Talks by leaders and luminaries across culture and public life

Since 1987, the MLK Symposium Keynote Memorial Lecture has featured religious leaders, artists, public servants, and educators, to connect more deeply with King's words and actions.

Positions and titles of the speakers listed below reflect their status at the time of address.

January 15, 2024

Transforming the Jangling Discords of Our Nation into a Beautiful Symphony

Michelle Alexander

Best-selling Author, Legal Scholar, Social Justice Advocate, and Columnist

Best-selling author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

With a special musical performance by BLKBOK


(R)EVOLUTION: From Segregation to Elevation

Dr. Aletha Maybank -  Physician, Chief Health Equity Officer, and Senior Vice President of the American Medical Association

Edward Buckles - First-Time Director and Best New Documentary Director Winner of The Albert Maysies Award for the documentary, Katrina Babies

Jalen Rose -  Founder and President of the Board of Directors for the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, ABC/ESPN Analyst, Former U-M and NBA Basketball Star, Civil and Human Rights Awardee, Philanthropist, and Author

View a recording of the 2023 event


This is America

Presented virtually

Dr. Rashad Richey - University Professor, Lecturer, Emmy nominated Broadcaster and Political/Social Analyst

Maria Hinojosa - Mexican-American Journalist, Anchor and Executive Producer Civil and Human Rights Awardee, Philanthropist, and Author

View a recording of the 2022 event


Where Do We Go From Here

Presented virtually

Dr. Gloria House, Poet, Essayist, Educator, and Human Rights and Community Activist

Malik Yakini, Educator, Farmer, Food Justice Advocate and Guitarist

View a recording of the 2021 event


the (mis)education of US

Angela Davis, Political Activist, Author, and Professor

View a recording of the 2020 event



Tim Wise - Author and Scholar

Julia Putnam - Detroit Principal and Writer

View a recording of the 2019 event


The Fierce Urgency of Now

Hill Harper - Actor, Author, Philanthropist

View a recording of the 2018 event


Sounds of Change

Amy Goodman - Journalist, Activist, Author

Issa Rae - Actress, Comedian, Writer, Director, Producer

View a recording of the 2017 event



Nontombi Naomi Tutu - Race and Gender Justice Activist

View a recording of the 2016 event



Unity Not Uniformity

Marc Lamont Hill - Journalist, Scholar, Author and Activist


Power, Justice, and Love Heal the Divide

Harry Belafonte - Singer, Songwriter, Actor and Social Activist


50 Years Later: Revolution of the Dream

Morris Dees - Civil Rights Activist and Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center


Building On The Past To A New Generation Of Activism

Michelle Norris - Author and Award-winning Journalist


We The People…Realizing The Dream?

Shirley Sherrod - Civil rights activist and former Georgia rural state director for the United States Department of Agriculture


I Am, Was, and Always Will Be A Catalyst For Change

Gwen Ifill - Moderator & Managing Editor of PBS’s “Washington Week” & Co-anchor for the “PBS Newshour”


A Dreamer, But Not the Only One

Julian Bond - Former Chairman of the NAACP


Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Louis Gossett Jr. - Academy Award-winning Actor, Founder of the Eracism Foundation


Building the Beloved Community

Kweisi Mfume - Executive Director, NAACP


A Time to Break Silence

Anna Deavere Smith - Professor, Playwright, Actress


…But We Have Not Learned the Simple Art of Living Together...

Henry G. Cisneros - Former Secretary – US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development


Still Separate? Still Unequal? Brown Versus Board of Education Fifty Years Later

Lani Guinier - Harvard Law Professor and Author


We Must Be the Change We Wish to See in The World

Grace Lee Boggs - Detroit Activist and Author


Honoring, Challenging, and Living

Dr. Benjamin Carson - Neurosurgeon and Medical School Alumnus


Commitment + Renewal

Edward James Olmos - Actor and Humanitarian


MLK 2K: Shattering Barriers Transcending Borders

Henry Louis Gates Jr. - Director of African American Studies, Harvard University


On the Verge of a New Millennium…Stand!

Nikki Giovanni - Poet, Author and Essayist


Why We Can't Wait

Cornel West - Professor of African American Studies and Religion, Harvard University


Campaign for a Unified Community of Justice

Mary Frances Berry - Chairperson of the US Commission on Civil Rights


Affirmation Through Action: The Challenge Continues

Jocelyn Elders - US Surgeon General


Conflict and Communities: The Struggle for Racial Justice

Benjamin Hooks - Executive Director of the NAACP


"American Culture" or "American -- the Multicultural?" The Challenge of the 21st Century

Charles Long - Director for Black Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara


From Indifference and Inequality to justice and Reconciliation

Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York


The Path to Empowerment: Redefining Our Cultures

Maulana Karenga - Director of Black Studies, California State University, Long Beach



Adelaide Sanford - Regent, State University of New York


King's Legacy: Our Unfinished Agenda

Cesar Chavez - President, United Farm Workers Union & Kevin Locke, Traditional Native American Dancer and Musician, Lakota Nation


Enlightenment, Empowerment and Equity: A Challenge of the King Legacy

Mayor Willie Brown Jr. of San Francisco


Gov. Douglas Wilder of Virginia


Rep. William Gray III of Pennsylvania