How Virtual MLK Day Celebrations Are Continuing the Activist Mission

As we prepare to commemorate another birthday of the late civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., artists throughout the city are finding creative ways to further his movement in virtual celebrations.

“We wanted to showcase how Martin Luther King Jr. works in tandem with every single letter in STEAM,” said Dorothy Jean Tillman, founder and CEO of the Dorothy Jean STEAM Leadership Institute. “He is science, technology, engineering, art and math. He is not just a leader. He has done everything you could think of.”

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This MLK Day, 14-year-old Dorothy Jean Tillman is using her passion for education to highlight King’s impact in STEAM related fields in a virtual celebration, live streamed from the Harold Washington Cultural Center. From dance and musical numbers to excerpts from some of his most prominent speeches to science experiments, Tillman’s mother says the afternoon’s assembly highlights the impact of art and science working together.

“STEM and STEAM, they’re a team, and it’s all about unity,” Jimalita Tillman said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure young people know this is something they can do. Dr. King fought for them to have the right to be able to excel in any field.”

But unity is not the only message of King’s artists will be celebrating. Over at the Black Ensemble Theater, they’ll be having their 10th MLK Day Production in collaboration with the African American Arts Alliance. Founder Jackie Taylor says she hopes the annual showcase reinforces empathy and love in humanity.

“That’s what Dr. King preached more than anything,” said Jackie Taylor, founder and CEO of the Black Ensemble Theater. “It was not about revenge. We have to learn how to love and care for each other, everywhere.”

Regardless, actress Dawn Bless says she hopes viewers are able to see how art has helped progress King’s movement.

“The arts are forced to evolve and we always do,” Bless said. “We're on the verge of a renaissance. I’m excited because it’s forcing people to get creative with their creativity.”

Art reflecting change was most recently seen this summer, with a rise in public art.

“So much of his message was an idea of claiming space and of self-pride,” said artist Dorian Sylvain.

She’ll join a group of Black muralists of all ages to discuss the impact of this mural movement in one of many MLK Day celebrations at the Hyde Park Art Center.

“This period in protest has ignited so much more conversation about what public space should be and mean and how we can engage it to create more comradery,” Sylvain said. “It’s not enough just to have an opinion, but how do come together and find commonality in terms of our direction."

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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