MLK Symposium theme, speakers to focus on (R)evolution


The University of Michigan will explore “The (R)evolution of MLK” as the theme of its annual January symposium honoring civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The MLK Symposium is one of the nation’s largest celebrations of King’s life and legacy sponsored by higher education. Its Jan. 16 keynote memorial lecture will feature a panel discussion with Aletha Maybank, a physician and chief health equity officer and senior vice president for the American Medical Association, Edward Buckles, a film director and producer, and Jalen Rose, philanthropist and former U-M and NBA basketball star.

“Since 1986, U-M has held the MLK Symposium, an opportunity for learning and reflection around King’s legacy in all of its richness and complexity, beyond popular portrayals narrowly defining him as a civil rights icon,” said Tabbye Chavous, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

“Symposium events encourage our community to consider King more fully — as a theologian, preacher, scholar, activist and human — who worked toward a non-violent society beyond racism, poverty and war.

The theme of the 2023 MLK Symposium is “The (R)evolution of MLK.”

“We are also encouraged to analyze, critique and apply King’s life work in relation to current societal challenges of inequality and our own efforts to move our communities and society forward.”

The keynote memorial lecture, which begins at 10 a.m. at Hill Auditorium, also will be livestreamed.

The moderated discussion, led by Earl Lewis, Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University professor and director of the Center for Social Solutions, will explore King’s changing focus from segregation to include health, economic and education equity.


“This year’s symposium includes a dynamic mix of local and national speakers and performances, and we’re excited to host the event in person for the first time since 2020,” Chavous said.

The keynote address also will feature the performance of Black Pilgrims, a hip-hop and electronic mini-opera/oratorio, depicting a sung and spoken fictional conversation between King and Malcolm X.

The opera was written by Stephen Rush, professor of music (dance/music technology) in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. It will be performed by Scott Piper, the Norma L. Heyde Faculty Development Professor of Voice and associate professor of music, and Daniel Washington, professor of music (voice), both of SMTD.

It will exhibit a vision of civil rights from the voices of King and Malcolm X, after seeing two differing perspectives on how different societies treated others. The event will also feature a performance by high school students from the Detroit School of the Arts.

The keynote is sponsored by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives in collaboration with the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

For more than 35 years, the university has hosted its annual MLK Symposium and routinely includes a theme — chosen by faculty, staff and students — based on its relevance to current social justice issues and King’s teachings.

Throughout January, the MLK Symposium provides opportunities for campus community members to participate in lectures, live performances, exhibits, workshops and community service projects sponsored by academic and non-academic units, student and staff organizations and community groups.

About the speakers

Aletha Maybank

Aletha Maybank
Aletha Maybank

At the American Medical Association, Maybank focuses on embedding health equity across all the work of the AMA and leading the Center for Health Equity.

Prior to joining the AMA, she served as the founding deputy commissioner for the Center for Health Equity at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which became a model of success for strengthening equity efforts and transforming organizational culture.

She has taught medical and public health students on topics related to health inequities, public health leadership and management, physician advocacy and community organizing in health.

As a sought-after health expert, she has appeared in national media outlets including NPR, MSNBC, NewsOne, Roland Martin, the Lancet, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and most recently was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey about her COVID-19 response efforts.

Edward Buckles

Edward Buckles
Edward Buckles

Buckles is a filmmaker, director and producer whose work calls his audience toward remembrance and to see the beauty in imperfections, as well as finds inspiration in people and innovative ways to share the stories of Black communities.

His production company, House of the Young Ent., is a beacon in the New Orleans’ arts community and a platform for the culture of the city.

Buckles’ debut documentary, “Katrina Babies,” is on HBO Max and won the inaugural Human/Nature Award and The Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca Festival.

The award-winning film also was featured on the August 2022 digital cover of Time magazine, which included a conversation between Buckles and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien.

Jalen Rose

Photo of Jalen Rose
Jalen Rose

Rose is a ABC/ESPN analyst and former 13-year NBA star, who has maintained a high profile athletically and professionally in diverse venues and enterprises, consistently showing his versatility in the broadcast booth, the entertainment world, and as a philanthropist.

As a member of the legendary Fab Five at U-M, he and his teammates revolutionized the sport of basketball on and off the court as they led the Wolverines to back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances. In 1994, he was drafted in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.

His commitment to community and education led him to establish the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, an open enrollment, tuition-free, public charter high school on the Northwest side of Detroit, which serves over 400 high school students.

In 2016, he was awarded the 11th Annual National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award for his significant contributions to civil and human rights, and for laying the foundation for future leaders through his career in sports in the spirit of King.

(Note: This article has been updated from its original version to relfect the addition of Jalen Rose to the keynote discussion.)


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