While the year is new and we try in earnest to turn a new page in our lives, it’s imperative that we keep some things intact as we carry forth and create traditions, so we observe year 37 of the annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event has, since its inception, evolved into the largest such gathering in New York City. 

The weekend of free events kicks off with the Visual Art presentation “Freedom!” at the BAM signage screen (corner of Flatbush Ave. & Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn) from Jan. 12–20, 2023. “Freedom!” is a group exhibition inspired by the work of playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry and the Freedom newspaper. On view for a limited time, the digital billboard-based project is a provocative exploration of the meaning of freedom as an idea and aspiration toward self-actualization. Seven visual artists—Allison Janae Hamilton, Chinaedu Nwadiba, Dawoud Bey, Leslie Hewitt, Robert Pruitt, and Stacey Robinson + Kamau Grantham—engage with compelling questions about notions of freedom. Timed to coincide with the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the project also pays homage to the legacy of the civil rights activist and encourages viewers to reflect on the questions What is freedom to you? How can we think about freedom from a broader perspective?

The return of BAMcafé Live (The Adam Space, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn) occurs this weekend, Friday, Jan. 13 and Saturday, Jan. 14 at 9 p.m. Artists are Kingston, Jamaica-born Russell Hall, an Emmy-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-nominated bassist and activist whose music culls from a myriad of musical stylings, including opera, jazz, reggae and roots music. With an unfailing groove, blistering chops and an abundance of character, Hall has quickly become one of New York City’s preeminent bassists. When he’s not creating solo work, he performs with his band, Bessie and the Rainbowkids, composed of artists from all around the world whose mission is to bring peace to all ears and love to all hearts. 

Day 2 showcases HARRIET TUBMAN—the power-jazz trio made up of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis. The trio relays a message of freedom in their soul-baring and politically tweaked fusion of rock, jazz, blues and avant-garde. HARRIET TUBMAN’s genre-defying sound is pure and liberated musical expression—a deep and soulful meditation on the essence of freedom. 

On Monday, Jan. 16, at 10:30 a.m. in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave.), presented by BAM and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, artists, activists, civic leaders and community members celebrate Dr. King’s life and mission. This edition will feature Sherrilyn Ifill, nationally recognized civil rights lawyer, law professor, former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president and director-counsel, and one of TIME magazine’s 2021 100 Most Influential People, as the keynote speaker. 

“The fact that this event continues to draw the biggest crowd in New York City on Martin Luther King Day year after year shows his enduring significance in society. We gather to celebrate his life and discuss the serious work still at hand,” said BAM Vice President of Creative Social Impact Coco Killingsworth. “BAM has long been committed to creating spaces for activists, leaders and artists to express themselves freely and giving audiences what they need. The annual MLK Tribute puts those needs into focus by bringing the community face-to-face with the civic leaders who are working on the issues that matter the most to them.”

A detailed look at Monday includes “BAMkids Celebrates MLK Day: Courage Takes Creativity” at Fishman Space, Hillman Studio (BAM Fisher. 321 Ashland Pl., Brooklyn) from 10:30 a.m.– 3:30 p.m.

This family-friendly program, co-curated with the BAMkids Parent Advisory Circle, immerses young people in art forms that have been important expressions of social justice movements. Art has helped raise awareness, build community and challenge power structures. Throughout the day, families can drum, dance, craft, color and even put themselves in moments of civil rights history spanning Dr. King’s lifetime. 

A film called “My Name Is Pauli Murray” plays at BAM Rose Cinemas (30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn) at 1 p.m. Directed by Oscar nominees Betsy West and Julie Cohen (“RBG”), this documentary spotlights the overlooked history of the trailblazing LGBTQ and civil rights activist, gender-nonconforming scholar and ordained minister who championed the rights of people of color, women and the queer community. 

All events are free. Tribute tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-seated basis starting at 8 a.m. in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House lobby. Call BAM Ticket Services at 718-636-4100 or visit bam.org/mlk for more information.

Also of note comes the January 13 release of Grammy-Award-nominated tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland album, “The Universe’s Wildest Dream.” The ambitious Afrofuturistic album is a celebration of life on Planet Earth and an urgent plea for humans to focus on climate change “I figure if there’s any message that can recruit more Earthlings to acknowledge, comprehend and take action towards global warming and sustainability, it is the realization that we may be the only planet that harbors life, that we are probably the universe’s wildest dream,” says Marcus about the album. Strickland will be playing at the Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St.) on January 17 and 18. 

Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.

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