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2020 Schedule of Events

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Vanderbilt University Commemoration
January 17-20, 2020

“The Power of Storytelling: Our Stories Connect Us”
 Schedule of Events

*The MLK Day March and Afternoon Teach-ins on Monday, Jan. 20 will be offered for GME credit. 

Friday, January 17

MLK Commemorative Series Kickoff featuring James Threalkill, BS’79
Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center | Noon to 1:30 p.m.
Come out and enjoy great soul food and fellowship as we officially kick off the MLK Commemoration. There will be remarks from Emmy Award-winning visual artist and community leader James Threalkill, BS’79, who painted the Legacy Pioneer Portraits displayed at the Black Cultural Center.

Saturday, January 18

2020 Joint Day of Service – The Sit-ins @ 60: Students. Action. Justice. 
Kean Hall, Tennessee State University | 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
*Buses will be available to transport participants to Tennessee State University for the day of service. Buses will arrive at Kirkland Hall and the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons at 9:30 a.m., and they will depart by 10:15 a.m. for TSU. Buses will bring participants back to Vanderbilt’s campus at the conclusion of the day of service. 

Vanderbilt invites you to join more than 400 students across the city of Nashville in a day of action and reflection as we honor the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. in seeking justice and challenging the discourse on civil (dis)obedience. This year’s day of service will specifically honor the 60th anniversary of the Nashville student sit-in movement and feature Freedom Rider and Sit-in leader Rip Patton. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to join us for projects that address specific community needs through intentional service and action. For more info and to register, visit the Office of Active Citizenship and Service website:

Sunday, January 19

MLK Commemorative Series 2020 Keynote Event
Featuring: Janelle Monáe and Yusef Salaam
Langford Auditorium |
5:30–8 p.m. (doors open at 4:30 p.m.)
*NOTE: The event is free to attend; for event planning purposes, those who would like to attend are asked to confirm their interest. Filling out the interest form does not guarantee admission; all seating at the event, including overflow spaces, is on a first-come basis.

Confirm your interest in attending this event>>

The event will begin with an inspirational candlelight vigil that bears witness to the shining light that Martin Luther King Jr. was in the world and to the continuing light of his legacy. This will be followed by the MLK Day Writing Contest with Metro Nashville Public Schools, and then the MLK Keynote Panel Address featuring Janelle Monáe, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, performer, producer and actor, and Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five. Monáe and Salaam will sit down for a conversation moderated by the Divinity School Dean Emilie M. Townes, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society. The discussion will center on this year’s commemorative series theme, “The Power of Storytelling: Our Stories Connect Us.” Confirm your interest in attending this event>>

Parking for the event will be available in the 25th Avenue Garage, located near the intersection of 25th and Highland avenues. Please use the Highland Avenue entrance.

There will be CART services (live captioning) at the event for hearing-impaired audience members. To use the service, please contact

Monday, January 20

MLK Day March and Convocation (offered for GME credit)
*Buses to transport participants leave from The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons and Kirkland Circle | 9:00 a.m.–1 p.m. (check-in begins at 8 a.m.)

Buses for the 2020 MLK Day March arrive for pick up at Kirkland Circle (near the intersection of West End Ave. and Louise Ave.) and The Ingram Commons. Lite breakfast refreshments will be provided at both sites. The buses depart campus at 9:00 a.m. and transport participants to the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church near the intersection of Jefferson St. and 28th Avenue North. The official photo will be taken ahead of the March/Convocation at 9:30 a.m. The March will start at 10:00 a.m. and will culminate in attending the Convocation at TSU’s Gentry Center. Immediately after the Convocation, buses will be available to transport participants back to campus. Sign up for this event and the MLK hoodies >>

MLK Day Blood Drive with Vanderbilt Hillel
Schulman Center for Jewish Life | 11 a.m.5 p.m. 

Save a life this MLK Day by participating in Hillel’s annual MLK Blood Drive. Take a moment and make a difference. Choose the time that works best for you! Walk-ins will be accommodated but pre-registrants are preferred. Pre-register for the drive HERE:

Nashville Freedom Ride Tour
Leaving from Branscomb Circle | 2–6:30 p.m.

