For more than a decade, Dallas’ MLK Symposium has brought together a host of speakers who follow Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of social and economic fairness. The 12th annual symposium, titled “MLK’s Legacy: issues of social justice in the twenty-first century,” will examine modern rifts in America’s social justice fabric while also assessing what’s next.
“Over the past few years, as thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the continued violence in communities both here in the United States and around the world, we are reminded that the fight for civil rights and equality is far from over,” Larry Allums, executive director of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, said. “This year, as we honor the legacy of Dr. King, we will once again look ahead to what the future holds for civil rights in America.”
The symposium, whose guest speakers include Columbia University journalism professor Jelani Cobb and co-creator of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.
In addition to teaching journalism, Cobb is a staff writer for The New Yorker, an author and the recent subject of a Frontline documentary, Policing the Police. Cobb penned The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama & the Paradox of Progress and has another title in the making. Garza is also a writer and social activist as well as special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Albert Black Jr., who cofounded the symposium along with John Castle and Allums, said he believes the event “helps bring people together, black and white, so they can better understand one another and come up with solutions” to sometimes problematic issues.
“When it first came out, I wasn’t sure I wanted to put on that T-shirt,” said Black of the criticism of Black Lives Matter movement.
The more he learned about the movement the more accepting of it he became. Ultimately, he said, it was the movement’s “cruel opposition” that convinced him to fully support it. And Black said, by supporting it, he isn’t saying that any other lives are not just as important.
“Of course they are,” he said. “If you go down here and support the Shriners Children’s Hospital it doesn’t mean that you’re against healthy children. Or, if you support the American Heart Association, it doesn’t mean you are against lungs.”
DIHC spokesperson Jennifer Smart said the event’s dynamic has changed over the years, moving from black leaders of the civil rights era to their more contemporary counterparts. General admission for the symposium, which is open to the public, costs $20, teachers get in for $10, and all students, with an ID, can attend at no cost.
The North Dallas Community Bible Fellowship Men in Worship Ensemble will warm things up before Cobb and Garza deliver their keynote speeches. The Cry Havoc Theater Company will also perform an excerpt from Shots Fired, which a group of Dallas teens wrote based on interviews about the July 7 shooting of five police officers at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Cobb and Garza will then join The Dallas Morning News Editor Mike Wilson and Mothers Against Police Brutality co-founder Collette Flanagan in a panel discussion moderated by Byron Sanders, vice president for U.S. Trust.
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The event “takes an honest look back at what we’ve done and how far we still have to go to achieve equity,” Smart said.
And while the symposium’s focus will be on MLK and modern day civil rights issues, Black said the Trump presidency will likely be mentioned.
“This MLK Symposium is responding to the mass protest and police shootings in Dallas on July 7, 2016,” according to the event’s press release which goes on to say that the institution is not an activist or politically oriented organization but committed to open discussion.
The MLK Symposium takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16, at Dallas City Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St. Tickets are $20 at dallasinstitute.org.