On MLK Day, more than 2,000 people filled Harlem’s Riverside Church to see performances by Oscar-winner and “Black Panther” Star Lupita Nyong’o, Grammy-winning artist Black Thought, actor and “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi, NBA legend Allan Houston and others at the third annual MLK Now. Comedian/author Baratunde Thurston and comedian/writer Akilah Hughes served as the official MCs for the program.
Hosted by Blackout for Human Rights, in partnership with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Color of Change, PICO National Network and The Root, the free event featured speech and musical performances, as well as women-led panel discussion. In honor of Dr. King’s legacy and message, Nyong’o, Black Thought, Shahidi and Houston joined other dynamic actors in bringing to life his words and those of other revolutionary figures.
Since 2016, MLK Now has convened actors, artists and thought-leaders to pay homage to Dr. King and historical figures such as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Patrice Lumumba, Fred Hampton, Shirley Chisolm, Ida B. Wells and others. Previous performers at MLK Now include Chris Rock, Olivia Wilde, Q-Tip, Harry Belafonte, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Octavia Spencer, Michael B. Jordan, Uzo Aduba, Andre Holland, Anika Noni Rose, J. Cole, Adepero Oduye and India.Arie, among others.
“Three years ago we did our first MLK Now, and we were so excited to be able to share the words by these amazing thinkers and speakers,” said Blackout for Human Rights co-founding member and “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler in a video message recorded for the event. “Hopefully you can see the relevance in them even now in 2018, as we look forward to another year. Special thanks to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, PICO National Network, Color of Change and all of the other sponsors as well as the amazing volunteers.”
“We’re here gathered on a day when we commemorate the spirit of Dr. King—a man, an icon and a hero who meant so much to me, but really he’s emblematic of a movement, a movement that’s much larger than him,” said Blackout member and “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay, also by video message. “I’m so happy that all of you are there, folks who believe in justice and dignity for all, to gather in his name and say, ‘We are all kings and queens, we look out for each other, we hold hands with each other and we lift each other up.’”
On the musical side, performers at MLK Now 2018 included composer/pianist Samora Pinderhughes, who also serves as Blackout’s musical director; dancer Brinae Ali, accompanied by jazz musicians Ben Williams, Salim Ajanku, Omari Bey and Sean Jones; MC/activist Tef Poe; and Grammy-nominated Gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds.
In addition, MLK Now 2018 featured a panel discussion moderated by Danielle Belton, editor-in-chief of The Root, which served as the event’s official media partner, and with political strategist/commentator Symone D. Sanders, activist/journalist Rosa Clemente, Women’s March National Co-Chair Carmen Perez and political consultant/operative Dejuana Thompson.
“Today, we ask you to join us to understand and take the back of the Puerto Rican nation because you know, whether it’s movements for Black Lives, whether it’s the Muslim ban, whether it’s immigration, you always see a Puerto Rican flag there,” said presenter Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and executive director of UPROSE.
“Words without action are a hallucination, and far too often we get into hallucinations at this time of the year,” said Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson in his remarks. “All around the country, today and throughout the year, folks are rising up to push back against destructive systems that are putting our communities in harm’s way, and I’m asking you to join us in that effort to build the type of movements that are beyond the words and actually connect to the action.”