Martin Luther King Jr. Day + Upcoming Social Justice Talks & Events in NYC

By Alison Durkee

On January 20, the nation will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, once again, honoring one of the most significant figures in the fight for social justice in this country. Honor King’s legacy and mark the occasion—or continue his fight for social justice—with these upcoming talks and events.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music will honor King on the 20th with its annual tribute to the civil rights leader, which brings together musicians, activists, community leaders, and more to honor Dr. King’s legacy. The Grace Reformed Church of Flatbush will also host a special storytelling and music event on the 20th in honor of King, while Think Olio hosts a free session at Federal Hall looking at MLK’s reflections on our society through the lens of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Grand Central Library showcases films related to King and his legacy on January 23. Those hoping to celebrate Reverend King in a more religious way, meanwhile, can attend a special choral eucharist honoring King at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on January 19.

Other events will examine the legacy of racial discrimination that King fought against and reveal how it still endures today. Go back before the Civil Rights era with an upcoming event on Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Emancipation, which will take place on January 11.

Back in November, the artist Dread Scott led a reenaction of the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history, which took place in 1811. On January 24, Scott will appear at Revolution Books to discuss the artwork and its cultural significance. January 16 will see legal scholar David A. Harris joining the Brennan Center to talk about his new book, A City Divided: Race, Fear and the Law in Police Confrontations. On January 30th, The Innocence Project and Liberated People Present “The Mockingbird Project,” bringing together Broadway stars and legal experts to look at the current state of America’s criminal justice system.

Moving forward to the “Jim Crow” era of racial discrimination, an event taking place on February 6 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will examine how African-Americans experienced housing discrimination in the Jim Crow North, and how this discrimination has created and re-created inequality well into the 21st century. As racial discrimination continues, particularly in the American heartland and with the election of Donald Trump, a January 22 event will look at how the “white backlash” of Trump voters have ultimately resulted put everyone’s health and well-being at risk. Those who want to learn more about how our history continues to impact us today can also get a broad overview of the past at a January 30 event that traces the history of the US since 1974—including its racial divide.

Other upcoming events will go beyond racial discrimination to look at other social justice issues and discrimination that still occurs today. Actor and feminist activist Amber Tamblyn will look at feminism during divisive times in a conversation with journalist Jodi Kantor on January 14, while a January 29 conversation between author Richie Jackson and Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski will dive into the issues and discrimination still being faced by the gay and LGBTQ community. A January 21st event will focus on the issue of anti-Semitism, as well as racism and the politics of diversity today. Get insight into White Nationalism and its impact along the southern border with a January 29 talk by Elizabeth F. Cohen, author of Illegal: How America’s Lawless Immigration Regime Threatens Us All. As Americans grapple with the enduring effects of the U.S.’s colonization of Native land, a January 21 and 28 event will look at how injustice was structurally imbedded through European colonization and western imperialism, and how we can dismantle these systems. New Yorkers can also hear from the Native indigenous community themselves, as a January 28 event explores Indigenous art and performance as resistance.


New York moves fast. Don’t miss a thing. Sign up for Thought Gallery’s weekly Curriculum, the best of smart NYC delivered right to your inbox.