Dr. Bernice King and Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz to headline UTC MLK Day 2024


The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will celebrate its 11th UTC MLK Day by bringing a pair of co-headliners to Chattanooga.

Dr. Bernice A. King and Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz will be the keynote speakers for the UTC MLK Day 2024 celebration taking place at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium Walker Theatre–located at 399 McCallie Ave.

Open to the general public, this will be the first UTC MLK Day event held in an off-campus venue.

“A Conversation with Bernice King and Ilyasah Shabazz–A Legacy of Leadership and Service” will be moderated by UTC Vice Chancellor for Engagement Stacy Lightfoot and Student Government Association President Chamyra Teasley. The program will include a discussion and Q&A.

All guests are required to RSVP. For information, call 423-425-5683 or contact mcc@utc.edu.

King, a minister, attorney, and daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is the chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Commonly known as The King Center, the not-for-profit organization was founded by her mother, Coretta Scott King, as the official living memorial to her father’s life, work, and legacy.

Shabazz, an award-winning author, educator, producer and daughter of Malcolm X, is chairperson of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. She has authored five historical novels, has served as project advisor for the PBS award-winning film, “Prince Among Slaves,” and is currently producing a television series based on her latest two publications–“X” and “The Awakening of Malcolm X”–with Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar Pictures.

According to Christopher Stokes, assistant director of the UTC Office of Multicultural Affairs, bringing together the daughters of Dr. King and Malcolm X came out of a conversation between Dr. Tara Mathis, the associate dean of students and director of the Multicultural Center, and Sherese Williams, director of operations and admissions for the Honors College and president of the UTC Black Faculty and Staff Association.

“Sherese presented the idea to us and asked, ‘What if we could make this happen?’ and we were like, ‘That’s a little bit bigger than we’ve gone before, so let’s see what we can do,”’ Stokes recalled. “What would that look like if we moved this to an off-campus venue? How would we bring them together? What would the conversation look like? How would our community embrace it?

“After a few conversations, Dr. Mathis pulled our sponsors together from last year and pitched the idea to them. They were all on board and brought a new level of excitement to this event. With these two names, the work they do and the legacy that both of their fathers left, we thought it would be an incredible opportunity to bring them together at UTC.”

Said Mathis, “Even when I reached out to the speaker’s bureau and our rep, he didn’t know if we could pull this off. He was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know if we can do that, but we’ll contact them.’ He reached out to them individually to see if they were interested in coming–and they were–and it went from an initial conversation to that’s a pretty good idea to making it happen.”

King continues to advance her parents’ legacy of nonviolent social change through policy, advocacy, research, education and training based on nonviolent principles and strategies modeled by her parents. She received a Doctorate of Law from Emory University in Atlanta, a Master of Divinity from Emory’s Candler School of Theology and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Spelman College in Atlanta.

Shabazz has dedicated herself to institution-building and intergenerational leadership development with the tenants of diversity, equity and inclusion in her work to preserve her parents’ legacy. She received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Worcester (Massachusetts) State University, a master’s degree in human resource development from Fordham University in New York and a bachelor’s degree in biology from SUNY New Paltz in New York.

UTC began hosting a special MLK event on a day separate from the federal holiday in 2013. Previous UTC MLK Day keynote speakers have included prominent educators Angela Davis and Cornell West, New York Times bestselling author Meena Harris, political strategist Symone Sanders and journalist Roland Martin.

“When you’ve brought Cornell West and Angela Davis to campus, you’ve kind of set a standard, and we wanted to continue to move forward and challenge ourselves and our community to bring someone different to campus,” Stokes said. “In honor of Dr. King, we had talked about bringing his daughter before, but we also wanted to find a way to create a larger impact and a larger conversation.

“We really have something that our campus and community want, and they want to see more events like this. It shows our growing position as Chattanooga’s university, our role in connecting with the community and providing opportunities, resources and a space where we can educate our community as well.”