The acclaimed a cappella women’s ensemble, Sweet Honey in the Rock, will headline Queens College’s fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration Sunday, Jan. 14. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver the keynote. Hazel N. Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference and a member of the NAACP’s national board of directors, will be recognized for her ongoing efforts to further the work of Dr. King with a Special Award presented by Jackie Arrington-Pinkard from the Greater Queens Chapter of The Links, Inc.
The keynote speaker and honoree for the Jan. 14 commemoration were chosen by a steering committee composed of distinguished representatives from Queens College, the Queens Public Library, the Langston Hughes Library, Resorts World Casino, the New York Daily News, the NAACP, Kupferberg Center for the Arts and the Athletics Department at Queens College, the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the United States Tennis Association and Madison House/Goldenvoice. Michelle Stoddart, Resorts World NYC director of PR and Community Development, and Andrew Jackson, former director of the Langston Hughes Library and a member of the Queens College faculty, chaired the committee.
Queens College has a longstanding history of involvement in the struggle for equality and social justice. In 1964, Queens College student Andrew Goodman was slain, along with fellow civil rights workers James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, during a voter registration project in Mississippi. The following spring, as the inaugural speaker in the college’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Lecture Series, Dr. King emphasized the power of peaceful resistance. In 2015, at its 91st commencement ceremony—and 50 years after Dr. King’s address—the college awarded a posthumous honorary doctoral degree to Goodman.
“We take enormous pride in our long association with the civil rights movement, personified by the sacrifice and commitment of so many of our alumni, in particular Andrew Goodman,” said Queens College President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “We are also deeply grateful to those alumni and friends of Queens College who have generously donated their personal papers and artifacts to our library’s Civil Rights Special Collections archive for the benefit of future generations of students and researchers.”
Also in recent years, the college awarded President’s Medals to journalist Jerry Mitchell and the Philadelphia Coalition’s Leroy Clemons—whose work led to the indictment of former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen for the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner—and an honorary degree to Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis.
“Queens College has long been committed to creating a community of diversity and equality, characteristics emblematic of Dr. King’s life work,” said James. “As we continue our efforts to move our society forward, we must spread Dr. King’s message of love and inclusion, especially among our students. I want to thank Queens College for this opportunity to commemorate the great life and legacy of Dr. King.”
Tickets for the event, which will take place at Colden Auditorium at 4 p.m., cost $25-$35 and are available at ticketmaster.com. The program is sponsored by New York Community Bank.
Since 1973, Sweet Honey in the Rock has been educating, empowering and entertaining audiences by singing and signing—for the hearing impaired—a repertoire rooted in African-American history and culture. To date, the group has released 24 recordings and received three Grammy nominations, and has collaborated with artists ranging from Stevie Wonder to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company and the National Symphony Orchestra.
James made history in 2013 as the first woman of color elected to citywide office in New York City. Among the causes that she supports are tenants’ rights and community renewal. As a City Council member, James fought for paid sick leave and passed the Safe Housing Act, which ensures prompt and complete repairs to rental apartments. She has also advocated for children in foster care and with disabilities, and for universal free lunch to children in New York City public schools as of fall 2017. In 2016, James introduced landmark legislation that led to New York City becoming the first municipality in the nation to ban questions about salary history from the employment interview process. A lawyer by training, James previously served as an assistant attorney general and a public defender.