This is an RSVP event only (priority given to Vanderbilt students). Please email Nadine De La Rosa for more information.

Afternoon Teach-Ins | 2–3:15 p.m. & 3:30–4:45 p.m. |

*All teach-ins will be offered for GME credit

Beyond the Beat: Hip-Hop as Activism in a World That Doesn’t Listen

Description: In this teach-in, participants will learn about the history of Hip-Hop Storytelling, including its roots in the African oral tradition. It will allow participants to move beyond the beat and dig deeper into the songs they may be passively consuming every day. Through lecture, large-group and small-group discussion, participants will dissect visuals and lyrics of mainstream Hip-Hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. The session will help attendees think critically about their relationship to the music they consume and the stories that are being shared. Learn More>>

Location: Sarratt Cinema

Presenter: Amanda Wicks, doctoral student, English

Amanda Wicks hails from Ferguson, Missouri. She obtained her B.A. in English from Clark Atlanta University, her M.A. in English from the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English at Vanderbilt University. Her love for travel and her love for music has allowed her to experience the cultural continuities of the Black diaspora from Paris to Cape Town. These experiences have led her to have research interests in 20th and 21st century Black culture and literature, Hip-Hop studies, and social justice. She hopes her work in academia and beyond will ultimately engender positive change for those who have been relegated to the margins.

The Courage to Speak Your Story and the Openness to Receive the Stories of Others

Description: In this teach-in, participants will honor Martin Luther King’s legacy of fighting injustice and promoting equality through engaging in a story exchange. The session is aimed at breaking down barriers, shattering stereotypes and fostering empathy and understanding among participants. Some of the activities will include active/deep listening exercises, an introduction to the work of Narrative 4 and the “Narrative 4 Vanderbilt” registered student organization, a mini-story-exchange in small groups of four and a group debrief. Learn More>>

Location: Sarratt 216/220

Presenters:  Michael McRay, southeast regional manager for Narrative 4; Micky ScottBey Jones, Director of Healing & Resilience Initiatives with Faith Matters Network, Rev. Gretchen Person, Associate University Chaplain

Michael McRay is the Southeast Regional Manager for Narrative 4 which is a global organization dedicated to using its story exchange methodology to shatter stereotypes and to build empathy, understanding and hope. Michael is an author, educator, bridging-divides facilitator, and trained mediator. He holds a master’s in conflict resolution and reconciliation from Trinity College Dublin’s Belfast campus. He has traveled to Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Rwanda, learning from peacebuilders and looking for stories that can help save us from our division.

Micky ScottBey Jones-the justice doula- accompanies people as they birth more love,  justice and shalom into our world. She is the director of resilience and healing initiatives with Faith Matters Network and is a core team member with The People’s Supper. She is the author of Keep the Fires Burning: Conquering Stress and Burnout as a Mother-Baby Professional and contributing author of Becoming Like Creoles: Living and Leading at the Intersections of Injustice, Culture and Religion and Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers and articles all over the internet. 

The Rev. Gretchen Person, Associate University Chaplain and Associate Director of Religious Life, previously served as Director of Spiritual Life at DePauw University. She began her M.Div. studies at Harvard University, graduated from Luther Seminary, and received the Master of Sacred Theology degree from Yale University. She has also studied at the Goethe Institute in Murnau, Germany and at Valparaiso University.

