Filmmaker and NYU professor Spike Lee accepting the 2018 NYU Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.
NYU alumna Amy León performing at a MLK Week event.

For the 15th consecutive year, NYU will host African Heritage Month. The month starts off by honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy during a weeklong (February 3 to 8) schedule of activities and programs.

The highlight of MLK Week is the University-Wide Event scheduled for Thursday, February 6. It showcases influential voices in academia, journalism, entertainment, and activism. This year’s speakers are Tarana Burke, advocate and founder of the “me too.” movement, Dolores Huerta, founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for community-based organizing, and María Teresa Kumar, founder of Voto Latino. Together with Dr. Gayatri Gopinath, the director for the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at NYU, they will discuss the impact of Dr. King’s legacy and those who carry on his mission.

Following the discussion, Dr. Deborah Willis will be awarded the 2020 NYU Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award. In addition to being a professor, she is also the chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts. Her research “examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of slavery and emancipation, contemporary women photographers, and beauty.”

In previous years, the event featured NYU alumna, musician, activist, and educator Amy León, journalist Clay Cane, New York Times columnist Charles Blow, social activist Munroe Bergdorf, comedian and actress Amanda Seales, and Oscar-winning filmmaker and NYU tenured professor Spike Lee, who was presented with the 2018 NYU Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award.

Clay Cane, Munroe Bergdorf, Charles Blow, and Amanda Seales on stage at an African Heritage Month panel discussion.
Staying Present and Planning for the Future

Throughout the rest of African Heritage Month, the NYU community celebrates the many faces, voices, and colors of Africa and its diaspora with a series of events designed to empower and energize the NYU community.

This year, the month kicks off with the “Mental Health is Wealth” wellness expo. This afternoon of reflection is a time for participants to check in, take stock, and set goals. Then, students can explore leadership and career opportunities at Designing Your Path as a Change-Maker: Pursuing Equity, Inclusion, and Social Impact Through Work. NYU President Andrew Hamilton will start things off with a keynote address. Next comes a career panel, a roundtable, and an open networking event. NYU alumni and industry leaders from organizations like UNICEF, the ACLU, and Credit Suisse will be on the scene to discuss how you can craft an impactful career.

NYU President Andy Hamilton, filmmaker Spike Lee, and associate VP for global student engagement and Iinclusive leadership Monroe France posing for a photo.
Activism, Entrepreneurship, Celebration, and Service

Later in the month comes Climate Justice: An Intersection of Race and Activism. Here, Isra Hirsi, cofounder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, will talk about environmental justice as well as her experiences as a young African woman and activist.

Other events this year include the Afrofest Concert featuring Ghanaian musician Kwesi Arthur and an African film festival. Additionally, at the African Heritage Month Fashion Show, artists from across the diaspora will send their designs down the runway. And at the Black Veganism Workshop, black vegan entrepreneurs will share their journeys—and of course serve samples. One of the most popular events, though, is the MLK Day of Service. Here, NYU students, staff, and faculty join together to participate in meaningful community service. This year, their goal is to assemble 1,000 personal care kits to distribute to agencies working with people in need.