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King Talks

Rackham’s annual King Talks are TED-style talks echoing the theme of U-M’s MLK Symposium. Through this program, Rackham students publicly communicate the relevance of their research to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

2024 Rackham King Talks

The 2024 Rackham King Talks took place on Thursday, January 25, at 6:00 p.m. The talks featured seven Rackham students communicating the relevance of their work to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in a TED-talk style. As always, the King Talks related to the theme of the U-M MLK Symposium, which was “Transforming the Jangling Discords of Our Nation into a Beautiful Symphony.”

Kati Lebioda
Doing “With” in Participatory Research

Ph.D. Candidate, Higher Education

Lebioda’s talk is about her experience doing a participatory action research project with 18 other racially/ethnically minoritized students. After talking through what participatory research is, she shares the ups and downs of centering relationships in the research process. She advocates for how, even though doing “with” can be tricky in unexpected ways, the infinite possibilities in our relationships also can lead us to something really special in the end.

Gabrielle Young
The Rhythm of Change

Ph.D. Student, Health Behavior and Health Education

Hunger is a pressing and solvable problem in this country. It is Young’s belief that through intentional planning and collective action, the basic human right of access to food can be met. Her talk walks the audience through how we can weave the “jangling discords” regarding food security into the beautiful song of a fed nation.

Iris Yuning Ye
What Makes You Curious About That Exchange Student?

Master’s Student, Information Science

Are we blindfolded by DEI as we progress in a diverse society? Sharing the stories of two exchange students, with one in a more homogenous culture vs. the other in a more diverse culture, Ye outlines how true DEI is practiced less in a more diverse environment, while better preserved in a homogenous environment. “DEI is rather a co-op, where ideally we forget about all the labels we have on our shoulder and just be curious, sincere, and understanding.”

Julianne Armijo
What It’s Like to Be a Nurse Living with Bipolar Disorder

Ph.D. Student, Nursing

Armijo, a Ph.D. student and family nurse practitioner, describes what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. She provides a candid perspective about being both a patient and a healthcare provider. By sharing her struggles and successes, she hopes that she can debunk misconceptions about this misunderstood mental illness. Through her research, she will seek answers about how not only to live but thrive as a nurse with bipolar disorder.

Julianna Loera-Wiggins
Our Laughter Is a Symphony

Ph.D. Candidate, American Culture

Loera-Wiggins’s talk addresses how we can use humor as a tool to process our experiences as a “fish out of water.” As a practitioner and researcher of stand-up comedy, she understands how humor has a place in every aspect of our lives. Individually, we carry multitudes of expression and markers of difference, even among folks who share our identities. This is the dissonance she wishes to address, or the “jangling discords” we sound. But there is one bridge across difference that corresponds to how we make ourselves seen, heard, and legible that she calls, “laughter as symphony.”

Penny (Panagiota) Kitsopoulos
Designing Justice

Ph.D. Candidate, Mechanical Engineering

As engineers, we need to learn to design for all. We should work for and with communities of all people to ensure that we have those communities’ best interests at heart when making and creating our designs. The Design Justice Network Principles help us rethink our approach to design and center the people who are traditionally marginalized and forgotten.

Amna Rizvi-Toner
More Than Skin Deep: Racism in Health Care

Ph.D. Candidate, Clinical Pharmacy Translational Science

Health care disparities continue to persist despite widespread awareness. Racism is detrimental to the health of Americans, but the way in which it appears is not always obvious. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on many examples of systemic racism, including previously unknown and seemingly innocuous sources of harm. This talk presents one of these cases in detail, alongside relevant political and historical context.

Apply to Present

In this annual event, Rackham students present TED-style overviews of their research, echoing the theme of that year’s U-M MLK Symposium in order to honor the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Students are encouraged to apply to present, and those students who are selected receive an honorarium.


To be eligible to participate, students must:

  • Be a graduate student in a Rackham program
  • Have a passion for spreading their message
  • Be available for training and feedback sessions with Rackham staff

Applications open in early fall and are reviewed electronically through a double-blind review process. Decisions are shared by early November.

2023 Rackham King Talks

The 2023 Rackham King Talks were held on Thursday, January 26. The theme for the 2023 MLK Symposium was: “The (R)evolution of MLK: From Segregation to Elevation.”

