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Everything You Need to Know About the History-Making #MLKNOW Event

#MLKNOW, presented by The Campaign for Black Male Achievement and Blackout for Human Rights, was a free, star-studded commemorative event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This historic event took place on Martin Luther King Day (January 18th) at the Riverside Church in Harlem, New York– where Dr. King performed his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence."  More than 2,000 people gathered to witness powerful performances that were further amplified by the Church's ambiance and feeling of grace, purpose, and meaning.

The historic speeches were performed by some of today’s leading actors/influencers – including Actor and Civil Rights Icon Harry Belafonte, Actor and Comedian Chris Rock, Oscar-Winner Octavia Spencer, Creator and Star of the hit Broadway Musical "Hamilton" Lin Manuel Miranda, CREED Actors Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, Tony Award Winner Anika Noni Rose, Actor Andre Holland and more.

CBMA CEO Shawn Dove delivers opening remarks for the program (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Filmmaker, Founding Blackout Member and Event Host Ryan Coogler delivers welcoming remarks and introduces the performers (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs MLK's "Beyond Vietnam" speech (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Chris Rock performs James Baldwin's "My Dungeon Shook" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

CREED Star Michael B. Jordan Performs Fred Hampton's "Power Where There's People" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Tony Award-Winning Actress Anika Noni Rose Performs Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Adepero Oduye delivers an emotional performance of Ida B. Wells' "This Awful Slaughter" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler welcome Legendary Activist/Entertainer Harry Belafonte, who performed Patrice Lumumba's "Proclamation of Independence" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Oscar-Winning Actress Octavia Butler delivers a powerful performance of MLK's last speech "Been To The Mountaintop" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Andre Holland Performing Malcolm X's speech "Police Brutality and Mainstream Media" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

CREED Star Tessa Thompson performs Angela Davis' "Victory Speech" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Condola Rashad performs Shirley Chisolm's "Presidential Campaign Announcement" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

#MLKNOW also included musical performances by Anika Noni Rose, Grammy-Nominated Artist Bilal, Grammy Award-Winning Singer/Songwriter India Arie, Poet and Activist Saul Williams, and surprise guest, Actor Jussie Smollett. If that wasn’t enough, #MLKNOW treated audience members to a one-on-one interview between Filmmaker and Blackout Member Ryan Coogler and Grammy-Nominated Hip Hop Artist J. Cole, followed by an amazing panel discussion about activism and human rights in America. The panel was moderated by MSNBC National Reporter Trymaine Lee, and included Urban Cusp Founder and Publisher Rahiel TesfamariamArab American Association of New York Executive Director Linda SarsourMillion Hoodies Movement for Justice Executive Director Dante Barry, and Activist Leon Ford, Jr. and more. 

Grammy-Winning Artist India Arie performs her original song "I Am Light" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

EMPIRE Star Jussie Smollett performs Billie Holiday's powerful song "Strange Fruit" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Grammy-Nominated Artist Bilal performs his original song "All Matter" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Poet/Perfomer Saul Williams recites an original poem (Photo Credit: Jamie Walker)

Bay Area Group Sol Development delivers an arresting performance that brought audience members to their feet (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Anika Noni Rose gives a stirring interpretation of J. Cole's song "Be Free" (Photo Credit: Bayete Ross Smith)

Grammy-Nominated Hip Hop Artist J. Cole and Ryan Coogler engage in an "Artists' Conversation" around art and activism (Photo Credit: Jamie Walker)

Panelists Leon Ford Jr., Gina Belafonte, and Linda Sarsour discuss the importance of activism and pertinent human and civil rights issues today (Photo Credit: Jamie Walker)

There were so many spectacular highlights and moments within #MLKNOW that it is really hard to narrow it down to even a handful of moments. Between the overflowing talent, the positive energy in the church, and the knowledge we all received, #MLKNOW was not just an event: it was an experience. CBMA CEO Shawn Dove echoed the sentiments of the shared #MLKNOW experience while taking the stage, saying “I know I’m not leaving here the same way I came in.” Neither did I.

The teamwork and collaboration between CBMA and Blackout for Human Rights was awe-inspiring, particularly among lead producers Janet Dickerson of CBMA, and Ryan Coogler and Terrance Pitts of Blackout for Human Rights, all of whom put everything together in less than a month. The organization of the event was carefully planned and executed, performances were powerful, and the people in attendance – from the front row to the balcony – left pleased and inspired. That strong inspiration and desire for change was not solely restricted within the walls of Riverside Church. More than 408,000 people watched the live-stream of the event, making it the number one trending topic on Twitter with over 50K tweets. 

Check out the online reactions in this #MLKNOW Twitter Round-up!

For all of those who did not get a chance to share in the historic event that was #MLKNOW, don’t miss out on this great experience! Check out the recorded livestream here



Blackout is a network of artists, entertainers, advocates, spiritual leaders, educators and everyday citizens who commit their collective resources towards addressing human rights violations in the U.S. Blackout is comprised of both high visibility and everyday citizens. Members include Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Charles King, Nate Parker, Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover, Ava DuVernay, Jesse Williams, John Burris, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosa Clemente, Michael McBride, Shaka King, Scott Budnick, David Oyelowo, Pastor Michael McBride and others.



The Campaign for Black Male Achievement is a national membership network that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability, and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of Black men and boys. CBMA is a growing network that currently includes more than 4,800 leaders representing over 2,600 organizations and programs across the country.


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