Each academic year, the RISD community works together to host a series of special events honoring the life of and contributions made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in creating a more just and democratic society. Through talks and workshops led by leading advocates for justice, the inspiring series provides members of the RISD community and the larger public with meaningful opportunities for service, reflection and personal development.

Cornel West | 2019 MLK keynote | Wednesday, January 23


A prominent and provocative democratic intellectual, Cornel West is professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University and professor emeritus at Princeton University. He is the author of several books, including classics Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and has produced three spoken word albums including Never Forget, on which he collaborated with prominent musicians like Prince, Jill Scott and Andre 3000.

In communicating with a vast variety of publics, West is committed to keeping alive Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy of truth-telling and bearing witness to love and justice.

Gina Belafonte | MLK Series lecture | Tuesday, January 8

Gina Belafonte has spent her life in the arenas of entertainment and activism where her professional work thrives today. A veteran actor, she was the lead producer of Sing Your Song, an internationally acclaimed documentary film that explores the life and legacy of her father, performer and civil rights leader Harry Belafonte. She is also the cofounder of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit organization focused on nonviolence, youth incarceration and the criminalization of poverty.

Based in Los Angeles and NYC, Belafonte is currently producing projects for stage and screen that reflect her lifelong passion for arts and activism, including Lyrics from Lockdown, a multimedia production addressing the impact of wrongful imprisonment and mass incarceration.

More about the MLK Series

The MLK keynote address serves as the centerpiece of the MLK Series and aims to highlight the role of creative endeavor in advancing democracy and equity. The lecture honors the vast contributions of Dr. King toward creating a more just and democratic society and acknowledges an individual whose legacy of service and commitment to justice has made an indelible difference.

Past MLK honorees and keynote speakers include author and cultural critic Roxane Gay (2018), filmmaker, author and diversity trainer Lee Mun Wah (2018), artist, educator and human rights activist Emory Douglas (2017), ambassador and diplomat Andrew Young (2016), artist Faith Ringgold (2016), actor / humanitarian Danny Glover (2015), children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman (2014), artist / activist Harry Belafonte (2013), writer/activist Angela Davis (2012), nonviolence strategist Dr. Bernard Lafayette (2006), and scholar Bakari Kitwana (2005).

Watch previous keynote addresses

Emory Douglas | January 20, 2017

Ambassador Andrew Young | January 22, 2016

Tim Wise | October 19, 2015

Faith Ringgold | April 13, 2016

Danny Glover | January 30, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman | January 29, 2014

Harry Belafonte | January 29, 2013