Rewriting Pocahontas: The Importance of Perspective and Voice in Cultural Narratives

Description: In this teach-in, participants will engage with the standard story of Pocahontas, learn additional context, and then think critically about how it has often been communicated, including the story narrator’s perspective, the way that information is privileged, what information is excluded, how the significance of the story emerges from these authorial decisions and more. Attendees will also experience a presentation on the art of storytelling and the importance of hearing from a diversity of voices. Learn More>>

Location: Commons 235

Presenters: Danyelle Valentine, Mellon Visiting Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Alex Camai, the editor-in-chief of Vanderbilt Lives

Danyelle Valentine is Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies. Dr. Valentine received her Ph.D. in History from Vanderbilt in 2019. Her research deals with American rhetoric around contested political, cultural, and ethical concepts such as colonization, emigration, and identity. She is trained in the techniques of oral history collection, and she plans to offer a Maymester in 2020 in which Vanderbilt undergraduates collect oral histories about voting from black women in the Nashville area. Her current book project connects the migration of American blacks from the United States after the American Revolution and War of 1812 to discussions of diasporic identity and resettlement in the British Caribbean in the years preceding British colonial emancipation and the years immediately following, in order to connect the conditions under which a pattern of migration was continued.

Alex Camai is a junior in the College of Arts & Science majoring in Creative Writing and Biochemistry. He is also the editor-in-chief of Vanderbilt Lives, a new undergraduate creative nonfiction journal committed to representing the diversity of campus stories.

Crocodile Tears to Elephant Ears: Entering African and African American Storytelling through Anansi’s Web

Description: In this teach-in, participants will engage a West-African-based model of embodied listening and storytelling for personal transformation and social change. This workshop style teach-in will explore the ingredients of storytelling and the moral landscape of traditional storytelling and folklore. Through a mini-lecture and discussion, participants will explore how historical and contemporary storytelling customs can help them productively explore their own values and effectively communicate with others. Participants will also be invited to practice listening and storytelling in small groups and leave with practical tools and skills for listening and speaking ethically and effectively. Learn More>>

Location: Kissam C210 MPR

Presenters: Leah Nakon, doctoral student, Ethics and Society; Raphael Abayateye, graduate student, Global Health

Leah Nakon is a PhD student in Ethics & Society and a Center for Biomedical Ethics trainee. Her work examines the impact of social values on organizational decision-making in healthcare. Leah grew up in South Carolina and was exposed to multiple storytelling traditions including the Black Church, Appalachian, and Lowcountry traditions. She has developed storytelling skills through work with Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia, Urban Bush Women, and Alternate Roots.

Raphael Abayateye is an MPH student at the School of Medicine studying Global Health and an Emerging Impact Leader with the Turner Family Center. Raphael’s work explores how socioeconomic insecurity drives health decision making and health risks. Raphael is a Ghanaian from the Ga-Dangme ethnic group. His experience with storytelling comes from his family’s role as Wulomo/Nene, keepers of the traditional religious practices. 


Narrative Circles for Community Building and Inclusion

Description: In this teach-in, participants will engage in a Narrative Circle where they will self-select to participate by listening to the narratives of others or sharing their own narrative. The Narrative Circle approach is distinguished by principles and practices of narrative theory intended to create a shared exploration where each individual’s multi-storied self is affirmed. Participants will reflect on the ways that their characteristics, talents and values contribute to their personal narrative, as well as how their own story influences their perceptions of their talents, interactions with others and capabilities. This session will allow attendees to begin thinking intentionally about the impact of stories, perceptions, biases and assumptions that correlate with the unfamiliar or unknown. Learn More>>

Location: Commons 237

Presenters: Hasina Mohyuddin, director of Peabody Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Kalen Russell, graduate student, community development and action

Kalen Russell the graduate assistant for Peabody’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Kalen is a second- year student in Peabody College’s Community Development and Action Program. Originally from Muskogee, Oklahoma; Kalen earned a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2014. Kalen enjoys researching the causes and effects of gentrification and urban development. Kalen hopes to pursue a career that allows her to combine her passions for communication, cultural humility and community.

Hasina Mohyuddin is the Director of the Peabody Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and a Research Associate at Vanderbilt University. She is also a PhD candidate in the Community Research and Action (CRA) program at Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining the program, she received a BA in Economics from Yale University and an MBA from Vanderbilt University. Her dissertation research explores the religious identity development for Muslim American youth in the context of widespread negative stereotypes of Islam and Islamophobia.

