Skip to main content

Abolitionist organizer and educator Mariame Kaba will deliver MLK keynote

MLK Dream Week events Jan. 13 to 19

Mariame Kaba. Credit: Gion Carlo.
Mariame Kaba will deliver the MLK Dream Week keynote. Photo by Gion Carlo

Northwestern University will commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a series of virtual Dream Week events beginning with Mariame Kaba’s keynote address at 4 p.m. CST Wednesday, Jan. 13. Several events are free and open to the public, including the keynote.

Additional public events include an oratorical contest at noon, Friday, Jan. 15, the Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil at 3 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18 and a panel on systemic racism in law and medicine at noon, Tuesday, Jan. 19.

MLK Dream Week 2021 is a cross-campus collaboration with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

Reservation links and event information are available on the Northwestern MLK website.

The keynote speaker was selected with this year’s One Book, One Northwestern selection, Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” in mind as well as the Women’s Center’s programmatic theme of Mutual Aid and Community Engagement.

Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator, curator and prison industrial complex (PIC) abolitionist who is active in movements for racial, gender and transformative justice. Kaba is founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a mission to end youth incarceration, and a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table. Kaba is currently a researcher at Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, a project she co-founded with Andrea Ritchie in 2018.

Evanston Events

MLK Dream Week Keynote with Mariame Kaba, 4 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 13

In her MLK keynote address, Kaba will discuss prison industrial complex abolition as a vision for a restructured society based on care, cooperation and true safety.

The program will also include a video performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by the Northwestern Community Ensemble and alumni in honor of the 50th anniversary of the ensemble’s founding.

Eva Jefferson Day, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18

Northwestern students will lead a virtual program of arts, crafts and discussion about the legacy of Dr. King for Family Focus Evanston students.

Candlelight Vigil: “Activism during a pandemic and the healing of incarcerated peoples,” 3 p.m., Monday, Jan. 18

Hill Harper
Hill Harper

The first MLK Day at Northwestern was established in 1980, three years before the national holiday was established, by the Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Dr. King’s fraternity.

This year’s Candlelight Vigil address will be given by Hill Harper, an actor, author, activist, philanthropist and Brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Harper is an award-winning actor who starred in the CBS TV dramas “CSI: NY” and “Limitless” and USA Network’s “Covert Affairs,” and alongside Will Smith in the film “Concussion.” He is the author of four New York Times bestselling books, including “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother,” and has earned seven NAACP Image Awards for his writing and acting.

Harper is the founder of Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering underserved youth through mentorship, scholarship and grant programs.

The Candlelight Vigil will also include a video performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” performed by the Northwestern Community Ensemble and alumni in honor of the 50th anniversary of the ensemble’s founding.

Chicago Events

MLK Oratorical Competition, Noon, Friday, Jan. 15

All are invited to the final round of the Chicago Campus Oratorical Competition. The competition is open to all students currently enrolled in a program on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University, and Chicago campus staff. Finalists will present their essays, and audience members will vote for their favorite oratorical performance. For more information on the competition, please email diversity@law.northwestern.edu

Dream Week 2021 Service Activity, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 16

A remote service opportunity with the Women’s Justice Institute is open to Chicago campus students. RSVP online

Panel Discussion: “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere,” Noon to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 19

Join Northwestern Law and Feinberg School of Medicine faculty and alumni for a candid conversation about the ramifications of systemic racism in law and medicine in the U.S.

Mariame Kaba

“Mariame Kaba was nominated by Dream week 2021 committee member Melisa Stephen who noted Kaba’s long-standing work in Chicago and her time as a student at Northwestern,” said Mónica Russel y Rodríguez, assistant provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and Dream week committee chair.

“Kaba’s nomination was supported by student, staff and faculty committee members who affirmed that her keynote would provide deep insight into our current moment of change and need,” Russel y Rodríguez said.

"Mariame is such a thoughtful and talented teacher,” said Stephen, program coordinator of the Women’s Center at Northwestern. “She has a remarkable gift of simultaneously humbling you to the challenging, sometimes ugly truths of human nature and inspiring you to dream bigger than you ever thought you could. Her voice and work are an invaluable source of guidance in a time of heightened awareness and reckoning."

Kaba is an organizer, educator, curator and prison industrial complex (PIC) abolitionist who is active in movements for racial, gender and transformative justice. Kaba is founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a mission to end youth incarceration, and a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table. Kaba is currently a researcher at Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, a project she co-founded with Andrea Ritchie in 2018. 

Kaba’s keynote address comes as Northwestern — and the country — continues to grapple with issues of race, policing and social justice after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others. In the fall, student activists led nightly protests on campus and in Evanston and have advocated for change.

In June, University officials committed to 10 social justice initiatives, and have begun a series of discussions on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion with members of the Northwestern community. Earlier this month, the University launched a Social Justice at Northwestern website to track progress.

Kaba has co-founded multiple social justice organizations and projects in Chicago over the years, including We Charge Genocide, the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, Love & Protect, the Just Practice Collaborative and Survived & Punished.

Kaba's leadership, organizing and influence extend widely as she offers a radical analysis that influences how people think and respond to how violence, prisons and policing affect the lives of people of color. Kaba is the author of “Missing Daddy” (Haymarket 2019), selected as one of Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books in 2019. Her forthcoming book, “We Do This Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice,” will be published by Haymarket Press in February 2021.

Back to top