Martin Luther King, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

City of Detroit honors Dr. King, Black history in programming

ACE Team
Submitted on Sat, 01/15/2022 - 12:40

The City of Detroit will offer more than five hours of programming beginning at noon Monday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in honor of the civil rights leader on the federal holiday that bears his name. 


Highlights include: 

  • A conversation between Director of Arts and Culture Rochelle Riley and Dance Theatre of Harlem leaders Virginia Johnson and Anna Glass. 

  • A conversation with celebrated Detroit artist Jonathan Harris, whose "Critical Race Theory" painting has taken the nation by storm. 


The special block of programming, co-sponsored by the City of Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship and Detroit Media, also will feature a curated selection of programs from Detroit ACE's 2021 schedule, including specials from last year's Black History Month. All the programs can be viewed on the City's YouTube Channel, and


The live-streamed conversation with artist Jonathan Harris is sponsored by Irwin House Gallery, Chene Parc, and Detroit ACE. It will focus on Harris’ artistic practice, his rapidly evolving journey in the arts, and his now-famous painting. Created for an exhibition curated by Harris in November 2021, the painting depicts a Caucasian male white-washing historic black figures, including Martin Luther King. Its viral journey began in early December when The Other 98% - a non-profit focusing on social justice - posted the image before its 6.5 million social media followers. Similar forums followed by reposting images of the painting, and The Detroit Free Press was the first to take it to print, followed by the Detroit Metro Times, leading to widespread media coverage. 


Detroit ACE Director Riley will open the 3PM MLK event and introduce Harris, moderator Omo Misha, and special guest, Cornelius Godfrey – Supervisor of Educational Equity, Inclusion and Community Relationships in the Troy School District and co-founder of Affirm Celebrate Advocate, a community organization focused on meeting the needs of students and families of color. 


Dance Theatre of Harlem Artistic Director Virginia Johnson and Executive Director Anna Glass, a Detroit native, talk about the future of the company and their love of Detroit and offer a preview of the company's January 22-23 performances at the Detroit Opera House. 


The last time the Dance Theatre of Harlem performed in Detroit was before 2,500 students before the Covid-19 pandemic shut the city and the dance schedule down. To mark its triumphant return, the company will offer a powerful performance of choreography called "Higher Ground" set to the music of Motown icon Stevie Wonder. Johnson and Riley chatted about the company's 30-year commitment to the Motor City and its exciting new work. "Detroit is like a second home for the DTH, and we are so proud to host them," Riley said. "The company is among the best in the world, and we want our children and our families to see the best in the world. And for some of them, we want them to become the best in the world. Imagine children from Detroit choosing a dance career because of their interaction with these wonderful ambassadors for the craft." The conversation gave Johnson a chance to talk about her stellar career, her life as a prima ballerina, and as a founding member of DTH. 


MOT President Wayne Brown also lauded the company. “For more than 25 years, the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) and Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) have collaborated to provide Detroit audiences with performances featuring one of America’s treasured dance companies,” Brown said. “How fitting it is to welcome DTH back to Detroit in 2022 in partnership with the historic Motown Museum for performances that include a celebration of the music of a Detroit treasure, Stevie Wonder.” 


For information about the Jonathan Harris conversation, contact Irwin House Gallery at mailto:[email protected] or 313.932.7690. 

Photo credit for 600x450: Leffler, W. K., photographer. (1965) Martin Luther King Press conf. , 1965. March 2. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress. Photo credit for 1600x900: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)