Love, Art, Justice, and Dr. King

Students explore new angles on the life and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., and consider their own responses and (re)commitments to justice. 

Embrace sculpture
Hank Willis Thomas' sculpture The Embrace will be unveiled in Boston Commons on MLK Day 2023.



Share with students King’s quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Invite students to spend a few minutes journaling about what matters to them.

Afterwards, invite students to share out in a circle go-round a portion of what they wrote. 


Options for Circle Activities

1. The Embrace

On Martin Luther King Day on January 16, 2023, a new sculpture by artist Hank Willis Thomas titled The Embrace will be unveiled in Boston Commons, the oldest city park in the United States. The sculpture was created in honor of a photograph of an embrace by MLK and his wife, Coretta Scott King. The photo was taken in 1965, after Dr. King learned he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

  • Look at the image of the embrace between MLK and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Ask students:
    • What do you see in in this picture?
    • What do you feel about the picture? 
  • Watch this 6-minute CBS Sunday Morning video interview with the artist, Hank Willis Thomas, and learn about how the photo inspired him and his winning design. Afterwards, invite students to share:
    • What most struck you in the video?
    • What strikes you about Hank Willis Thomas’s story, the artwork itself, or how the sculpture came to Boston Commons?

2. Less Familiar Quotes

While many of King’s quotes have become famous and are most commonly used to honor his life and legacy, other lesser-known quotes are also powerful, and very relevant to both King’s time and our own.

Invite students to select one of these quotes. Then ask them to share in a go-round (either in the whole group or in a small group):

  • Why did you choose this quote? Why does it resonate with you?


3.  On the Side of Justice

Ask student to consider Dr. King’s sixth principle of nonviolence:

“The universe is on the side of justice.”

Engage students in a circle go-round:

  • What does this quote mean to you? 

Then, through journaling or a circle go-round, encourage students to share:

  • What are your personal commitments to justice? Or,
  • What might those commitments be?



Share the MLK quote:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’”

Invite students to journal privately about this quote, and to share out, if they feel inclined to. 

Extension Activities

What Does This Mean to You?

Encourage students to discuss in pairs what the following quote means to them and how it can be applied to their own lives:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Invite students to come up with examples of this quote from recent events in the news and/or social media.

Language of the Unheard

In pairs or groups, allow students to share reflections and connections (verbal, artistic or otherwise) to their own lives using the following King quote:

"But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.

And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity."

— MLK from his speech “The Other America (1968)”

Triple Evils & Nonviolence

Additional Resources