Unity. Joy. Gratitude. These are just a few of the words that can be used to describe the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which commemorates the life of the civil rights leader and Baptist minister. King’s work to end racial discrimination in the U.S. continues to be celebrated across the country, and especially here in Evanston. The RoundTable has rounded up some exciting and educational ways to celebrate this federal holiday.

Forest preserves service day

Kick off the MLK Day holiday weekend with an act of service. Volunteer with the Izaak Walton League-Elgin Chapter to remove brush around the pond at Rolling Knolls using loppers and bow saws. Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall, and local elected and community officials will greet and share remarks with volunteers at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at Rolling Knolls Forest Preserve. There will be a bonfire and hot beverages to keep volunteers warm. On MLK Day, the public also can join a litter cleanup at forest preserves throughout Cook County.

The birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated as a federal holiday. Schools, banks and government offices will be closed and there will be no mail delivery or trash pickup. Credit: Library of Congress

Free MLK concert

Join the Music Institute of Chicago and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre at Nichols Concert Hall for a free concert in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at 3 pm on Sunday, Jan. 15. Mayor Daniel Biss and Evanston Reparations Committee Member Claire McFarland Barber will speak on the city’s reparations program. Tim Rhoze, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre Artistic Director, and the Music Institute have co-curated a list of award winning musicians and artists. Music Institute faculty will perform the world premiere of a A Stone of Hope (Martin’s Song) by Ephraim Champion. A visual art exhibition, curated by artist Fran Joy, will line the walls of the Nichols Concert Hall lobby. There will also be musical performances by a violinist from Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, Ravinia’s Reach Teach Play program, Evanston Dance Ensemble and T.E. & Company (Tricia Edwards) of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ. Visit this link to reserve your seat.

“Evanston has long strived to live up to Dr. King’s legacy of equality, fairness, and peace, advancing groundbreaking social justice initiatives and becoming the first city in the nation to fund a local reparations program,” Biss said in a news release from the Music Institute of Chicago. “I can think of no better way to honor Dr. King than gathering together with our diverse cultural arts organizations to share, celebrate, and inspire.”

Library celebrates King’s legacy

The Evanston Public Library plans several ways to learn about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights legacy from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m. Jan. 16.

Families can watch short films “Martin’s Big Words” and “March On!,” do a craft, and listen to a stirring segment of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, presented by the Rev. Eddie Reeves. “Martin’s Big Words” will screen at 1:30 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. “March On!” will show at 1:45 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Also, teens can participate in a service event at the library; from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 16 young people can help create reusable sanitary pads for the Girls 4 Girls Ghana organization.

Finally, the library is also hosting Dedicated to the Dream conversations, a series of kid-friendly experiences around race and culture. Workshops are scheduled for 3:30 to 6 p.m. Jan. 21 and 5:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at the library.

Chicago History Museum Family Event

If you don’t mind the 30 minute drive, take the family to experience MLK’s ties to Chicago. The Chicago History Museum’s family friendly annual event to commemorate MLK kicks off at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 16 with a group meditation led by Rita J from Oh So Medicinal. Later the museum’s collections staff will teach visitors the history of North Lawndale where King once called home. At 1 p.m. the museum will show the 2008 documentary King in Chicago and guests will have the opportunity to discuss the film with scholars. This all-day event is free for Illinois residents on Jan. 16. You can register for the event here.

Residents gather for the start of the annual Walk for Warmth on Jan. 17, 2022. The event raised more than $30,000 to support Interfaith Action of Evanston’s overnight shelter, warming centers and soup kitchens for those who are homeless and hungry.
Credit: Richard Cahan

Interfaith Walk for Warmth

Interfaith Action of Evanston is challenging folks to brave the cold to raise funds for local shelters keeping those without shelter warm. This is Interfaith’s fourth annual Walk for Warmth on Martin Luther King Day. The two-mile walk starts at 11 a.m. from the Hinman entrance of First United Methodist Church. Funds raised during the walk will go toward Interfaith’s overnight shelters that are open from mid-October to mid-May.

MLK candlelight vigil

The Rev. Michael C. R. Nabors will lead Evanston in prayer at 3 p.m. on Jan. 16. He is pastor of Evanston’s historic Second Baptist Church and president of the Evanston North Shore Branch of the NAACP. The candlelight vigil will take place at Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road.

The Big Payback Screenings

Evanston is a part of the nation’s celebration of MLK Day this year. The Big Payback will premiere on PBS on Jan. 16 at 10 p.m. Chicago time. The documentary tells the story of Evanstonian Robin Rue Simmons paving the way for the nation’s first municipally funded reparations for Black residents. Unlike any other city in the nation, Evanston will also have a VIP showing of the film on MLK Day. The Evanston AMC 12 will be screening the film for free at 6 p.m. A Q&A session featuring the directors of the documentary, Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow, as well as Pastor Carlis Moody Jr. and Rabbi Andrea C. London will follow the film. You can reserve your ticket on Eventbrite. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill will headline Northwestern University’s MLK Commemoration Credit: Gina Castro

Northwestern’s MLK commemoration

Civil rights attorney and former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is Northwestern University’s 2023 MLK Dream Week keynote speaker. Ifill will discuss her decades of experience dismantling racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Sheila Bedi, clinical professor of law and director of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law will moderate the discussion. The free event is 5 p.m. Jan. 23 at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive. Registration is required.

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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