Five Cultural Events to Celebrate MLK Day in NYC

After another year of both looming and active threats to human rights, voting rights, and employee welfare across the United States, it’s critical to reflect on the ideologies and methods employed by civil rights leader and nonviolent activist Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK) Jr. In observance of the three-day weekend, multiple New York City arts and culture institutions are inviting the public to come together, remember, and incorporate the messages and history of MLK Jr. as we embark on the new year. Below is a selection of free and low-cost events, talks, screenings, and much more.

Queens Public Library

The Queens Public Library (QPL) is hosting multiple film screenings across a variety of locations in honor of MLK Jr. and the strides made in the civil rights movement in the wake of his footsteps. The films Selma (2014), Malcolm X (1992), and BlacKKKlansman (2018) will be showcased throughout the weekend and in the coming weeks at QPL’s Forest Hills location and other branches as well. Make a plan to attend one or all of them using QPL’s online events calendar.

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New York Public Library — Van Cortlandt Branch

On Tuesday, January 17, the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Van Cortlandt branch in the Bronx will be screening the 2020 documentary film MLK/FBI. Directed by Sam Pollard, the film provides a less sanitized retelling of MLK Jr.’s nonviolent opposition as a threat to the power structure imposed and enforced by the United States government. Pollard uses newly declassified documents that further illuminate former FBI Director John Edgar Hoover’s interference, surveillance, and harassment of MLK Jr. throughout his success in raising awareness and empowering the disenfranchised to unite in fighting economic and racial inequalities. Additional details regarding the screening can be accessed on the NYPL events page.

Grammy-nominated performer Allison Russell (left) and civil rights lawyer and law professor Sherrilyn Ifill (right) (photos courtesy BAM)

Brooklyn Academy of Music

On Monday, January 16, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) will host the 37th annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., billed as “the largest such gathering in New York City.” The free event features artists, activists, civic leaders, and community members celebrating the life and mission of Dr. King, with nationally recognized civil rights lawyer and law professor Sherrilyn Ifill delivering the keynote address and a performance by Grammy-nominated performer Allison Russell and Vy Higginsen’s award-winning choir Sing Harlem. The program will also be livestreamed at 10:30am on BAM’s website.

The Brooklyn institution has several events lined up through the weekend as well. BAMcafé Live will host live music by Jamaica-born bassist Russell Hall on Friday evening, and a genre-defying, soulful meditation on the essence of freedom by the band Harriet Tubman on Saturday. Families with children ages six through 11 are invited to participate in the Monday afternoon event BAMKids Celebrates MLK Day: Courage Takes Creativity for a series of musically and visually stimulating modes of expression historically and presently used by social justice movements. Event details are available here.

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Queens Botanical Garden

On Monday, January 16, the Queens Botanical Garden invites families with children ages five and up to join them in celebrating MLK Day through a special winter garden walkthrough infused with storytelling, craftmaking, and the promotion of love, peace, and unity throughout. The craft activity will be centered around reaching for the clouds and outlining one’s hopes and dreams. The event is free with a suggested donation of $5 or more. Details can be accessed via the Queens Botanical Garden’s website.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Starting Saturday, January 14, and continuing throughout the weekend, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum will host families to participate in its annual “Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.” programming filled with art- and performance-oriented empowerment. With daily performances and workshops led by puppet artist Nehprii Amenii and Brooklyn musician Fyütch, guests will participate in poster designing, interactive community marches, puppet-making, and a large-scale collaborative project in the museum’s ColorLab Studio. Tickets for this event and workshop series are $13 and can be purchased via the Brooklyn Children’s Museum event website.


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