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University of Michigan

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium


Transforming the Jangling Discords of Our Nation into a Beautiful Symphony

38th Annual Keynote Memorial Lecture featuring Michelle Alexander

January 15, 2024 
Hill Auditorium

View the Archived Video on YouTube
As part of a prior agreement, Michelle Alexander has requested that her keynote not be included in the archived video. However, the rest of the show, including the moderated panel with Dr. Alexander, is included.

Call for Artwork EXTENDED to January 17, 2024

We are seeking artwork connecting to these ideas: Music, Harmony, Reconciliation, Cooperation, Healing, Peace, Connection, and Transformation

theme statement

"With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day"

- from the "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Essential to the ministry and social justice advocacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is his belief in the transformative power of faith, hope, and love to mend the rifts in society. In his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, he articulates his dream of racial equality and social and economic justice.  The articulated dream includes the iconic quote, "With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."  This statement encapsulates a profound vision of unity, peace, and reconciliation in the face of discord and division. This year’s MLK symposium calls on us to grapple with the nature of the ongoing discord around the globe, and to examine our role as individuals and members of society to create a world where harmony is possible. 

Through this quote Dr. King reveals three essential elements to achieve the envisioned beautiful symphony, 1) transformation, 2) elimination of discord, and 3) the creation of harmony.  In examining this quote, it is apparent that Dr. King believes that more than finite changes are needed in society, but there needs to be a transformation that fundamentally changes the functioning of our society.  A study of Dr. King’s ministry highlights key areas in which he sees the need for such transformation; the identified “discords” include poverty, racism, and militarism.

Borrowing from Dr. King’s final book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” the King Center defines “the triple evils; the discords that must be made right" as:

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Unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, slums…

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.”

Prejudice, apartheid, ethnic conflict, anti-Semitism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, ageism, discrimination against disabled groups, stereotypes…

“Racism is a philosophy based on a contempt for life. It is the arrogant assertion that one race is the center of value and object of devotion, before which other races must kneel in submission. It is the absurd dogma that one race is responsible for all the progress of history and alone can assure the progress of the future. Racism is total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group.”

War, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, media violence, drugs, child abuse, violent crime…

“A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war- ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This way of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Through his sermons, speeches and writings, Dr. King proposes methods by which the transformation of these discords can be achieved and maps the steps toward harmony.  King’s chords of harmony are amplified in his speech at Ohio Northern University in 1968, they include intentional activism, vigorous legislation, and reparation and reconciliation.

Despite progress since King's time, discord, and division continue to exist in society. Issues related to race, social justice, and inequality persist, making his vision as relevant as ever.  King's use of the metaphor of a "beautiful symphony" suggests that to achieve the unity he sought, all of us, like each musical instrument in the symphony, have a role to play in creating this harmonious society.

Today we ask that you ponder how you and the communities in which you live can address the discords of political polarization, social disparities, cultural and ethnic divisions, and violence.  How can you contribute through education, policy, discourse, and activism to achieve the harmony to which Dr. King calls us:

"Mankind's survival is dependent on man's ability to solve the problems of racial injustice, poverty, and war; the solution of these problems is in turn dependent upon man's squaring his moral progress with his scientific progress, and learning the practical art of living in harmony”

What rhythm can you create?
What chord can you strike?
What verse (melody) can you contribute?
How can you join the legacy of Dr. King and others to become a drum major for peace and harmony to achieve the beautiful symphony?