Author, journalist Ijeoma Oluo to give annual MLK Lecture

Seattle-based writer Ijeoma Oluo will give the 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture at Cornell, in a virtual forum on March 1 at 7 p.m.

Instead of a lecture, this year’s event will be a conversation between Oluo and Edward Baptist, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences and author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (2014). A Q&A will follow.

Ijeoma Oluo

The conversation will be livestreamed and is free, open to the public and accessible; register here.

Oluo is the author of two books, including “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America,” released in December 2020. She’s known for her outspoken presence on social media, including her blog on Medium.

Her debut novel, “So You Want to Talk About Race” (2018), received critical acclaim and was a New York Times bestseller.

“Ijeoma Oluo became a journalist in the wake of the (2012) killing of Trayvon Martin,” Baptist said. “She has emerged as one of the most powerful voices documenting and explaining how systemic racism distorts everyday discussions, decisions and the distribution of power in the U.S. today.”

Oluo was named one of the most influential people in Seattle by Seattle Magazine, one of the 50 most influential women in Seattle by online magazine Seattle Met, and one of The Root’s 100 most influential Americans in 2017 and 2018.

She also was the recipient of the Feminist Humanist Award for 2018 by the American Humanist Association; the 2017 Media Justice Award by the Gender Justice League; and the 2018 Aubrey Davis Visionary Award by the Equal Opportunity Institute.

“Ijeoma uses her voice and platform to invite others, particularly those with the most privilege and power, to engage in cross-cultural conversations about race and racism,” said Shakima Clency, the Peggy J. Koenig ’78 Associate Dean of Students for Student Empowerment, and director of first-generation and low-income student support. “Conversations about race and racism are necessary because we are all complicit and impacted, and have a role in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.”

In the wake of last summer’s protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and numerous other Black Americans, as well as the racial and political divisiveness gripping the U.S., bringing Oluo and Baptist together for this lecture is especially meaningful, Clency said.

“Rather than silence or cancel those who hold differing opinions or ideological views, we wanted to offer a public conversation as a model for our community,” she said. “Ijeoma Oluo has been a champion for antiracism and activism, and Professor Baptist is well-suited to join Ijeoma and moderate the conversation given his scholarly research in the history and the economic and social impact of profound racial inequality in the U.S.”

“The planning committee felt that it was important that this year’s commemorative event focus on antiracism, and do so in a way that addresses many of the issues of systemic oppression that are so closely connected to institutionalized racism,” said Oliver Goodrich, associate dean for spirituality and meaning-making and director of Cornell United Religious Work.

“We also wanted to craft an event,” he said, “that would not just share information about antiracism, but might also model for our community how to be antiracist and how to engage in productive conversations about race and racism.”

The John Henrik Clarke Africana Library and the Tompkins County Public Library have compiled a library guide with more information on Oluo and her book, “So You Want to Talk about Race.”

The annual MLK Lecture brings together the Cornell and Ithaca communities with a series of events honoring the service, activism and legacy of King. Past MLK lecturers include Yusef Salam (“The Exonerated Five”), activist Bree Newsome and author, filmmaker and professor Mitchell S. Jackson.

The commemorative lecture is presented by the Office of Spirituality and Meaning-Making and Cornell United Religious Work. Event co-sponsors include the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, Black Students United, CUTonight, the Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition,  the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and Tompkins County Public Library.

Media Contact

Abby Butler