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Trailblazing astronaut physician keynotes Martin Luther King Jr. observance

Event series features candlelight vigil, oratorical contest, panels and more

Martin Luther King Jr.
  • First woman of color in space to deliver keynote address Jan. 23
  • National poetry slam champion and educator to speak at candlelight vigil
  • NU Nights co-hosts screening of the new film ‘Hidden Figures’
  • Events will be held Jan. 13 to 28 on Chicago and Evanston campuses

EVANSTON - Northwestern University will commemorate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a two-week schedule of events Jan. 13 to 28. Many events are free and open to the public.  

Keynote and Candlelight Vigil Addresses

Dr. Mae Jemison, astronaut, physician, and science and technology advocate, 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 Drive. The program will include music and performances from Northwestern student groups.

Jemison’s Chicago campus talk will take place at noon 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. 

Chosen by host fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity King himself was a member of, poet and educator Clint Smith will deliver the candlelight vigil address on the national MLK holiday at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road.

Mae Jemison: astronaut, doctor, science literacy advocate

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 materials science, life sciences and human adaptation to weightlessness.

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 in Los Angeles-area students underserved and underrepresented in the sciences. She is the author of “Find Where the Wind Goes: Moments from My Life,” a book 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 Project Agency (DARPA) to assure that the capability for human interstellar space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years.

Clint Smith: Educator and poet

Clint Smith is a writer, educator and doctoral candidate in education at Harvard University. 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 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. 


The two-week long MLK observance schedule includes the keynote address, a candlelight vigil, a student oratorical contest, a theatrical performance, a student screening of the new film “Hidden Figures,” panel discussions and more. Full details and the latest event information is available online.

Evanston Campus Events:

Performance: “These Days”
7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14
Shanley Pavilion, 2031 Sheridan Road

This play written by Allie Woodson and produced by Kori Alston asks, “What does it mean to be young, gifted and black?” Processing emotions from hope to disillusionment through the Greek functions of tragedy, comedy and chorus, five black women come to understand what it means to survive.

Eva Jefferson Day
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16
Starts at Allison Dining Hall, 2245 Sheridan Road, then moves to Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive

Evanston students grades K-12 will come to Northwestern to enjoy a full day of arts, crafts and discussion about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Campus Observance: Candlelight Vigil Featuring Clint Smith
7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16
Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road

Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Fraternity, Inc. hosts Clint Smith, poet, essayist and doctoral candidate in education at Harvard University, musical performances by Northwestern student groups, spoken word poet Timothy Mays and a post-event reception. This will be a sign language interpreted event.

Student Oratorical Contest, Evanston Campus
5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19
Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place

Contest finalists will recite their orations inspired by Desmond Tutu’s quote “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Please see the Oratorical Contest page for more information.

Day of Service and Learning
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21

  • Panel: Social Movements for Racial Justice: from the Chicago Freedom Movement to Black Lives Matter

10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21
Fisk Hall 217, 1845 Sheridan Road

This intergenerational presentation and discussion about racial justice movements in Chicago over the last 50 years features authors of the book The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North who will share their personal experiences marching with King. Open to the public.

  • Neighborhood Immersions
    10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21
    Fisk Hall 217, 1845 Sheridan Road

Northwestern students will begin the day with the Social Movements for Racial Justice panel, enjoy lunch on campus and then depart by bus to various locations around Chicago and Evanston for service-learning engagements. Registration is required. 

Campus Observance: Keynote Speaker Dr. Mae Jemison
6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23
Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in the world to go into space and a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, will deliver the keynote address, followed by a conversation with Darlene Clark Hine, pioneering scholar of African-American women’s history. Hine is a Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and a professor of history at Northwestern. The event features music and performances by Northwestern student groups. This event is open to the public, and sign language interpretation will be provided.  

Harambee Celebration
6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27
Norris University Center, Louis Room, 1999 Campus Drive

“Harambee” in Swahili stands for “pull together.” While Swahili is one of thousands of languages spoken in Africa and throughout the African diaspora, here at Northwestern, we ‘pull together’ in the spirit of community, history and approbation of African, Afro-Caribbean and African American culture. Bringing together students, staff, faculty and alumni, Harambee kicks off Black History Month and features a variety of performances, music and food for everyone to enjoy. Sponsored by For Member Only, Northwestern’s Black Student Alliance (FMO), and Multicultural Student Affairs.

Hidden Figures
10 p.m. (doors open at 9:30 p.m.) Saturday, Jan. 28
Century 12 Evanston/CinéArts 6, 1715 Maple Ave.

NU Nights co-sponsors a special screening of the new film about a team of African-American women who provided mathematical data for NASA’s first successful space mission. Open to current Northwestern students.

Chicago Campus Events:

An Exploration of Post-Election Law and Policy in Health Care and Civil Rights
Noon Wednesday, Jan. 18
Rubloff 150, Aspen Hall, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Ngozi Nezianya (JD-MBA ’17) will moderate a panel discussion on post-election race relations/civil rights and health care. Panelists include Gabe Gonzalez from the Center for Community Change; Juan Thomas, president-elect of the National Bar Association; Margie Schaps, executive director of Health and Medicine Policy Research Group; and Linda Rae Murray, chief medical officer of Cook County Health and Hospital System.

Student Oratorical Contest - Chicago Campus
Noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20
Rubloff 150, Aspen Hall, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Contest finalists will recite their orations inspired by MLK’s quote "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Please see the Oratorical Contest page for more information.

Chicago Campus Keynote Address: Dr. Mae Jemison
Noon Monday, Jan. 23
Hughes Auditorium, 303 E. Superior St.

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in the world to go into space and a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, delivers a keynote address. The program includes a performance by Chicago’s Morgan Park High School Choir, Dr. Jemison’s high school alma mater. This event is open to the public, and sign language interpretation will be provided.   

Visit the 2017 MLK events website page for more information. 

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