Ernesta Cole
Indigenous Languages in Sierra Leone: A Comparison with English

My King Talk is about linguistic expression and linguistic stigmatization between indigenous languages and English in West African countries, specifically Sierra Leone, where there are 16 actively used indigenous languages, but English is deemed the official language. I am interested in the social and linguistic effect of this discrepancy on the expression of speakers of Krio, Mende, Temne, and Limba.

Jonathan Garon
The Myth of Time: Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, and Humanity’s Eternal Struggle

My talk will highlight the lesser known story of the relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a prominent 20th century Jewish theologian and civil rights activist, to explore the power and obligation of human beings to harness our shared humanity and surpass our limitations in pursuit of justice.

Alanna Hurd
Toward Radical Imagination: Dreaming a More Beautiful Education System

This talk is an invitation to use imagination as a tool to dream and then create a more beautiful and just education system.

O Hwang Kwon
Which Would Be the Successor of Fossil Fuels—Renewables or Nuclear?

With this talk, I want to share the fierce urgency of now. I do believe the world can overcome climate change by acting as one team.

Onyinye Nwankwo
Breaking Barriers: Evolution in Thoughts about Space Sciences

My talk is about how the field of space sciences has evolved, explores how space weather impacts technological infrastructures and communication systems, and discusses how the field can be more inclusive.

Charles Phillips
Teaching Mathematics: Revolution Sparked by Inspiration

Sankofa and courage are needed for us to look back at our past methods of teacher preparation and curriculum development for our secondary mathematics students that are from the African Diaspora. We can then use what we’ve learned from the past and implement strategies in the present to impact the future.

2022 Rackham King Talks

The 2022 Rackham King Talks were held on January 26, 2022. Rackham students communicated the relevance of their work to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in a TED-talk style. The theme for the 2022 MLK Symposium was: “This is America.”

Sarah Burch
Black Excellence Is Exhausting

Master’s Student, Educational Equity, Justice, and Social Transformation, School of Education

Black Excellence is a phrase that expresses the joy and pride within the Black community when a personal or professional achievement is reached. However, what often is not shared is the mental and emotional fatigue that goes hand in hand with said excellence. But there are ways to curb those feelings of exhaustion which Sarah will share in three inclusive and accessible tips.

Leesi George-Komi
Cultural Reckoning: Anxiety, Racism, and Moving Ahead

Ph.D. Student, Movement Science, School of Kinesiology

Between recent rising mental health discussions and racist rhetoric, it can be argued that America is going through a major self-reckoning. This talk investigates the underlying influences of anxiety and racism within American culture and explores how individuals and the country can move ahead.

Michelle Marin
How Our Physical Spaces Demonize and Criminalize the Poor

Master’s Student, Urban and Regional Planning, Taubman College of Architecture

In her talk, Michelle observes how features of the built environment are created to exclude those of us from lower economic statuses. Michelle invites us to start scrutinizing the physical spaces in our own communities.

A’zia Harris-Martin
The Story of Health Disparities (Equity) in America

Ph.D. Student, Health Infrastructure and Learning Systems, Medical School

A’zia discusses the historical context of health disparities in America. Analyzing racism as an infrastructure that has exacerbated the impact of COVID-19. She ends the talk by outlining actionable steps that can be taken at a system level to mobile health equity.

Chiamaka Ukachukwu
I, Too, Am America

Ph.D. Student, Pharmacology, Medical School

Chiamaka discusses the challenges with being moved to embrace her American identity. She reflects on her family’s story and remembers the empowering truth that, like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our stories shape American history.

Kierstyn Worthem
The American Bias

Master’s Student, Higher Education, School of Education

Implicit bias is often difficult to identify in our lives, but when we don’t correct our bias the decisions we make can have damaging consequences for others. This King Talk explores implicit bias, its harmful effects, and suggestions to rectify bias in our personal lives with the hope that leads to dismantling bias structures in America.

2021 Rackham King Talks

The 2021 Rackham King Talks were held January 28, 2020, via Zoom. This year’s MLK Symposium theme was “Where do we go from here?” Watch the videos below, in which Rackham students communicate the relevance of their work to this theme and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy in a TED-talk style.

Raymond Asare
Redefining Celebrity Culture: The True Influencers

Today’s increasingly digital age provides access to the public stage in astonishing ways. This talk will explore shifts in celebrity culture and their implications in bringing about change.

Yvonne Garcia
Interrogating Ourselves through Our Knowledge Systems

How we know and come to understand what we know is based on our social, cultural, and political context. Historically academic research has “validated” truths about the world around us, however, assumptions and epistemological grounding of academic research are based on the context of white supremacy. This talk examines the ways that systems of knowing of people of color are devalued and diminished systemically through academic research and rigor.

