Martin Luther King Jr.’s Inspiration Celebrated Throughout January at Michigan Ross

By Noah Starr

February 19, 2024

Smiling woman in wheelchair in sunflowers

The Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan recently welcomed highly acclaimed speakers to participate in keynote addresses and moderated discussions at the 38th Annual U-M Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium and the 2024 Ross Annual MLK Event.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium 

The 2024 MLK Keynote Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the Michigan Ross William K. McInally Fund and the U-M Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, occurred on Jan. 15 in Hill Auditorium. The event began with the singing of the Black National Anthem by Bryan Anthony James and accompanist Julian J. Goods before a musical performance by Detroit artist BLKBOK.
Michelle Alexander was then introduced as the keynote speaker. Alexander, known for her New York Times bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, addressed the symposium’s theme: “Transforming the Jangling Discords of Our Nation into a Beautiful Symphony.” This year’s theme, quoted from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, calls on us to grapple with the nature of the ongoing discord around the globe and to examine our role as individuals and members of society to create a world where harmony is possible.

After delivering her address, Alexander joined Dr. Robert Sellers and Dr. H. Luke Shaefer for a discussion moderated by Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and host of Detroit Today.

After a question from Henderson about universal attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion affecting Gaza, the United States, and the rest of the world, Alexander spoke about the importance of understanding that these issues are interconnected.

“There is no way that any one of us, with whatever our religious, racial, ethnic, or gender identity might be, there’s no one of us, no single group can ever hope to achieve justice and equality alone,” Alexander said. “We need each other. Our issues, our struggles, and our very lives and well-being are inherently intertwined.”

Ross Annual MLK Event: The Intersection of Racial and Environmental Justice: How business leaders can shape an equitable future

This year’s Michigan Ross Annual MLK event, which took place Jan. 31 in Robertson Auditorium, featured three distinguished speakers participating in a panel led by led by Jacob Kennedy, MBA/MS ’25. The speakers, Dr. Farhana Sultana, Dr. Christian V. Braneon, and Chante Harris, discussed the intersection of racial equity and climate justice. 

The three speakers are each a leader in this space. Dr. Sultana has a background in working in the United Nations and is an internationally recognized and award-winning interdisciplinary scholar, speaker, and author on topics such as climate justice, water security, and sustainable development.

Dr. Braneon’s work on urban heat and climate change has been featured in broadcast and print media outlets such as CNN, CNBC, and Science. Dr. Braneon received an AXA Award for Climate Science in 2021. Harris, a champion of social and financial innovation, has successfully scaled nationwide campaigns, technologies, and ideas for the Obama administration, Fortune 500 companies, and startups.

After each of the speakers introduced themselves and their work, Kennedy facilitated the panel discussion, exploring different aspects of racial and environmental justice from their unique perspectives.  

“It was an honor to be able to bring back the Ross-specific MLK event, and I could not think of a better topic and speakers. From my perspective, it nicely added to our ongoing dialogue on how we can improve the world through business, especially on such important topics like climate and racial justice,” said Thomas Bell, director of diversity and inclusion and adjunct lecturer in business.

The event was hosted in partnership with the Michigan Ross Dean’s Office, The Ross Office of DEI, and with funding from the William K. McInally Fund.