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Bates College observes MLK Day with Sunday and Monday events

Bates junior Abby Westberry and William Coggins of Morehouse College chat prior to the 2018 edition of the annual Rev. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays (Class of 1920) Debate. (Photo by Theophil Syslo, Bates College)

Barbara Ransby, an author, historian and social justice activist, will present the keynote address for Bates College’s observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 21. The address will take place at 9 a.m. in the college’s Peter J. Gomes Chapel at 275 College Street in Lewiston.

Ransby is a Distinguished Professor of African American studies, gender and women’s studies, and history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of three books, including 2018’s “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century” (University of California Press).

Ransby’s talk highlights a two-day schedule of MLK Day programming at Bates that, beginning on Sunday, January 20, will include an interfaith service, an annual debate between students from Bates and Morehouse Colleges, an evening performance by the popular student group Sankofa, and two daytime sessions of concurrent workshops.

All MLK Day events at Bates College are open to the public at no cost. For more information, call 786-6400.To see the complete schedule, visit

The concept of intersectionality – the ways in which social categories such as race, class, and gender overlap, and how those overlaps interact to affect individuals and groups – figures prominently in this year’s MLK Day programming at Bates, which carries the theme “Lifting Every Voice: Intersectionality and Activism. “

“Our theme is at once an allusion to what’s been called the Black National Anthem – ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ – as well as a reminder that movements are made up of many people, not just one, and each person has many identities, not just one,” explains Michael Sargent, associate professor of psychology and one of three MLK Day planning committee co-chairs.

Ransby’s address is titled “Intersectional Feminist Praxis in the Black Freedom Movement, from Ella Baker to Black Lives Matter.” She is “a world-renowned scholar whose work speaks to activism from a broad perspective,” says Michael Rocque, an assistant professor of sociology and a planning committee co-chair.

In addition to her departmental positions at UIC, Ransby directs the campus-wide Social Justice Initiative, which helps connect academics and community organizers doing social justice work.
Her other books include the award-winning “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision” (University of North Carolina Press) and “Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson” (Yale University Press).

The scope, depth and commitment to social justice in its MLK Day events distinguishes Bates among its peer schools. “For more than two decades, Bates has canceled classes on MLK Day so that all members of our community – as well as friends from Maine and beyond – can come together to share in personal education and growth, centered on a theme related to the work of Martin Luther King Jr.,” says planning committee co-chair Susan Stark, assistant professor of philosophy.

Workshops will be held concurrently in sessions starting at 10:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Pettengill and Hedge halls (both located on Bates’ Alumni Walk), Ladd Library (accessible from Campus Avenue) and Commons (136 Central Avenue).

Here are more highlights among MLK Day events at Bates:

Yance Ford’s 2017 documentary “Strong Island,” portraying a family experiencing loss while the world around them engages in injustice and the complicity of silence, will be shown on Sunday, January 20 at 2 p.m. in Room G52 of Pettengill Hall, located at 4 Andrews Road (Alumni Walk).

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Service will feature Princeton University’s Rev. Dr. Theresa S. Thames, who will lead the service with the message “I Will Not Keep Silent! I Will Not Rest!” The service, which will include music, dance, reflections, and scripture, will take place on Sunday, January 20 at 7 p.m. in the Gomes Chapel. For more information, call 786-8272.

“Sorry to Bother You,” Boots Riley’s 2018 sci-fi comedy depicting an African-American telemarketer who finds success – and a moral dilemma – when he develops a new sales pitch, will be shown on Monday, January 21 at 1:15 p.m. in Room 104 of Olin Arts Center, located at 75 Russell Street.

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays (Class of 1920) Debate will take place on Monday, January 21 at 3:45 p.m. in Olin Concert Hall, located at 75 Russell Street. In this popular tradition, Morehouse College debaters take on Bates’ Brooks Quimby Debate Council. This year’s motion: “This House believes that social justice movements should prioritize socioeconomic class over race and gender.” The event is free, but tickets are required at

One of Bates’ most popular MLK Day happenings, the annual performance by the student group Sankofa, will take place Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Schaeffer Theatre, located at 329 College Street. Sankofa explores the stories of the African diaspora through dance, music, theater, spoken word, and more. The event is free, but tickets are required at

Ransby’s keynote address and the debate will also be livestreamed at

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