Craig Melvin, Trey Ellis, Kersten Stevens, Richard Blumenthal, and Ritchie Torres to Join Dr. Clarence B. Jones for 18th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at The Westport Library

Tue, Jan 9, 2024
EJ Crawford

Clockwise from top left: Kersten Stevens, Clarence B. Jones, Craig Melvin, Ritchie Torres, Trey Ellis, and Richard Blumenthal

A trio of award-winners and a pair of statesmen will be joining guest of honor Dr. Clarence B. Jones for the 18th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, held January 14 at The Westport Library.

NBC News anchor and co-host of the 3rd Hour of TODAY Craig Melvin will be serving as the moderator for the discussion, with violin virtuoso Kersten Stevens performing, and acclaimed novelist, playwright, and filmmaker Trey Ellis introducing Dr. Jones. In addition, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) and U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres (New York) will be providing remarks.

“I couldn’t envision a more incredible lineup for what promises to be a memorable afternoon,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “The appearances by Craig Melvin, Kersten Stevens, Trey Ellis, Senator Blumenthal, and Congressman Torres speak to the remarkable life and accomplishments of Dr. Clarence B. Jones and the enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

The 18th annual celebration is a partnership between the Library, TEAM Westport, and the Westport Country Playhouse, as well as the Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy and Council, the two groups that hosted the inaugural celebration in 2006.

The celebration is free to attend — registration is highly encouraged — and there will be a livestream of the event available on the Library’s YouTube channel.

The day’s guest of honor, Dr. Jones, served as legal counsel, strategic advisor, and draft speechwriter to Dr. King from 1960 until King’s assassination in 1968. He is credited with writing the first seven paragraphs of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most iconic and enduring addresses in American history.

Related: Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Speechwriter and Advisor to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to Serve as Guest of Honor for 18th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at The Westport Library

The event kicks off at 3 pm with a performance by Stevens, the six-time winner of the historic Amateur Night and Showtime at The Apollo. All About Jazz has lauded “Stevens’ immense creativity and elegant flair” and she has received plaudits from a host of publications and performers including The Black Gospel Blog and renowned jazz violinist Regina Carter.

A native of Stratford, Connecticut, Stevens graduated from Yale University before establishing herself as the “queen of the violin.” She has performed with music greats Carter, Kim Burrell, and international jazz bassist Christian McBride, and she has performed for President Barack Obama, Ray Charles, and Denzel Washington, among others.

Dr. Jones will be welcomed by Ellis, the American Book Award-winning novelist, two-time Emmy- and Peabody-winning filmmaker, NAACP Image award-winning playwright and essayist, and professor of professional practice at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. His lauded first novel, Platitudes, was reissued by Northeastern University Press along with his influential essay, “The New Black Aesthetic.”

Ellis also served as executive producer of King in the Wilderness, a 2018 HBO documentary on the last three days of King’s life. King in the Wilderness won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Documentary.

Melvin, the longtime anchor and Westport resident, will moderate the discussion with Dr. Jones from the Trefz Forum stage. In addition to his duties as co-host of 3rd Hour of TODAY, Melvin serves as news anchor on TODAY and a host of syndicated Dateline NBC broadcasts. He has reported on a wide range of news events in his decorated career, including several Republican and Democratic National Conventions and three Presidential Inaugurations. His coverage of politics has included interviews with former President Bill Clinton, then-Vice President Joe Biden, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former Secretaries of State John Kerry, Mike Pompeo, and Condoleezza Rice. In addition, he has covered four Olympic Games and six Super Bowls.

Prior to joining NBC News and MSNBC in 2011, Melvin was a weekend anchor for WRC, NBC’s station in Washington, D.C. Before that, he earned acclaim as an evening news anchor at WIS in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. 

Blumenthal has been a longtime supporter of the Library, appearing in the Trefz Forum just last year to celebrate the release of Verso Records, Volume One. The five-term Connecticut attorney general (1991-2011) was elected as U.S. senator in November 2010, seated in January 2011, and is currently serving his third term in the chamber.

In 2013, at the age of 25, Torres became New York City’s youngest elected official and the first openly LGBTQ person elected to office in the Bronx. He has served in the U.S. House of Representative, representing the Bronx, since January 2021.

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