Scholars, senators, activists, and authors have delivered stirring words from the Gomes Chapel pulpit as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote at Bates.

This year’s keynote promises stirring words — and more. Noted author, food justice activist, and James Beard Award-winning chef Bryant Terry plans to stir up a vegan dish featured in one of his acclaimed cookbooks.

This year’s MLK Day keynote speaker Bryant Terry is an award-winning chef, food justice activist, and critically acclaimed author. (Photograph by Paige Green)

Noted both for his culinary skills as well as his exploration into the intersections between poverty, structural racism, and food insecurity, Terry will offer this year’s keynote session in Gomes Chapel on Monday, Jan. 15. The gathering begins at 9 a.m. and will also feature welcoming remarks by Bates President Garry W. Jenkins.

For this year’s distinctive pulpit-to-platter presentation — kicking off the 2024 MLK Day theme of Food Justice — Terry draws from a recipe from his 2014 book, Afro-Vegan, which reimagines various dishes of the African diaspora. He’ll work from a cooking station set up in front of the chapel’s transept, using ingredients provided by Dining Services, including tofu, mustard greens, chopped tomatoes, and lots of different spices.

Terry’s most recent book, 2021’s Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes From Across The African Diaspora pays tribute to Black culinary ingenuity and explores the shared culinary histories of the African diaspora. In an interview with NPR, Terry described the cookbook as a “communal shrine” to these shared histories. 

Following the keynote are 18 different MLK Day offerings in various places across the Bates campus, plus one off-campus field trip to a local compost facility. Programs range from a virtual-reality experience of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington to discussions on food sovereignty in science fiction, decarbonization, and energy equity that aim to explore the many facets of the theme.

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Since the early 1990s, MLK Day at Bates has provided a platform for the community to engage in discussions, teachings, and reflections on the legacy of the civil rights icon.

Past Bates keynote speakers include legal scholar Eleanor Holmes Norton (1990), author John Edgar Wideman (1999), ​​activist and educator Cleveland Sellars (2007), and author, scholar, and activist Angela Davis (2021). Other speakers have shared their memories of King, such as in 2014, when U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, recalled attending the 1963 March on Washington.

About This Year’s Theme: ‘Food Justice’

Tyler Harper and Justin Moriarty, co-chairs of this years’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day Planning Committee, offer their insights into this year’s theme, Food Justice.

‘Our Common Humanity’

“Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of justice was rooted in an appeal to our common humanity. Nothing is more basically human than food: growing it, preparing it, sharing it,” said Harper, an assistant professor of environmental studies who has become a prolific essayist on social issues in the national media.

“Our foodways are at once a window into the richness of cultural difference and a bridge that reaches across divides of region, identity, history, and language,” he added.

MLK Day Planning Committee co-chair Tyler Harper. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

“But in a world racked by environmental calamity, economic inequality, war, and rapid technological change, eating is also inseparable from questions of justice. The MLK Planning Committee chose this year’s theme not only because it is topical but because food is inherently interpersonal, interdisciplinary, and intercultural. It is a subject that every member of our campus is an expert in, no matter their job, field of knowledge, or place of birth.”

‘Home and family’

“This year’s theme has the power to connect us all in deeply personal ways,” said Moriarty, who is a lecturer in theater and technical director of the Department of Theater and Dance.

MLK Day Planning Committee co-chair Justin Moriarty. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

“Most of my fondest stories of home and family revolve around food. From growing to preparing to sharing with others, food has a way, like art, to allow each of us to fully experience our unique selves. Our hope as a committee was to choose a theme that provided space for our entire community to find ways to fully and holistically participate in the day’s events.”

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024: A prelude to MLK Day

A new offering for 2024 is the MLK Day Spoken Word Festival. Held in Gomes Chapel at 7 p.m. and sponsored and convened by the college’s multifaith chaplaincy, the event will feature powerful words and uplifting songs celebrating the voices of the movement. The evening’s special guest is Maya Williams, poet laureate of Portland, Maine.

Maya Williams, poet laureate of Portland, Maine, will offer a reading at the MLK Day Spoken Word Festival at Gomes Chapel at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14. (Photograph by Clark Hartman, Slam Free or Die)

Earlier on Sunday is a screening and discussion of the film Gather, which follows the stories of Native Americans from four tribes who are on the frontlines of a growing movement to reconnect with spiritual and cultural identities that were devastated by genocide.

Monday, Jan. 15, 2024: Keynote and 18 offerings on MLK Day

On Monday, other morning topics include the challenges in reaching food sovereignty in the Lewiston/Auburn area and the intersection of food and mental health among college students, led by the college’s Counseling and Psychological Services team.

The afternoon comprises two sessions of workshops. The first offers topics like halal school meals, young Mainers’ efforts for food and climate justice, and a presentation by Alicia Kennedy on food and food justice via Zoom. Led by three Bates students, one workshop on Bates recycling efforts includes a visit to We Compost It in Auburn.

The second afternoon session includes a film screening and discussion of the documentary Nuh-Mi-Bee-Uhn, which delves into the 1904–08 German genocide in Namibia and how arable land is at the heart of conversations today about genocide and its afterlives.

The trailer for the documentary Nuh-Mi-Bee-Uhn:

Another session offers reflections on the definition of Maine food by the editors of the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook and the Maine Community Cookbook (vol. 2). The editors will discuss their inclusive vision that honors the food traditions of all people who call Maine their home, and bring to the table four different styles of cornbread whose recipes are included in the Maine community cookbooks: anadama bread, johnnycake, muufo, and creamy cornmeal cake.

At 4:45 p.m., the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays Debate, livestreamed on the Bates website and the Bates Facebook page, brings together student debaters from Bates and Morehouse colleges to explore the motion that illegal community farms are a just response to food deserts. 

The day wraps up with the annual Sankofa presentation at 7:30 p.m. in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall. Organized by the Black Student Union, this year’s event will be presented as a panel discussion.