Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021

Celebrating the Lives and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King 

MLK 2021 Flyer Revised

Join the City of Boston, the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground at Boston University, and New England Conservatory in proudly honoring the lives and legacies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights leader, author, and activist Coretta Scott King.

“Americans keep wondering what has "got into" the students. What has "got into" them is their history in this country…These students prove unmistakably what most people in this country have yet to discover: that time is real.”

—from "They Can’t Turn Back" – James Baldwin’s essay on student activism

James Baldwin wrote about the resistance movements, dissent and humanity of young people. Two of Baldwin’s essays—"The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King" and "They Can’t Turn Back"—capture Baldwin’s admiration of the conviction, tenacity, and the American idealism of a younger generation. We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King through their shared ability with Baldwin’s to transform what it means to be human into the word, prose, poetry, and art. 

This year, NEC is proud to join the City of Boston and Boston University in this year's planning and to also honor Coretta Scott King, who graduated from NEC in 1954. Her passion for music remained throughout her life and played a significant role in her civil rights work. She sang spiritual hymns at events where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke and conceived and performed the renowned Freedom Concerts, which combined music, prose, and poetry narration.

This annual event has adapted this year to a virtual format with public health and safety guidelines in mind. We invite you to view the full program, featuring live and pre-recorded content, at the link below.

View Event Stream

Featured Speakers:

Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. In a year when many are reading James Baldwin’s essays, Dr. Glaude helps us to understand Baldwin’s excursion to understand racism in Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

Ibram X. Kendi is a bestselling author, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. Professor Kendi is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News correspondent. He is also the 2020-2021 Frances B. Cashin Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for the Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Speakers will also include:

  • Karen Holmes Ward, Director of Public Affairs and Community Services at WCVB and host/executive producer of CityLine
  • Karilyn Crockett, Chief of Equity, City of Boston
  • Martin J. Walsh, Mayor, City of Boston
  • Andrea Kalyn, President, New England Conservatory
  • Katherine Kennedy, Director, Boston University Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground
  • Jean Morrison, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Boston University
  • Dr. Robert A. Brown, President Boston University 


Selections from Baldwin’s essays and introduction of speakers will be done by graduates of Boston Public Schools now attending Boston University and New England Conservatory, including NEC's David Norville.


  • Come Sunday – Duke Ellington | performed by NEC's Naledi Masilo '22 (voice), Eden MacAdam-Somer (violin), and Hankus Netsky (piano)
  • Delights and Dances – Michael Abels | performed by NEC Philharmonia; Hugh Wolff, conductor
  • Striving for God – Undine Smith | performed by NEC Chamber Singers; Erica J. Washburn, conductor
  • Unity Medley | performed by Boston University's Inner Strength Gospel Choir
  • Summerland – William Grant-Still | performed by Isabel Garita-Chin (violin) and Lorena Tecu (piano)