Brittany B. Hicks
Water Stories: Understanding Racial Gaps in Water Quality Perceptions

This talk will highlight how community experiences can shift one’s perception on the safety of their drinking water, and challenge technical experts to value community members as partners in developing water quality solutions.

Alondra M. Ortiz-Ortiz
Behind the Stormcloud

In the United States, more than 50 million adults live with a disability. Of the entire population, 10% have what is considered an invisible disability. Alondra Ortiz-Ortiz, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering discusses the perks of being part of the population living with an invisible disability during the COVID-19 era.

Najwat Rehman
Can Design Help Us Get Out of the Mess It Helped Create?

Our world is in disarray. But before we talk about where we go from here, we need to examine how we got here in the first place. This talk investigates the role of design in shaping the world as it is today and explores a path forward that may allow us to build a better world, together.

2020 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2020 was “The (Mis)Education of US.”

Colleen Clark
No Time Like the Present: Designing Real-Time Support for Novice Teachers

Using teacher training as a grounding example, integrative design master’s student Colleen Clark explores how a designer can contribute to addressing complex 21st century challenges facing society by looking to other disciplines for inspiration.

Chloe Luyet
How Antibiotics Have Failed Us: The Food Industry’s Role in a Global Epidemic

Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Chloe Luyet discusses how the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in the food industry has led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, compromising global health.

Bassam Sidiki
(Post)Colonial Aphasia: America’s Imperial Miseducation

English Language and Literature Ph.D. student Bassam Sidiki tackles discrepancy between how the United States presents itself as a paragon of liberty and freedom and the realities of its colonial history.

Maria C. Virgilio
Hear Me Out

Cellular and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student Maria C. Virgilio discusses how listening to others, hearing their stories, and walking in their shoes as best we can allows us to begin to see parts of others’ lives that we may never have noticed before–and just maybe become a better person.

Aya M. Waller-Bey
No Pain, No Gain: Sharing Trauma to Get In

Sociology Ph.D. student and former university admissions officer Aya Waller-Bey highlights what applicants may gain and lose when sharing personal details about their lives in university admissions essays, particularly with regard to pain and trauma.

Michole Washington
The (Mis)Calculation of US

School of Education Ph.D. student Michole Washington offers realistic solutions to racial disparities in mathematics education by championing relationship building in the classroom and beyond.

2019 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2019 was “Unravel.”

Kavitha Lobo

University of Michigan School of Social Work graduate student Kavitha Lobo will share her work and experiences from a global social work project on the benefits of deinstitutionalizing mental health care at this year’s King Talks event.

Shannon Moran

Shannon Moran, Ph.D. student in University of Michigan Chemical Engineering, will discuss both her research and personal experiences with the benefits of mentorship for promoting diversity.

Steven M. Smith

Steven M. Smith, graduate student in Public Administration and Sport Management, will talk about the value of connecting with one another, our communities, and our work to better the lives of those around us in the face of growing social isolation at this year’s King Talks.

Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz

Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, a graduate student in University of Michigan Sociology, is joining us for this year’s King Talks event. She’ll be discussing the impact of discriminatory disciplinary practices on Black girls in K-12 public schools.

2018 Rackham King Talks

The theme for 2018 was “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”

Dominic Bednar

“1.1 billion people or 14% of the world’s population have no access to electricity, and more than 2.8 billion or 38% lack access to clean cooking.” Dominic J. Bednar, a Ph.D. Student in natural resources and environment, will share why “energy justice” matters.

Garima Malhotra

“The representation of women in the tech industry has remained constant over the last 20 years at 23%.” Malhotra, a Ph.D. student in climate and space sciences and engineering, will talk about how this challenge “can (and will) be overcome.”

Gautam Nagaraj

According to Gautam Nagaraj, the title of his presentation, How to Save the World, “speaks for itself.” Nagaraj, a master’s student in aerospace engineering, will share “a simple model” for breaking societal issues into their components as part of Rackham’s inaugural King Talks

Melvin P. Washington II

“My talk seeks to question the tacit acceptance of oppressive notions of ‘progress.’” Washington, a master’s student in public policy, hopes to get attendees to “reimagine and expand their current goals.”

Jana Wilbricht

“Indigenous communities experience some of the most severe health disparities in the U.S.” Wilbricht, a Ph.D. student in communication studies, will talk about access to information and health outcomes.