Dreaming out loud

‘Dr. King Jr. & the Radical Roots at the Heart of Justice’ honors MLK’s enduring legacy with a call for action

Co-presented by Motus Theater and CU Boulder’s Center for African and African American Studies, the second annual Dr. King Jr. & the Radical Roots at the Heart of Justice happens Jan. 15 at the Dairy Arts Center. Credit: NJKPhotography

At the Dairy Arts Center, the stage is set not just for a performance but for a movement. Bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of justice and equality into sharp focus against the backdrop of contemporary struggles, Motus Theater’s annual tribute to the Civil Rights icon explores his legacy by bringing together the voices of social justice advocates, scholars and artists.

“It allowed me to speak to people who do not realize they are also carrying on the work that has already been done,” says Aurora-based monologist and self-described “actionist” Candice Bailey. “We are seeing the rollback of all of these Civil Rights era victories, such as Roe v. Wade, women’s rights and all of these other protections, so I felt it was critical to stand up and encourage everyone to carry the torch forward.” 

Although Motus Theater has presented arts-based programming for MLK Day since its inception in 2011, this is the organization’s second annual Dr. King Jr. & the Radical Roots at the Heart of Justice event. The free program is designed to spark action based on Dr. King’s theories surrounding racism and poverty, with a focus on building a “beloved community” in the context of 21st-century civil and human rights challenges.

Presented in partnership with CU Boulder’s Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS), this year’s iteration features Colorado hip-hop legends The ReMINDers, social justice activist and poet Norma Johnson, CAAAS director Dr. Reiland Rabaka and autobiographical monologists Bailey and Jahmil Roberts

“Participating in an event honoring Dr. King’s legacy is important for me as a transgender rights organizer because I know that Martin Luther King Jr. did not work alone,” Roberts says. “There were queer people and so many others that supported King’s movement. It’s important to show up and let people know we can organize toward the life we want for ourselves. Beyond the celebrity we are sold in school and through the media, Dr. King was correct that material change can occur when we ground ourselves in our place and do the necessary work.” 

Aurora-based monologist and activist Candice Bailey will perform as part of the upcoming MLK Day event at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. Credit: NJKPhotography

An honor to fight

It’s been more than half a century since Dr. King was assassinated on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he had come to prepare for a march on behalf of striking sanitation workers. But the struggles he addressed — racial injustice, poverty and the fight for a more equitable society — remain as pertinent in the present moment as they were during his lifetime. 

“Everything that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for still applies today,” says Big Samir of The ReMINDers. “We still have a long way to go in realizing his dream, so we must keep working hard. It is always a pleasure and an honor to lend our voices to the ongoing fight for justice.” 

The event’s artistic approach speaks to the transformative power of creative endeavors in social movements. It serves as a reminder that art can be a tool for education, empathy and activism.

“Maya Angelou talks about how it is the responsibility of each individual to tell their story so we can keep the momentum of liberation at the forefront,” says Bailey, who dedicated her life to community activism after serving a three-year prison sentence in 1999. “We connect to music and art because they allow us to speak about the core of the human experience. I did a lot of spoken word when I was in prison; the art was healing because you could say things that were trapped inside your body that you could never really configure.”

In a world still grappling with issues of race, gender and class, Motus Theater’s event seeks to harness the power of art in social discourse. It’s a reminder that Dr. King’s dream is not a static relic of the past but a living, evolving aspiration that demands our active participation.

“I’m looking at 2024 with this clean, open slate right now in so many ways, but I also think that history often tells us the story of what is to come,” Bailey says. “We’re watching a lot of the work that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did unravel. Every year we honor MLK; he was given a day, but his life wasn’t about a singular day in January. It was about the things he did intentionally every single day. Not just a speech, not just a protest, not just a march — it was the way that he lived intentionally every day, and that is something that every individual can do.” 

ON STAGE: Dr. King Jr. & the Radical Roots at the Heart of Justice. 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15, Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Free

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the event started at 2 p.m. Doors will open at 2:10.