“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail” 4/16/63
by JESSY EDWARDS,
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about freedom from behind bars in Birmingham Jail, after being arrested and thrown into solitary confinement for demonstrating against racism in the Alabama town.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed,” he said. Now — 57 years later — demonstrators are still demanding freedom.
But what does freedom mean in 2021? The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM), Monday, Jan. 18 tribute to the late civil rights champion Dr. King, Jr. explores this question as it has done for the last 34 years. And the pandemic will not stop its stride in the continuation of its reign as the largest public tribute to Dr. King in New York City. Even if it might look a little different this time.
This year, the tribute will be streamed on BAM’s website, Monday, Jan. 18 and available on their YouTube and Vimeo through Feb. 21. It is the first time the event will be pre-recorded since its inception.
“BAM’s Annual Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a beloved tradition and one of the most important events on our calendar,” said Coco Killingsworth, BAM’s Vice President of Education and Community Engagement. “Though we can’t gather in person, we were determined to bring our communities together and create a space for celebration and reflection.”
The 2021 “35th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” will feature a digitally streamed concert of world-class artists and poets, backed up by a week-long outdoor art project entitled Let Freedom Ring. The online concert is set to bring together artists, activists, civic leaders and the public for a communal commemoration and reflection on the life and legacy of Dr. King, Jr.
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Global Network and author of “The Purpose of Power,” will deliver the keynote.
In addition to Garza, the event will feature live-streamed performances by PJ Morton, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Sing Harlem!, Timothy DuWhite, Ashley August, and more.
The event will feature live performances from Grammy Award-winning gospel and R&B artist (and Maroon 5 keyboardist) PJ Morton, Tank and the Bangas lead vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Vy Higgensen’s award-winning choir Sing Harlem!, Brooklyn-based poet Timothy DuWhite, spoken word artist Ashley August and more.
“It will be a joyful day of music and presentation by incredible artists, activists, and civic leaders who inspire us.”
The Art Project
We’re pleased to continue this tradition as we bring the energy of our annual celebration into homes around the world,” Killingsworth said. The art project will run from Jan. 15 – 21 at the corner of Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues in Fort Greene.
Here, you’ll be able to see a looping video installation on a giant digital screen, curated by BAM’s Larry Ossei-Mensah and featuring work from eight Brooklyn-based creatives. The participating artists include Derrick Adams, Alvin Armstrong, Lizania Cruz, Hank Willis Thomas and Jasmine Wahi.
“Timed to coincide with the nation’s annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historic 2021 Presidential and Vice-Presidential inauguration,” the acclaimed artists invite the viewer to engage critically with the work and reflect on what freedom truly means in 2021,” the Academy said in a press release.
“Nationtime” Documentary Screening
Finally, BAM will be doing a free virtual screening on Jan. 18 of the late director William Greaves’ film Nationtime, with an introduction by Director of People’s Advocacy Institute Co-founder Rukia Lumumba.
Nationtime is a documentary on the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana, in 1972, a historic event that gathered black voices from across the political spectrum. Narrated by Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, the time the film was considered “too militant” at the time of its release. Nationtime can be seen here