Poet Nikky Finney to speak at virtual keynote event for 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Day

MLK Commemorative Event 2022 Nikky Finney

Make note of important updates to event schedule

Renowned poet, professor and author Nikky Finney will deliver a keynote address as part of Vanderbilt University’s 2022 commemoration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Finney is scheduled to speak Jan. 17 at 4:30 p.m. CT as part of a broader virtual program that will begin with a vigil and include remarks by Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier. After Finney’s address, Major Jackson, director of creative writing and Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, will host a moderated Q&A with the speaker.

The virtual event is open to the entire Vanderbilt community, but registration is required.


Finney is the author of On Wings Made of Gauze, Rice, The World Is Round and Head Off & Split: Poems, which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011. Her newest collection of poems, Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry, was published in 2020. She is currently the John H. Bennett, Jr. Endowed Professor of Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, with appointments in the Department of English Language and Literature and the African American Studies program.

MLK candlelight vigil

Before the keynote event, a virtual candlelight vigil will honor the legacy of late civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The vigil will begin at the start of the event at 4:30 p.m. and last approximately 15 minutes.

The 2022 MLK Commemorative Interfaith Vigil is organized this year by Assistant Professor Stephanie Budwey and Assistant Dean Amy E. Steele of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Rev. Dr. Chris Donald, the Rev. Gretchen Person and the Rev. Rocky Major of the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. It will feature students from Vandy Karma, Collegiate Black Christians, the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Student Association and the Divinity School. Melanated A Cappella will headline the vigil with a song.

This year’s theme is “Where We Belong—Building an Inclusive Community.

Jan. 14: Kickoff lunch and speaker event – CANCELED

This event is canceled due to the delayed start of the spring semester.

Jan. 15: Telling our story through service – POSTPONED

Joint Day of Service (virtual)

This event is postponed until April 2, 2022. Please check back for further updates.

In the spirit of MLK Day being “a day on, not a day off,” the Joint Day of Service offers students from local colleges an opportunity to add a service component to MLK Day. The event brings Vanderbilt students together with peers from Belmont University, Fisk University, Lipscomb University, Meharry Medical College, Nashville State Community College, Tennessee State University and Trevecca Nazarene University at virtual service sites working with local community partners. The event will open with an address by area university leaders and a keynote by Georgia State Sen. Sonya Halpern before students break out in groups to their virtual service sites.

Jan. 17: MLK Day blood drive – POSTPONED

This event is postponed until March 30, 2022. Please check back for further updates.

The MLK Day blood drive started four years ago as an additional opportunity for students to perform a meaningful act of community service on such an important holiday. The drive, which is sponsored by Vanderbilt Hillel, is meant to promote the central Jewish value of pikuach nefesh, our commitment to saving lives. All are welcome to participate.

Jan. 17: 2022 MLK Commemorative Lecture sponsored by Vanderbilt School of Medicine and Vanderbilt School of Nursing (virtual)

Noon CT

Martha A. Dawson, associate professor at the University of Alabama–Birmingham School of Nursing and president of the National Black Nurses Association, will discuss “Beyond Diversity: Achieving Organizational Excellence Through a Conceptual Lens.” Organizational climate and culture must be owned by top leaders in order to create an environment that seeks to understand that diversity is a low-level building block toward achieving excellence. To maximize the unique contributions of each employee, leaders must embrace new approaches and seek to develop a culture that supports organizational justice. This presentation will introduce different theoretical concepts, such as human caring, equity, equality and expectancy. The goal is to help organizations reimagine their workforce for the 21st century and beyond.

Join the meeting using the passcode “MLKDay.”

Jan. 17: Keynote with Nikky Finney (virtual)

4:30 p.m. CT

Poet and author Nikky Finney will be the keynote speaker for Vanderbilt University’s 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series. The virtual event will begin with a vigil and remarks by Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, followed by the keynote and a moderated discussion.

Register here >>


The Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Series was established at Vanderbilt in 1985. Commemorating King’s life and legacy, the university community gathers annually on this national holiday for a series of programs, including participation in the citywide march, community service, educational forums and lectures. In honoring King, Vanderbilt University affirms its own commitment to the goals of peace and racial justice to which King dedicated his life. For more information, visit: www.vanderbilt.edu/mlk