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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.

Michelle Alexander | 2020 MLK keynote

Michelle Alexander brings audiences profoundly necessary and meaningful insights on the practice of mass incarceration that plagues the US justice system, as well as eye-opening conversation on how we can end racial caste in America.

In her acclaimed bestseller The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander peels back the curtain on systemic racism in the US prison system in a work that the New York Review of Books describes as "striking in the intelligence of her ideas, her powers of summary and the force of her writing." With equal force and candor on stage, she breaks the silence about racial injustice in the modern legal system to reveal how mass incarceration has come to replace segregation.

A legal scholar, social justice advocate, columnist at The New York Times and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, Alexander explores the myths surrounding our criminal justice system from a racial and ethical standpoint and offers solutions for combating this epidemic. Delivering an emphatic wakeup call from the "colorblind slumber" that our country has fallen under, she leaves audiences with a new perspective on the challenges facing the civil rights community and a call to action for a multiracial, multi-ethnic human rights movement for justice in America.

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

Cornel West | January 23, 2019

Roxane Gay | March 2, 2018

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