Brooklyn Academy of Music to spotlight art, activism, and voting rights at MLK Day tribute Jan. 16

people perform at BAM mlk day
BAM’s 37th annual MLK tribute event will take place on Monday, Jan. 16, after a weekend of events. Photo courtesy BAM.
Photo courtesy of BAM.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music will memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with weekend of events leading up to the 37th annual MLK Tribute on Monday, Jan. 16.

The main event takes place on Monday when BAM staff, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, civic leaders and community members will join together to hear a keynote speech from civil rights lawyer and law professor Sherrilyn Ifill and enjoy performances from Sing Harlem and Allison Russell.

Additional participating civic leaders and event segements will be announced closer to the program.
Additional participating civic leaders and performances will be announced ahead of the Monday tribute event .Photo courtesy of BAM

In planning this year’s event, BAM’s vice president of creative social impact, Coco Killingsworth, wanted to include public servants and elected officials whose jobs keep them accountable to the people that enact democracy: voters and constituents. 

“We really wanted to have a moment to think about the people who have really focused on voting rights and democracy as a core human right and civil rights for us in this country,” Killingsworth said. “There was nobody better to bookend that work that Sherrlyn Ifill.”

Brooklynites are invited to the live concerts, keynote speeches and art programs.
Brooklynites are invited to the live concerts, keynote speeches and art programs this weekend. Photo courtesy of BAM

The weekend of events began on Jan. 12 with  “Freedom!” a visual art exhibition that will play continuously on the BAM signage screen at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lafayette Avenue until Jan. 20. In the piece several artists, explore the meaning of freedom as an idea and the legacy of the civil rights activist while encouraging the viewer to reflect on what freedom means to them.

On Friday, Jan. 13, BAMcafe Live will put on the first of two shows in the Adam Space at 30 Lafayette Avenue. Russell Hall, Jamaica-born bassist and activist will perform his selection of jazz, opera, reggae and roots inspired songs. Harriet Tubman, a jazz trio made up of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis, will take the stage with a “politically-tweaked” musical performance.  

Sing Harlem will perform on Monday, Jan. 16 at the official tribute.
Sing Harlem will perform on Monday, Jan. 16 at the official tribute. Photo courtesy of BAM.

According to a BAM spokesperson, the MLK tribute ceremony on Monday “encourages us to continue in his radical spirit relentlessly pressing forward in pursuit of justice, even against the odds, and celebrating the strength and power of community to create change.”  

This year’s event will feature a new program called “Courage Takes Creativity”, an arts segment for the younger audience. 

“They can spend the day not just learning about Dr. King but learning about how those ideas and that commitment to social justice lives in them as well,” Killingsworth said. 

Steven McIntosh, director of family programming for BAMkids and the organization’s Parent Advisory Circle, put the program together with two desires: to create something interactive for children aged two to 11 and to explore various art forms that have been part of social justice movements not just in the civil rights era, but in different time periods and different countries, he said.

Throughout the day families can drum, dance, create crafts and even put themselves in moments of civil rights history using a digital green screen. BAM has also partnered with Brooklyn-based clothing brand Hip-Hop Closet to give away t-shirts, encouraging young minds are encouraged to draw on them to create a message that’s meaningful to them. 

“I think the young people’s program really speak to it —that courage takes creativity and imagination and dreaming of another world is the work of an artist,” Killingsworth said. “We want this to feel unique as a BAM experience and that we do really center the art as well as the activism.”

The 37th annual Brooklyn Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., takes place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, at 10:30am. Tickets are free and first-come, first-served. The event will also be livestreamed online. For more information and to find the livestream link, check out BAM’s website