Storytelling as Community-Bridging: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Book of Exodus

Description: In this teach-in, participants will learn about the role that storytelling can play in bridging different communities, particularly when the members of one community can see themselves in the story of another community. The session will specifically examine the ways in which Martin Luther King Jr. told the story of African Americans through the lens of the story of the ancient Israelites as recounted in the Biblical Book of Exodus. Participants will discuss how King was able to use a single story to provide inclusivity to two different groups, reinforcing his message of unity and community-bridging. Learn More>>

Location: Sarratt 325/327

Presenter: Adam Meyer, associate professor of Jewish Studies

Adam Meyer holds degrees from Kenyon College, The University of New Mexico, and Vanderbilt University (PhD 1991). He taught for many years in the English Department at Fisk University and has been in the Program in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt since 2008. His primary academic focus is on Black-Jewish relations, particularly as they are reflected in African American and Jewish American fiction and drama. He has published numerous scholarly articles in this area, as well as a full-length annotated bibliography. He is currently at work on a book project examining Blacks, Jews, and Passover Seders in American literature, of which this presentation is a part.

#GoingViral: Exploring the Intersections of Media and Civil Rights Movements to Empower Social Justice Activism on College Campuses

Description: In this teach-in, participants will explore the importance of bringing social justice topics and forms of media together to empower college students in activism and dialoguing across difference. This session will engage in collaborative discussion on how the intersections of media/information and knowledge of civil rights movements can aid in enacting social change. There will also be a discussion with participants on current media formats (social, film, TV) and its influence on social change movements today, and an opportunity for individuals to share their own stories and reflect on how media can help amplify their stories. Learn More>>

Location: Alumni Memorial Hall

Presenters: B. Antonella Valdivia, graduate student, higher education administration; Emma Duncliffe, graduate student, higher education administration

Brianna “Antonella” Valdivia is born and raised in Miami, Florida and currently a second year graduate student in the Higher Education Administration program at Peabody College – Vanderbilt University. In her graduate assistant role in the Student Center for Social Justice and Identity at Vanderbilt, she works with multicultural student organizations, facilitates trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion for the campus community, and contributes and collaborates to the creation of social justice programming. She is passionate about helping undergraduate students of underrepresented populations succeed in their higher education experience. During her undergraduate at the University of Miami, she was involved with student organization life, advocacy work, and service/leadership – all of which helped her discover a love for higher education and specifically multicultural student affairs.

Emma Duncliffe is a current second-year in the Higher Education Administration program at Peabody. She has served for the past year and a half as a Graduate Assistant in the Arts and Campus Events Office at Vanderbilt. Emma attended The Ohio State University for her Bachelor’s degree in New Media and Communication Technology and Leadership Studies. Throughout her time at Vanderbilt, Emma has focused on allyship within her graduate cohort and has continued to learn through professional development opportunities, conferences, and trainings on campus. Following graduation, Emma hopes to pursue a position in student activities.


Additional Campus Events

Thursday, January 16th, 2020:


Friday, January 17th, 2020:


Monday, January 20th, 2020:


Friday, January 24th, 2020: 

  • The Law School will host its annual MLK Memorial Lecture featuring Jamal Greene, Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. The lecture is free and open to the public, and will be held on Friday, Jan. 24 at noon in Flynn Auditorium.
The MLK Commemorative Series is open to all students, faculty, staff and postdoctoral scholars. Staff participation is welcomed, while recognizing the need for operational continuity.  If staff wish to participate in events during scheduled work hours, participation will be considered work time but must be coordinated in advance with their supervisor.

We would like to thank everyone participating in this commemoration.

 Questions? Email

MLK Commemorative Series 2020. "The Power of Storytelling: Our Stories Connect Us." (images provided by Library of Congress, wiki commons, Unsplash: Giacomo Ferroni, Isaiah Rustad, Nitish Meena, Nicole Baster
MLK Commemorative Series 2020. “The Power of Storytelling: Our Stories Connect Us.” (images provided by Library of Congress, wiki commons, Unsplash: Giacomo Ferroni, Isaiah Rustad, Nitish Meena, Nicole Baster