectures, film screenings, music, theater and service projects to inspire reflection on Dr. King’s life and legacy.

The “King of Calypso” met a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in New York in the 1950s. They developed a long friendship that transformed Belafonte’s life. 

Since Northwestern recently designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21) as an official University-recognized holiday every year, starting in January 2013, the University will celebrate Monday, Jan. 21 by suspending classes and closing offices for all Northwestern students, faculty and staff. Northwestern will continue to hold a special commemoration and stage events, but some of the key programs planned for the commemoration have been rescheduled for the week of Jan. 14 on the Chicago campus.

The University’s observance on the Evanston campus will get underway Jan. 21 with several events on the actual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, including a 2 p.m. staged reading at the Josephine Louis Theater of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet’s incendiary crime mystery “Race,” which explores issues of prejudice, oppression and guilt, and an evening address by Illinois State Rep. Napoleon Harris. Harris will be the keynote speaker during a 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21 Candlelight Vigil at Alice Millar Chapel, hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Harris, who is an alumnus of Northwestern’s School of Communication, is the newly-elected Illinois State Senator from the 15th District, a former member of the Northwestern University football team and the first-round draft pick for the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League (NFL).

During a Jan. 21 Day of Service, Northwestern students and Evanston middle-schoolers participating in the Associated Student Government’s annual Eva Jefferson Day program, will engage in a variety of service projects throughout the Chicago area.

The Chicago campus has a DREAM (Day to Recognize the Efforts and Achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) Committee developed through a partnership between the Northwestern School of Law and Feinberg School of Medicine. Students, staff and faculty from both programs have worked together to plan events commemorating the King holiday. Activities include service projects, a film screening, youth art contest and panel discussions that will take place from Jan. 14 to 17.  

About Harry Belafonte

Born in New York’s Harlem neighborhood in 1927, Belafonte is the son of Caribbean-born immigrants. He returned with his mother to her native Jamaica as a young boy. Following the outbreak of World War II, he and his mother returned to the United States, a transition Belafonte, a teenager at the time, found difficult. Unable to finish high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served for almost two years as a munitions loader. After his tour of duty ended, he was honorably discharged and returned to New York City where he worked in both the garment district and as a janitor’s assistant. He went on to pursue a career as an actor. His lead role in Otto Preminger’s film adaptation of Oscar Hammerstein’s “Carmen Jones,” took top critical honors, attracted Oscar nominations and made Belafonte a star. His recording “Belafonte” reached number one on the Billboard charts and started a national craze for calypso music in the mid-1950s. Belafonte’s RCA album, “Calypso,” made him the first artist in industry history to sell more than one million LPs. Belafonte also went on to become television’s first black producer, winning an Emmy for his CBS production of “An Evening with Belafonte,” directed by Norman Jewison.

Belafonte’s many firsts in the overturning of numerous racial barriers in the world of culture in America is legend. Belafonte met a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his historic visit to New York in the 1950s. From that day until the leader’s assassination, Belafonte and King developed a deep friendship that for Belafonte still stands as one of the most precious of his experiences. Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to “We Are the World.” He contacted manager, Ken Kragen, and they, along with others, guided and directed the project known as USA for Africa (United Support for Artists for Africa) the name under which 47 predominantly U.S. artists, led by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, recorded the hit single “We Are the World” in 1985.

Belafonte was also prominent in the contribution to the ending of the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela, after more than 27 years of incarceration. President John F. Kennedy appointed Belafonte to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps, a position he held for five years. In 1987, Belafonte was appointed as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and Africa. Belafonte’s memoir, “My Song,” was released last October, in conjunction with an HBO bio-documentary titled “Sing Your Song.” A free screening of Belafonte’s film will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Evanston campus. For more on the documentary, visit

The following is a list of Northwestern’s Martin Luther King Jr. 2013 program highlights. All the events are free and open to the public.


Monday, Jan. 21

“Race” by David Mamet, a staged reading directed by Erin Murray, 2 p.m., Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet’s critically acclaimed drama follows two lawyers -- one white and one black -- who are defending a wealthy white client accused of raping a black woman. When a new legal assistant is brought into the case, issues of race and gender politics that simmer under the surface of daily life explode into dangerous and complex truths. Presented by the Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University, this staged reading will be directed by third-year MFA student Erin Murray and will launch Northwestern’s weeklong Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration 2013 on the Evanston campus. General admission is free and open to the public. Advance reservations are recommended. To reserve tickets, visit or call the Theatre and Interpretation Center box office at (847) 491-7282.

Candlelight Vigil, 7 p.m., hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road. The keynote speaker is Illinois State Senator Napoleon Harris from the 15th District.

Saturday, Jan. 26

“Sing Your Song” 2 p.m. film screening of the documentary focusing on the life of singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive.

A panel discussion moderated by Medill Professor Lawrence Stuelpnagel will follow the screening.

Monday, Jan. 28

University-wide observance and keynote address delivered by actor, singer, civil rights activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte, 6 p.m. Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive.


Monday, Jan. 14

“A Convenient Scapegoat – the Political Assault on Entitlement Programs” panel discussion, noon to 1:15 p.m., Arthur Rubloff Building, Room 150, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Panelists include John Bouman, president, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; Stephanie Altman, program and policy director, Heath & Disability Advocates; and William McNary, co-director, Citizen Action/Illinois.

Tuesday, Jan. 15

“Brother Outsider – The Life of Bayard Rustin” film screening, noon to 1:15 p.m., Arthur Rubloff Building, Room 150, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

A master strategist and tireless activist, Rustin was an American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, pacifism and non-violence, and gay rights. He organized the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States and helped mold Martin Luther King Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. The film has received more than 25 awards and honors. For more on the film, visit

Wednesday, Jan. 16

Evening Reception: “Reflections on the Legacy of Dr. King, “ 6:30 p.m., Ryan Family Atrium, Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, 303 E. Superior St.

The program will feature performances of original poetry and music by Chicago high school and college-age students who are part of Young Chicago Authors and the G3 Youth Choir, and the 2013 MLK Art Contest awards presentation.

Thursday, Jan. 17

“Immigration Through an Ethical Lens: The Challenges of Lawyers and Doctors of Working with Undocumented Immigrants” panel discussion, noon to 1:15 p.m., Arthur Rubloff Building, Room 150, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Panelists include Salvador Cicero, Esq., Cicero Law Firm, P.C., located in Pilsen; former DREAM Award recipient Kathy Neely, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and chair, Northwestern Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee; a representative (TBA) of National Immigrant Justice Center, a Heartland Alliance Partner; and Mark G. Kuczewski, Ph.D., professor of Medical Ethics and director, Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Health Policy, Loyola University, Chicago.

For updated information on these Evanston and Chicago campus events honoring Dr. King, visit