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Trailblazing astronaut physician to keynote MLK observance

Northwestern’s MLK commemoration features two-week-long series of events
  • First woman of color in space to deliver keynote Jan. 23
  • National poetry slam champion and educator to speak Jan. 16
  • Events include candlelight vigil, oratorical contest and more

EVANSTON - Dr. Mae Jemison, astronaut, physician and science and technology advocate, will be the keynote speaker at Northwestern University’s 2017 commemoration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Jemison will speak on both the Chicago and Evanston campuses.  

She will deliver the keynote address at the University-wide MLK commemoration at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Dr. in Evanston. The annual program will include music and performances from Northwestern student groups.

Jemison’s Chicago campus talk will take place at 12 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, at Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior St., during a program sponsored by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. 

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Mae Jemison broke barriers as the first woman of color in the world to go into space, serving six years as a NASA astronaut. She flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, STS-47 Spacelab J(apan) mission in September 1992 and was NASA’s first science mission specialist performing experiments in material science, life science and human adaptation to weightlessness.

Her consulting firm, The Jemison Group, integrates socio-cultural issues into the design and implementation of technology projects, such as the use of satellite technology for health care delivery in West Africa and solar dish engines for electricity generation in developing countries.

The first woman of color to go into space, Mae Jemison served six years as a NASA astronaut.

A general practice doctor in Los Angeles, she earned bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and African- and Afro-American studies at Stanford University and earned her M.D. from Cornell University. Earlier in her career she worked as a Peace Corps medical officer with Cambodian refugees and with the Flying Doctors of East Africa.

An advocate for science literacy, Jemison founded the nonprofits The Earth We Share, an international science camp for students aged 12 to 16, and TEWS-Space Race, a program to improve science achievement for Los Angeles-area students underserved and underrepresented in the sciences. She is the author of “Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life,” about growing up on the South Side of Chicago, her career aspirations and her history-making journey into space.

Jemison currently leads 100 Year Starship, an initiative seed funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to assure the capability for human interstellar space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years.

Jemison is a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. She is an inductee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the National Medical Association Hall of Fame and the Texas Science Hall of Fame. Among many honors, awards and honorary degrees, she received the National Organization for Women’s Intrepid Award and the Kilby Science Award.

Clint Smith
Poet and educator Clint Smith was chosen to delivery the candlelight vigil address by host fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, the Northwestern chapter of the fraternity Martin Luther King Jr. himself was a member of. The vigil takes place on the MLK Day holiday at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16, at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Rd. in Evanston.

“Our fraternity has stood at the forefront of the fight for civil rights since its founding in 1906. This annual vigil allows us to illuminate the current struggles, voice and vision of people of color around the world,” said Northwestern Alpha Phi Alpha President Dante Robinson. “We are honored to have Clint Smith, who embodies the principles of scholarship, fellowship, good character and the uplifting of humanity at the core of our mission, as this year’s featured speaker.”

Smith is a writer, educator and doctoral candidate in education at Harvard. His research is in the areas of incarceration, education and inequality. He is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow and was named the 2013 Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council.

Smith is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and an Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian and The American Literary Review, among other publications. His two TED Talks, “The Danger of Silence” and “How to Raise a Black Son in America,” collectively have been viewed more than 4 million times. 

Events scheduled for Jan. 16-27 include a student oratorical contest, a panel discussion on social movements featuring Black Lives Matter activists, a day of service and learning and more. 

Northwestern’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration events are free and open to the public. More information about Northwestern’s MLK events is available online.