Syracuse University’s 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration will include an art gallery exhibit in Club 44 on the western concourse level of the JMA Wireless Dome.

To express the celebration theme of “The Reach of the Dream,” seven local artists were selected to show their works in the specially designed gallery, which will be open to the public on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, before and during the celebration dinner. The art gallery will open at 4:15 p.m. and the dinner will begin at 5 p.m. For more information, visit

The exhibition will spotlight artists Professor Emeritus David MacDonald, Professor London Ladd, Professor Sharif Bey, Brandan Meyer, Professor Rochele Royster, Melquea Smith, and Iris Williams. Curators for the exhibition include Qiana Williams, Jaleel Campbell and Cjala Surratt of the Black Artists’ Collective; Ken Harper, associate professor of visual communications and art curator in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications; Ajajielle Brown of the Department of African-American Studies, Emily Dittman of the Syracuse University Art Museum, and Dara Harper of Hendricks Chapel.


Sharif Bey, PhD is a Syracuse-based artist and educator. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Bey studied sculpture at The Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia. Later, he earned his BFA from Slippery Rock University, his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and PhD (in art education) from Penn State University. His awards include: The United States Artist Fellowship, The Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, and The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Bey’s works are featured in numerous public collections including: The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The Carnegie Museum of Art, The Columbus Museum, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Mint Museum, and The Nelson Atkins Museum among others.

London Ladd has featured artwork in critically acclaimed picture books, newspapers, magazines, and community-based murals. His artwork is a mixture of acrylic paint, cut paper, and tissue paper, to create rich, vibrant textures that bring his artwork to life. Ladd’s illustrations can be found in the books: “Black Gold,” “Oprah: The Little Speaker,” “Under the Freedom Tree,” and “March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World.” He is an instructor at Syracuse University’s College of Visual & Performing Arts and resides in Syracuse, NY.

David R. MacDonald, professor emeritus at Syracuse University, is an acclaimed and celebrated ceramic artist, who has lived in Syracuse for many years. MacDonald joined the faculty of the School of Art and Design at Syracuse University in 1971. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, MacDonald’s work received most of its creative inspiration from his investigation of his African heritage. MacDonald draws much of his inspiration from the myriad examples of surface decoration that manifests itself in the many ethnic groups of sub-Saharan Africa. MacDonald’s work spans the complete spectrum of ceramic forms of a utilitarian nature.

Brandan Meyer is a local CNY Ceramicist from Syracuse. Studying at SUNY Oswego, his primary focus is on evolving his craft as a ceramic artist and exploring his capabilities through the medium. This is expressed through his pottery, as well as his experimentation with clay instruments. Finding inspiration from his political ideologies, familial heritage, and personal connections, he creates work that not only reflects his roots, but sparks conversation that revolves around culture, empathy and unity.

Rochele Royster PhD, ATR-BC, is a seasoned artist, community psychologist, and educator who finds inspiration from people and community. Her upbringing, immersed in the rhythms of the South, was a fertile ground for creativity, where she learned the importance of the connection to land, rituals, and customs, and people. Proficient in quilting, printmaking, and various dye and resist techniques, Rochele breathes new life into discarded materials, crafting narratives that echo themes of blackness and the resilience of ordinary individuals navigating worlds where patterns become as integral as the people they adorn. Through a meticulous examination of life’s rhythms, Rochele Royster invites viewers to reflect on the resilience and beauty that persist amidst life’s clutter and chaos.

Melquea Smith is a Black, Queer, multi award-winning children’s book illustrator based in New York. Known as a certified kid at heart, she adores illustrating magical stories with animals, mythological creatures, and dragons. She specializes in illustrating Black children of all shapes, colors, and sizes. When not illustrating, you’ll find her watching the newest animated movies, learning about Japan, studying Spanish with her cat Kilala, and giving her other cat Bumblebee pit-pats on her super fluffy tummy.

Iris Williams is a visual artist born and raised in Syracuse, New York. She has a passion for bringing her creative ideas to life. She is heavily influenced by the Black community and finds it important to find innovative ways to include, empower, and represent it in her projects. She experiments with various art forms, refusing to limit herself to just one. However, her authentic and creative expression has led her to develop a particular interest in digital art.

“We’re excited to highlight the talents of these extraordinary Black artists and champion the richness of Syracuse’s artistic community,” said Cjala Surratt, co-founder of the Black Artists Collective and member of the MLK Art Gallery Committee. “This exhibition recognizes both established and emerging talent within Syracuse’s artistic landscape and promises to be a source of inspiration for individuals of all ages. We hope to spark creativity, ignite curiosity, and foster a deeper connection with the arts.”

Tickets for the dinner and program, which will include student and community group performances, presentation of the Unsung Hero Awards and a keynote address from the featured speaker Dr. Talithia Williams are now available.


Our 2024 program marks the 39th year for the MLK Celebration and will include an address from Talithia Williams, student and community group performances, and a presentation of this year’s Unsung Hero Awards.

The art gallery will open at 4:15 PM and dinner will open at 5 PM. Halal/Kosher, gluten-free and vegetarian options will be available. Dinner will be held near the JMA Dome’s west end zone, entry at Gate A. The main program includes:

  • Presentation of 2024 Unsung Hero Awards
  • Keynote speaker Talithia Williams on “The Reach of the Dream.”
  • The Community Choir with the Syracuse University Black Celestial Choral Ensemble
  • More performers will be announced soon!

The program will be held at the east side of the dome.
For program-only attendees, doors open at 6 PM.

Ticket purchase options are as follows:

  • General Admission (dinner, art gallery, and program): $30
  • Students (dinner, art gallery, and program): $15
  • Main program only: FREE

Registration is required for all ticket purchase options.

All dinner tickets will be assigned a table number at the time of purchase. Guests interested in sitting with friends are recommended to purchase tickets together to ensure the same table assignment.

Guests may order up to 10 dinner and program tickets online. To purchase one full table (10 seats), select 10 total tickets and proceed to checkout. To purchase more than one table or more than 10 individual tickets, or if experiencing difficulties, please call the JMA Dome Box Office at 1.888.DOME.TIX (315.443.2121), option four.

All dinner guests will be seated in the 100 level of the stands for the program following dinner. All guests attending the program only will be seated in the 200 level. Seating is general admission in those areas for the program.

Buy tickets online at, in person at the Dome Box Office inside Gate B at 900 Irving Ave. (Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) or by phone 1.888.DOME.TIX or 315.443.2121, option four). Tickets will be mobile this year and uploaded directly to your MyCuse account to manage upon purchase. View the step-by-step guide on mobile ticketing for more information.

Free parking is available in the Irving Avenue Garage and in lots west of the JMA Dome. Visit the University’s Parking and Transit Services website for maps and directions. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be available for the event. Accessible seating is provided on the concourse level of the JMA Dome.

For more information about the MLK Celebration or to request accommodations, contact Hendricks Chapel at or 315.443.2901. Learn more about this and other Hendricks Chapel events by visiting