Flushing’s Queens College will host its fifth-annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration this Sunday with a headlining performance from the Dance Theatre of Harlem and recognition of its artistic director, who continues to provide opportunities to exceptional artists of color.
Virginia Johnson, founding member and artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, will be recognized for her commitment to artistry, inclusion, and mentorship throughout her distinguished career as a prima ballerina on Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. in the Colden Auditorium of the Kupferberg Center for the Arts located at 65-30 Kissena Blvd in Flushing.
Tickets are $35 and are available online and in person from the Kuperberg box office.
“This year, in recognition of the impact Dr. King had on Dance Theatre of Harlem’s co-founder Arthur Mitchell, the program reveals the richness that becomes possible when access is provided where none had existed before,” said Johnson.
Johnson has provided dancers of color with groundbreaking performance opportunities in collaboration with the late Arthur Mitchell, founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, a globally-acclaimed ballet dance institution comprised of a professional touring company, a school, and a broad range of arts education and community programs.
“Virginia Johnson’s dedication to continuing DTH Co-founder Arthur Mitchell’s vision to provide opportunities to artists of color that did not exist prior to the creation of Dance Theatre of Harlem exemplifies the spirit of Dr. King’s mission,” said Felix Matos Rodriguez, president of Queens College. “By selecting her as our honoree, we offer our students and the community the chance to reflect on the scope of this country’s historical inequities, extending into the arts, progress made thus far and the work that remains to be done.”
Johnson began her career with Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969 following her graduation from the Academy of the Washington School of Ballet. During Johnson’s 28 years with Dance Theatre of Harlem, she performed most of the repertoire in the principal role.
After retiring from the stage she founded Pointe magazine, for which she also served as editor-in-chief, before returning to the company as artistic director in 2010. Under Johnson’s leadership, the organization developed a new cast and repertoire, embarked on national and international tours, and secured committed financial supporters.
“The ballets to be presented range from Darrell Grand Moultries’ jazz-influenced Harlem on My Mind, the very classical Corsaire Pas de Deux, Chaconne, a masterful solo by the revered Mexican choreographer, José Limón and ends with fan favorite, Robert Garland’s Return, set to the music of the late, great Aretha Franklin and James Brown,” said Johnson.
Kupferberg Center for the Arts has made complementary tickets available to several youth and community service organizations, including the Queens Community House after school program and the Pomonok Center, to enable members of the community to participate in this year’s presentation.
Queens College has a longstanding history of involvement in the struggle for equality and social justice.
In 1964, Queens College student Andrew Goodman was slain, along with fellow civil rights workers James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, during a voter registration project in Mississippi. The following spring, as the inaugural speaker in the college’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Lecture Series, Dr. King emphasized the power of peaceful resistance.
In 2015, at its 91st commencement ceremony — and more than 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — the college awarded Goodman a posthumous honorary doctoral degree.